Ken Forkish

Fall is for bread baking.

I'm only speaking from a amateur perspective, but it does seem that all the best breads are baked in the fall.  In the past few years that I've been mothering the sourdough culture, autumnal air seems to be my most trusted ally in getting the most impressive results.  I like to think it has to do with less ambient moisture, and maybe a more seasonal reason for firing the oven (even though the heat of summer does nothing to stop me), but it's quite possible it's just luck.  Just in case, I had to detail the loaves that came from my kitchen last week, the ones still under the glass dome on my counter aging gracefully, the ones that still surprise me and make me feel like a bona fide baker.

72% hydration sourdough (2)

I lowered the water content intentionally and increased the whole wheat content in the Ken Forkish method bread I've most favored for about the past 6 months.  I got out my calculator, and figured it at 72% hydration.  An approximate amount since my bread begins with 100% hydration starter that is well fed and converted some 6 hours before into a near 80% hydration starter.  I'm not math savvy enough to figure the degrees of difference.  72% is close enough for me, and dense enough to stand up to some artful slashing, which was my hope.  This bread was pure perfection; I have to say, I was so proud.

The baking notes:

6-8 hours before mixing the dough, build the 80% levain:
  • 25 g. (100% hydration) starter
  • 25 g. whole wheat flour
  • 100 g. ap flour
  • 100 g. water at 90 degrees.  
Mix well, cover and and let ferment.
Then to build bulk dough:
  • 100 g. whole wheat flour
  • 300 g. ap flour
  • 280 g. water (90-95 degrees)
Autolyse for 30 minutes.  Then add:
  • 2 t. kosher salt
  • 1/4 t. instant yeast
  • 210 g. of the levain (almost all of the levain from above)
Bulk ferment time is 5 hours - with folds every 30 minutes for the first 2 hours (4 folds total).  Form loaf, retard in the fridge overnight, 8-12 hours.  Bake at 475 in preheated, covered cast iron dutch oven for 30 minutes, remove the lid, and bake until deep brown, another 10-15 minutes.

72% hydration sourdough

This success was early on last week, before my Mom visited.  I like to plan on baking just before she leaves so she can take a fresh loaf home with her.  I was slightly frazzled when it came time to do my mixing, and I had a complete accident that worked out unbelievably to my advantage.  I had pre-measured my flours before she arrived, thinking I'd save myself a few minutes when it came time to build the bread.  But... when I went to add my carefully measured amount, I mistakenly grabbed the container of whole wheat flour next to the measured flours, and emptied the whole of it into my mixing bowl.  As I mixed in the water it felt stiff and different, and it took me a few minutes to realize what I did.  My Mom thought I should just go ahead and try building with it since I'd be wasting ingredients anyway if I didn't try... and it turned out to be one of the best mistakes ever.  Two loaves of nearly 100% whole wheat sourdough that didn't feel leaden or too dense, just wonderfully wheaty tasting.

close to 100% whole wheat sourdough

I had already mixed up the 80% levain I mentioned above, and I added it to the autolysed dough of a mystery amount of whole wheat flour and base water amount of 280g.  I knew it would need more water, and added it by feel after the autolyse, working it by hand perhaps a bit more than with properly ratio-ed doughs.  I let it bulk rise for about 5 1/2 hours, folding every 30 minutes for the first 2 hours like I do with regular breads. I could tell it was rising, and held hope the whole while that I would be as lucky when the dough met the heat.

Whole wheat breads never spring back and have the loft of their whiter counterparts, but these rose nicely.  Whole wheat breads age better too in my opinion - their flavors develop and take on more nuance as the days grow on them, and I wish all the more I would have some idea how much flour was actually in the bin I dumped into the bowl to begin with.

close to 100 % whole wheat sourdough

This unintentional success reminds me of my breadmaking goals in the first place: to be able to readily adapt myself to environmental factors, and to somehow cultivate the intuition needed to make consistently good bread.  While it could be a one-off, it certainly gives me bakery confidence, the self-assurance I sometimes need as a home baker.  And just maybe, I've got more intuition that I think I do - unless the fall has something to do with it.

Bread in Every Meal.

You would think I'm not eating much, what with the infrequency of my writing life lately.  I can assure you that is not the case.  In fact, I've come to blissful (re)discovery that indeed almost every meal can be improved with bread.  Relatedly, I'm increasingly grateful that my old bread appetites are fully back and ever since that brief, pregnancy induced repulsion, I have renewed appreciation for the staff of life.

(Little Goat Bread's apple and pistachio loaf on the left, my Forkish-style sourdough on the right.)

It may have actually started a few weeks back when Deena and I were chatting online and she mentioned that her Basque country friends revere bread so much that they incorporate it into nearly every eating experience.  Intrigued, for days I imagined my stale bread crumbled into some strong coffee laced with milk as she described...  I didn't go so far (yet) as to actually drinking my bread, but increasingly I have been using every last crumb of my loaves.

Not that I ever wasted old bread.  I usually dried the last several slices and ground them up into breadcrumbs, which somehow always seem to come in handy.  But more recently, I make my eating schedule up around these gorgeous loaves that seem to have graced me with their abundant presence.  Like I am not any sort of real baker, like they arrive mysteriously overnight and fill my little kitchen with shear wealth of kitchen alchemy, they are too good to have come from my hands:  reminders that good bread is as much a product of the elements as intuitive know-how.

sourdoughs, cubed.

I'm also reminded of the electronic age in which I live.  I hate it.  But then, with so much food inspiration running into me on a daily basis, it's hard to deny myself the pleasures of the Internet.  This morning, Autumn Makes and Does posted about a Kale Panzanella she made, and just after clearing the breakfast dishes, I was toasting up the last of the old bread in really (really) good olive oil to start my lunch.  Cooking lunch for myself is such a pleasure, I need almost to be coaxed not to eat at home.  Of course, when lunchtime came around, I was more than pleased with my altered version of her recipe:  garlicky, massaged raw kale, tossed with those Outpost chile olives that I am obsessed with for years, a handful of raisins, more olive oil, lemon juice, and some of the chile olive brine for good measure.  It was so good, I'm looking forward to having the same thing for lunch tomorrow.

kale sourdough panzanella

Since I'm a pregnant lady, I added a poached egg and some avocado.  I need the protein, and I wanted to try out the Serious Eats method of egg poaching that David Leibovitz posted on Facebook last week...  I learned that the strainer method does make for a pretty perfect looking poached egg, but also that my superfresh farm eggs have virtually no runny white to fall through the strainer - so if I'm not too picky about the pursuit of perfection, I can skip that part.

kale sourdough panzanella
"Autumn" inspired lunch

As for the Ken Forkish bread that I am still thrilled with:  click on the photo below for my baker notes.  I love that this bread proofs entirely in the fridge with hardly a second thought from me.  I'm patiently rereading the formulas, and am convinced that I have to try some of his other loaves - if only this first one I tried wasn't already so perfect.  4 weeks in now, and I've yet to produce a faulty loaf.


So other inspirational lunches from breads lately?  A savory feta and spinach bread "pudding" that was based on Heidi Swanson's Food and Wine post.

savory bread pudding

A stellar homemade hummus (courtesy of Alton Brown) that employed effortlessly creamy garbanzos cooked in a slow cooker (with more of those Outpost chile olives).

"Forkish" tartine

There were probably more instances, definitely there were.  But saving you from a post of 30 photos taken on an iPhone and the manic ravings of a bread obsessed supergeek shows my genuine concern for keeping up my small readership.  Today anyway, I am the Queen of Restraint.

Perhaps I'll close with a thought from Ken Forkish (in his book, Flour Water Salt Yeast) that I can't seem to get out of my mind.  Giant loaves of bread were baked in Europe years ago because families didn't have access to home ovens.  The community oven was fired once or twice a week and bakers would bring their risen loaves to bake.  The bread had to last until the next time an oven was fired - rationed appropriately and the weekly meal planning surrounded it.  Of the 3-kilo (6+ pounds) loaves his bakery produces, he feels those giants taste best around the 3-day mark, having a sufficient time to age and accustom to their environment.

He also goes on to say that his patrons don't eat that much bread, so they need to sell those monster breads in half or quarter loaves.  How sad, I've been thinking for the past week, that we have become so afraid of the carbohydrate (even though properly prepared sourdough breads pose none of the threats of common supermarket loaves, "wholegrain" or not) that this old-country tradition of bread with every meal is all but erased from our collective knowledge.

My bread isn't 6 pounds, but it is around 2 pounds, and I can get by baking just one a week being creative to use every morsel of it to the best of my ability.  This translates to strings of beautiful lunches, sometimes baking day breakfasts of week old French toast which we devour with true appreciation.  Never yet have I had a loaf of my bread mold.  This is the stuff that sustains, the realness of life and the centerpiece of my kitchen.  This is the staff that I can make into every meal.