Hello, dear reader. It's been a while. Boy, let me tell ya, this here life is one hell of a ride. But like the best friend you grew up with and haven't spoken to in years, we can pick up right where we left off like no time has passed at all, by getting back to the basics.
Like breaking bread. And making bread. Because bread is life.
Today I'm going to share one of my favorite bread techniques from Ken Forkish's Flour Water Salt Yeast - the recipe itself is a plain white boule whose bulk weight is made up of 80% pre-ferment. It's not as time-consuming to make as a fully-levained dough, but it produces similar results with less effort. The great thing about the way Ken writes his recipes is his focus on the little things and details learned after making who-knows-how-many loaves. Really gives you a leg up when learning how to do it yourself.
This recipe can be made with all-purpose white flour, whole wheat flour, or any combination of the two. It also calls for instant yeast, not active dry, for more consistent results. It is a very loose dough, with no kneading involved, relying on a folding method during bulk fermentation to build structure. It also doesn’t require any difficult rolling, shaping, or scoring – instead, you form the dough into a ball by folding it over onto itself to create tension, proofing seam-side down, and then baking seam-side up. As it bakes, the seams create natural fissures much like scoring, while retaining its shape and gasses.
The temperature of the ingredients, proofing environment, and oven are very important in order to get the best results. Use an instant read meat thermometer to measure the temperature of the water when mixing. For proofing, this recipe assumes a room temperature of around 70F. If your kitchen or the weather is a little cooler than this, a suitable environment for proofing is in a turned-off oven with the oven light turned on. It’s also important when baking to properly preheat your oven and dutch oven well in advance – at least 30 mins. A cheap oven thermometer will help you ensure your baking temperature is truly accurate.
You can also use a thermometer to make sure you have baked your bread enough – the proper internal temperature you’re looking for is at least 203F. Underbaking will result in an overly-chewy crumb and a dull crust.
And lastly – the most difficult step – after baking, allow it to rest completely to room temperature before cutting into it! Freshly-baked bread cools in several stages. When it comes out of the oven, it will be crusty and hard. After just a minute or two out of the hot oven, it will begin to shrink slightly causing the surface to audibly crackle as it cools (a wonderful sound). After several minutes it will actually soften, and remain that way for nearly a half hour. At this point you may think it’s ready to cut into, but don’t! After about an hour, as it comes completely to room temperature, the surface will harden again and become crunchy and the interior will have released all its moisture, and the entire loaf will be easier to cut into. If you like to serve your bread warm, reheat in a moderately hot oven at this point.
When cutting, use a serrated blade. Cut the loaf directly in half, and then place one half cut-side down on the board and cut into slices. Let the knife do the work for cleaner cuts – don’t push the blade down, but actually saw into the bread with long strokes.
Store the bread on a cutting board, cut-side down, covered with a towel at room temperature for up to a day. For long-term storage, tightly wrap in several layers of plastic wrap and freeze for up to 2 months. Defrost, still wrapped, at room temperature.
I like to eat this bread grilled with a little olive oil, toasted with a good salted butter, or just plain by the piece while standing in the kitchen deciding what to make for dinner. It is also the end-all be-all bread for grilled cheese.
This recipe makes two loaves.
TOOLS NEEDED: A 4.5qt or 5qt dutch oven with lid, two bowels and lint-free towels (preferably linen) or bamboo proofing baskets, a wire rack for cooling.
BIGA FERMENTATION: 12 to 14 hours
BULK FERMENTATION: 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours
PROOF TIME: About 1 hour
SAMPLE SCHEDULE: Mix the biga at 6pm, mix the final dough at 8am the next morning, shape into loaves at 11am, and bake at about noon.
|White Flour||800g||6 1/4 cups|
|Water (80F)||544g||2 1/3 cups|
|Instant Dried Yeast||.64g||3/16 tsp|
|INGREDIENT||FINAL DOUGH MIX QUANTITY|
|White Flour||200g||1 1/2 cups + 1 tbsp|
|Water (105F)||206g||7/8 cup|
|Salt||22g||1 tbsp + 1 tsp|
|Instant Dried Yeast||2g||1/2 tsp|
|Biga||All from recipe above|