My first ever loaf, ‘the saturday white bread’ was created using Ken Forkish’s recipe from ‘Flour, water, salt, yeast’.
Before diving into bread making, I did a ton of research, to make sure my kitchen was equipped. Seeing words like ‘levain’, and ‘starter’ (which I now know are staples for making anything sourdough) were completely new to me, as well as understanding what exactly the nuances are with cast iron cookware. For the newbie, I’ve found that this loaf is a perfect start(er – ha!). I’ve since made a loaf a week to the delight of my family and friends who have been keen & honest tasters (thank you <3).
I started this journey into bread baking not knowing what to expect, or whether I’d even be any good, but I’m so glad I did. To be honest, I think I’ve gone down a bit of a bread baking rabbit hole however this is exactly the escapism I need from my day to day. I find baking bread therapeutic and rewarding, especially getting feedback from my trusty tasters. Bread baking has even got me back into photo and written blogging (yay! shameless plug to check out my instagram if you haven’t done already).
I’ll be sharing the exact equipment I used for this recipe, as I’m based in the UK, I couldn’t get the exact tools Ken uses in his book, but I’ve managed to get great results.
I’ll also share an overview of the recipe, however if you’d like more detail I’d recommend buying his book. Not only is it incredibly detailed, it will look great with the rest of your cookbooks! I’d also recommend checking out Ken’s Youtube channel, where he demonstrates some of the techniques he describes. If you’re here for the crumb shot (naughty!) there’s a treat for you at the end.
Equipment & Ingredients
Disclaimer – these were the items I opted to use, and they worked for me. If you already own suitable alternatives, then save your coins and use them instead! Majority of these items can also be used in many other ways, not just bread baking.
Rubbermaid Food Container – 11.4 L – this is where you mix, fold and leave your dough to rise. One of my favourite things about Ken’s method is that majority of the work takes place in the one container, minimising mess! Please note, it doesn’t come with it’s lid, so you’ll have to order it separately.
Digital Precision Thermometer – I opted for the Heston Blumenthal digital thermometer, however any thermometer that is precise to the degree will be perfect. You’ll use this to check the temperature of your water, dough and also bread.
Digital scales – these will ensure your bakers percentages are on point (literally), especially for unforgiving recipes where you need to be precise with your measurements.
Banneton – this proving basket is where your dough with have its final rise, before you transfer it to your dutch oven. This is also how the flour rings are created to give your bread a wonderful design. I like this particular brand because it comes with a scorer (to create your own designs in your bread) and a free scraper which you will need to divide your dough.
Dutch oven – any cast iron Dutch oven around 9inches will do. I was gifted a Le Creuset dutch oven which has been fantastic to cook with, especially as it doesn’t need seasoning and aftercare. If you opt for a non-enameled cast iron dutch oven please make sure you are familiar with seasoning cast iron cookware, and you follow its proper care instructions.
- M&S Plain white bread flour – 1000g
- Saxa fine sea salt – 21g
- Allinson’s instant yeast – 4g
- Love – lots
Recipe (adapted from ‘Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast):
1. Autolyse: In your container, combine the flour with the 32 – 35 degree celsius water. Mix by hand just until incorporated. Cover and let rest for 20 to 30 minutes.
2. Mix: Sprinkle the salt and yeast evenly over the top of the dough. Mix by hand, wetting your working hand before mixing so the dough doesn’t stick to you. (It’s fine to rewet your hand three or four times while you mix.) Reach underneath the dough and grab about one-quarter of it. Gently stretch this section of dough and fold it over the top to the other side of the dough. Repeat three more times with the remaining dough, until the salt and yeast are fully enclosed.
Using your thumb and forefinger like pincers, squeeze big chunks of dough and then tighten your grip to cut through the dough five or six times across the entire mass of dough, rewetting your hands as necessary to keep dough from sticking. Then fold the dough over itself a few times. Repeat, alternately cutting and folding until all of the ingredients are fully integrated and the dough has some tension in it. Let the dough rest for a few minutes, then fold for another 30 seconds or until the dough tightens up. The whole process should take about 5 minutes. The target dough temperature at the end of the mix is 25 – 26 degrees celsius. Cover the tub and let the dough rise.
3. Fold: This dough needs two folds. Apply the first fold about 10 minutes after mixing: With a moistened hand, reach underneath the dough and grab about one-quarter of it. Gently stretch this section of dough and fold it over the top to the other side of the dough. Repeat three or four times, then invert the dough so seams are face down. You have just completed the first fold. Make the second fold during the next hour (when you see the dough spread out in the tub, it’s ready for the second fold). If need be, it’s OK to fold later; just be sure to leave it alone for the last hour of rising.
When the dough is triple its original volume, about 5 hours after mixing, it’s ready to be divided.
4. Divide: Moderately flour a work surface. Flour your hands and sprinkle a bit of flour around the edges of the tub. Tip the tub slightly and gently work your floured free hand beneath the dough to loosen it from the bottom of the tub. Gently ease the dough out onto the work surface without pulling or tearing it.
With floured hands, pick up the dough and ease it back down onto the work surface in a somewhat even shape. Dust the area in the middle, where you’ll cut the dough, with a bit of flour. Cut the dough into 2 equal-size pieces with a dough knife or plastic dough scraper.
5. Shape: Dust 2 proofing baskets with flour. Shape each piece of dough into a medium-tight ball by stretching a quarter of the ball over itself and repeating three more times. Place each ball seam side down in its proofing basket.
6. Proof: Lightly flour the tops of the loaves. Set them side by side and cover with a kitchen towel, or place each basket in a nonperforated plastic bag.
Plan to bake the loaves about 1 1/4 hours after they are shaped, assuming a room temperature of about 21 degrees. If your kitchen is warmer, they will be optimally proofed in about 1 hour. Use the finger-dent test (see note) to determine when they are perfectly proofed and ready to bake, being sure to check the loaves after 1 hour.
7. Preheat: At least 45 minutes prior to baking, put a rack in the middle of the oven and put 2 Dutch ovens on the rack with their lids on. Preheat the oven to 245 degrees.
If you only have 1 Dutch oven, put the second loaf into the refrigerator about 20 minutes before baking the first loaf and bake the loaves sequentially, giving the Dutch oven a 5-minute reheat after removing the first loaf. Alternatively, you can keep the second loaf in the refrigerator overnight, in its proofing basket inside a nonperforated plastic bag, and bake it early the next morning; if you do this, put the second loaf in the refrigerator immediately after shaping.
8. Bake: For the next step, please be careful not to let your hands, fingers or forearms touch the extremely hot Dutch oven.
Invert the proofed loaf onto a lightly floured countertop, keeping in mind that the top of the loaf will be the side that was facing down while it was rising — the seam side. Use oven mitts to remove the preheated Dutch oven from the oven. Remove the lid. Carefully place the loaf in the hot Dutch oven seam side up. Use mitts to replace the lid, then put the Dutch oven in the oven. Maintain the temperature at 245 degrees.
Bake for 30 minutes, then carefully remove the lid and bake for about 20 more minutes, until at least medium dark brown all around the loaf. Check after 15 minutes of baking uncovered in case your oven runs hot.
Remove the Dutch oven and carefully tilt it to turn the loaf out. Let cool on a rack or set the loaf on its side so air can circulate around it. Let the loaf rest for at least 20 minutes before slicing.