The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

New Bread Book by Ken Forkish: Flour Water Salt Yeast

Rosalie's picture

New Bread Book by Ken Forkish: Flour Water Salt Yeast

I ordered this book from the library, and I believe I'm the first person to check out this particular volume.  The author, Ken Forkish, had left an unsatisfying career in the Silicon Valley, chucking it all for artisan baking.  He opened Ken's Artisan Bakery in Portland, Oregon, in 2001.

Checking a bread book out from the library is a different experience from buying it.  I read it more carefully than I read the books that I buy because I only had three weeks.  When I decided I wanted to try out his techniques, I had to take extra pains to keep it clean because it was not my book and it was so new.

He gives the book his own slant, trying to keep home kitchens in mind.  Everything is done by hand, no electric mixers., lots of wetting of the hands.  The ingredients are pretty basic, as suggested by the title: Flour Water Salt Yeast.  He's particular about temperatures.  And he likes the Dutch Oven approach.

But he is perhaps of the supersize generation.  The recipes use 1000 grams of flour (mostly white, with up to 75% whole wheat).  This is, according to his accommodation, about 7 3/4 cups flour, making 2 loaves, each about 1 1/2 pounds.  I was especially shocked that his recipe for making a starter begins with 500 grams (almost 4 cups) ww flour (and 500 grams water); on day two, you toss 3/4 of this mix and add in another 500 grams each ww flour and water; and so on.  He mentions somewhere under maintenance that you can scale this down, but is this really practical for the home kitchen?

There is a section on pizzas, tying in with Ken's Artisan Pizza, which he opened in 2006 in conjunction with his bakery.  He gives recipes for pizza doughs, based on his other recipes, and focaccias.  He also gives real pizza recipes.  Looks good.

I was intrigued by his technique descriptions, especially folding and shaping.  So I tried one of his recipes, adapting it to 100% whole wheat (and 82% hydration, per his suggestion).  I think I need practice, especially on the shaping and the use of the Dutch Oven.

My impression is that, try as he might to be populist, he'll probably scare off beginners, especially with his quantities.

Has anyone else seen the book?  What are your impressions?


foodslut's picture

.... but I also noticed the "honkin'" quantities of dough he promotes preparing, and wondered if it might scare off beginner home bakers.  I bake ~10-13 lbs of dough each weekend, and my fridge doesn't have room for the 12 qt. container he recommends for mixing/fermenting dough, and my oven doesn't have room for 2 x Dutch ovens.

He also recommends storing bread in plastic bags - a bit against the flow there, no?

I do like how he shows "same day" and "overnight" options for bakers to fit into their schedule.

bananaman's picture

A few comments on this: as mentioned by others, the 12 qt container never does go in the fridge. Usually it is shaped loaves in the baskets that refrigerate overnight. Also Ken has provided instructions for using just one Dutch oven (there's a brief re-heat between baking.) I believe Ken is right about storing in plastic - - all the other solutions I have tried have always failed and ended up in staleness. This way you can just reheat or toast the bread and the crumb and crust is just right. Finally, there has been reference to the amounts of starter (levain) that get tossed. Ken has addressed this as well if you read to the end of the levain process - - just cut the proportions for the feedings in half. Sure, you still use about 250g of flour at each feeding, but that's a whole lot better than 500g a throw. Do note that there are some recipies that require more levain (I just did one with 364g) so you won't have a whole bunch left over if you cut down the feeding size.

Finally, almost all recipes are designed to produce two 500g (just over one pound) loaves. If you only want one loaf, you can cut the recipe in half. I always make two and freeze one if I don't use it immediately.

Floydm's picture

A neighbor of mine who worked in Ken's bakery for a few years described it as being an extremely intense enviroment, so it doesn't surprise me to hear that the book is a wee bit intimidating.  That said, it is probably awesome if you don't get scared off.  His breads are wonderful.

I've ordered Flour Water Salt Yeast but haven't seen it yet.  I'm  looking forward to checking it out.

Update: Guess what arrived in the mail today?  :)


barryvabeach's picture

Yogachic,  glad you liked the book.  I checked it out from the library and read it pretty thoroughly and thought it was pretty well written.  I am not a big fan of his pincer method and large Cambro containers, but other than that , I did try a few of his recipes.   Some may say the next step is a big jump, but I suggest Bread by Hamelman   .  It is one of the few books I have purchased, and am glad I did.  The current version is the second edition.   There were some issues with the first edition, but they are cleared up in this one.   BTW, i use the dutch oven method a lot, but others have suggested, and my results agree, that it works just fine with a room temp dutch oven, and much less risk of a burn than loading a preheated DO.    I also use free form loaves - under an inverted roaster pan with a few squirts of steam from a hand steamer and that works for me.


Mark Sealey's picture
Mark Sealey

I've been using FWSY - working my way through to biga using mostly KAFs and Bob's Red Mills.

The only thing I have not done is preheated my Dutch Oven - so far!

Although I now get a great rise, my proofed dough tends to collapse when I invert the banneton and place the dough - very carefully - into my Dutch Oven.

Is it that:

  1. I need to be more dextrous/careful; or
  2. the structural strength still is innately poor - I'm still experimenting with the length and frequency of folding?

Thanks for any advice!

bnom's picture

Since it's such a wet dough, I would expect a little spread when you load it into the dutch oven but it it's really a collapse...and it doesn't achieve the oven spring you expect... then it could be overproofed. 

How does the dough respond when you are shaping?  Does it  hold it's shaped during the final proof? If these elements are not an issue, than I think you probably have the structural strength you need. 

If you find the business of loading the loaves into dutch ovens awkward, you might want to employ parchment paper.  You essentially make a sling of the paper:  two criss-crossed strips - wide enough to hold the loaf and long enough to give you handles which you can use to lower the loaf into the pot.

Btw, back when I had double ovens, I did a side-by-side experiment with pre-heated vs non-heated dutch ovens. The loaf that went into the pre-heated dutch oven was noticeably better.

Good luck!



Mark Sealey's picture
Mark Sealey


Thanks so much: your suggestions are really helpful!

It is a wet dough, Yes. But it comes out of the banneton pretty taught and formed. (It rises there well too.)

It very much holds shape during the final proof, which is supposed to be 60-75 minutes; that's what I've been giving it. It definitely does not collapse in the least at that stage.

If I use parchment paper slings, I have a feeling that would help; thanks.

That would also mean lack of wicker contact in those four places (vertical strips) inside the banneton, wouldn't it. But that seems like a really good way to manage it.

It (the dough) just seems so fragile. I was thinking that, if I were more careful with the folds during bulk fermentation, it might withstand handling.

Thanks, too, for the advice on pre-heating. I was nervous of pre-heating an enameled Lodge Dutch Oven.

But I have now bought a plain cast iron one. That ought to be safe, oughtn't it?

dosco's picture

That would also mean lack of wicker contact in those four places (vertical strips) inside the banneton, wouldn't it. But that seems like a really good way to manage it.

I thought the dough went into the banneton seam-side-up, and when ready for baking, was placed seam-side-down on the peel (and stone)...? For me this has made a significant difference with regards to my bloom and ear (although you might not think that if you saw my most recent bakes ... new recipes that were under-hydrated).

Back to the point ... I would think that you would make a criss-cross of parchment on your working surface, then "dump" your dough from the banneton onto the parchment, then place the dough in the DO using the "parchment handles and sling" ...?



Mark Sealey's picture
Mark Sealey

(The friendliness and helpfulness of folk here continues to be such a lift! Thank you…)

Yes, I'm putting the fermented and folded dough into the banneton seam up, trying to invert (that's usually when it decides to flatten itself somewhat) so it's baking seam down in the DO.

I imagined a criss-cross parchment 'sling' placed under the proofing dough in the banneton - before it begins its final rise.

Really, I doubt that something an inch wide (or less?) would be too detrimental to the pattern on the baked loaf. But I do like it!

I'm thinking that the less handling I can do once the final proofing has begun the better?

Hence my imagining the sling in place (cradling the dough) from before when the dough goes into the banneton until after it's been released gently from it inside the DO.

My query is really, I suppose: Is it possible to make a dough so robust that it doesn't need such gentle handling?

Bread-For-Days's picture

Forkish specifies that the shaped loaf should be going into the banneton seam down. The seam will then face up when turned out and when placed into the dutch oven. 

If you are shaping it tight enough it should hold its shape.. I can't say I'm meticulously gentle about putting my dough into the dutch oven. It does spread slightly but certainly doesn't collapse.. 

Mark Sealey's picture
Mark Sealey

Appreciated, Bread-For-Days!

I'm going to put special effort into shaping now :-)

Good luck to you too!