I know, I know.
You probably don’t need another bread recipe. Not even one for sourdough.
Not even if I tell you that this bread tastes better than my favorite artisan loaf from the market.
And certainly you wouldn’t want it from someone who has not yet mastered the art of bread baking.
We all want a good, tried-and-true, well-loved recipe. I get it.
This sourdough bread recipe from Ken Forkish’s Flour Water Salt Yeast is my tried-and-true. It’s not because it turns out with the perfect rise or perfect crumb each time (in my hands, at least). And that’s no fault of Mr. Forkish. I love to experiment with different flours and each tweak I make changes the behavior of the dough which I haven’t yet learned to manage.
Really, I have no business adjusting bread recipes at my skill level but where’s the fun in that? Sometimes I under-proof and other times I over-proof the dough. But when I pull the loaf out of the oven and I see the caramelized crust I can’t help but smile. I made this. And when the cool air touches the crust the soft crackle and pop are music to my ears. And yes, it does taste better than store-bought. I’m still pleasantly surprised each time I slice into a fresh loaf and take that first bite.
This recipe deserves to be shared because it always rewards me, despite my imperfect efforts. My three-year old sourdough starter is the heart of each loaf I bake and I can’t help but feel proud about that, too. When my husband sees me nurturing the dough, stretching and folding before I let it sleep overnight, then shaping the dough the following morning he wonders why I go through the trouble when I can buy one. Then he takes a slice of my [Overnight Country Brown] bread and he sings its praises, too.
After pulling this loaf out of the oven yesterday I stepped out of the kitchen only to discover that a tasting had already taken place when I returned a short while later. My husband was on the phone with a friend remarking how tasty the bread was. This compliment was especially appreciated after I noticed that the loaf had an uneven crumb inside. I was in the middle of shaping the dough when I realized that a webinar I was scheduled to tune into was about to start. I threw the partially-shaped dough back in the bowl and stored it in the refrigerator for two hours until I could return to it.
So for these two mishaps–the premature slicing of the loaf and imperfect results–I’m sharing two other images from previous bakes (first and last images) so you can see that even someone as low-skilled as I am can turn out a perfect crust and crumb once in a while.
Note: There is no kneading involved in this recipe but it does require an overnight rest before baking. The recipe I’ve posted describes the timeline I use. I feed the starter in the morning on Day 1 and bake in the afternoon on Day 2. There is minimal hands-on work in between. If you don’t have Mr. Forkish’s book I also recommend using his Youtube videos as a guide for the easy-to-follow techniques he employs. You won’t need to watch all eleven videos for this recipe, maybe three or four, but they will give you a leg up if you decide to give it a go. I’ve also adjusted the original recipe to make only one loaf instead of two.
Ken Forkish How-To Videos on Youtube (11 videos showing his techniques): Click here.
- 108-120 grams active starter, at its peak rise
- 302 grams all-purpose flour
- 138 grams whole wheat flour
- 342 grams filtered water (90-95ºF)
- 6 grams kosher salt (I sometimes use less)
- 1-2 tablespoons caraway seeds (optional)
- Day 1 (around midday), feed the levain. Before refreshing your mother starter, set aside 40 grams to feed for the levain required in this recipe. Feed 40 grams each flour of your choice and water. Set aside until at peak rise (about 4 hours; longer on cold days. In winter I store the levain inside the oven, turned off with the light on.
- Day 1, autolyse. Combine the all-purpose and wheat flours with the water in a bowl (DON'T add the starter and salt). I've performed this step two ways. The original Ken Forkish recipe requires a 30-minute autolyse. In this case, after a few hours of feeding the starter, when it is near peak, combine the water and flours and let rest. The other option that has worked for me is to start the autolyse at the same time as I feed the levain, resulting in an autolyse of several hours. If you're trying this recipe for the first time I recommend opting for the shorter option as it is what the original recipe uses.
- Day 1 (evening), mix the final dough. When the levain is ready add the salt and levain to the flour and water mixture. Combine the dough using a wet hand and folding the dough over from the bottom to top. Then Ken Forkish employs what he calls the "pincer" method to make sure all the ingredients are fully incorporated. Imagining your hand as a lobster claw (my description), cut through the dough pinching a few times, mixing, then pinching again. If you're using the caraway seeds at them at this step.
- Day 1 (evening), fold the dough. Pick up one portion of the dough (without taking it out of the bowl) and fold it over. Repeat this folding step a few times, inverting the dough with the folds at the bottom of the bowl when done. This folding step should be done three to four times before the dough rests overnight over a period of one to two hours. I fold every thirty minutes in the space of two hours before the overnight rest. After folding, cover the bowl with a towel or plastic wrap and let it rest overnight.
- Day 2 (morning), shape the loaf and final proof. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface. The dough will relax and flatten when you take it out of the bowl. Taking one section of dough at at time, fold the sections over the rest of the dough until you have a somewhat tight ball shape. Then tighten the dough by pulling it towards you by cupping the dough with both your hands using your pinky fingers as the anchors. This tightens the dough shape as you pull it towards you. Rotate then repeat three to four times until the dough holds its ball shape. Transfer the dough on a floured banneton with the seam side down. Cover the entire proofing basket with a plastic bag and let rest for about four hours. To test for readiness, poke the dough with a floured finger, making about a ½ inch indentation. If the dent springs back immediately, the dough needs a longer proofing. If the dent springs back slowly and doesn't completely disappear, the dough is ready to bake.
- Day 2 (afternoon), bake. This recipe uses a dutch oven for baking. Preheat your oven to 475ºF with a rack in the center of the oven. Put the dutch oven with their lid on on the rack while the oven preheats. Once the oven has reached temperature, invert the dough on a lightly floured countertop. Even better is to invert the dough on a piece of parchment paper. Make sure you have oven mitts then take the (very hot) dutch oven out of the oven and place on the counter or stove. Remove the lid and rest one of your mitts on top of the lid so you don't touch it by accident. Take the ends of the parchment paper and carefully lift and transfer the dough to the dutch oven. Cover the dutch oven and place it back in the oven. Bake covered for 30 minutes then uncover and bake for another 20-25 minutes, checking your bread at the 15-18 minute mark just in case your oven runs hot. When done, tilt the bread out of the dutch oven and let it cool on a rack for at least 20 minutes before slicing.
2. Click on the video links in this post to see Ken Forkish demonstrate his technique for his breads.
3. For other combinations:
a. 264 grams spelt flour, 176 grams all-purpose flour, 340 grams water. Or,
b. 264 grams all-purpose flour, 110 grams whole wheat flour, 66 grams rye flour, 342 grams water