Piglet Community Pick: Flour Water Salt Yeast

February 15, 2013

Read up on some of 2012's most-loved cookbooks, tested and reviewed by the one and only Food52 community.  

Today: hardlikearmour dives into the mastery of baking through Flour Water Salt Yeast.

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Paging through Flour Water Salt Yeast for the first time was both inspiring and daunting. Inspiring because most of the recipes in the book are made with only the four ingredients in the title. Daunting because the book is brimming with mouth-watering images of deep-brown, flour-speckled loaves of bread, and pizzas with poofy, char-spotted edges surrounding molten, cheese-covered centers. I was excited to start making dough, but I had some concerns. Could such impossibly beautiful loaves and perfect pizzas be created in a home kitchen? Could delicious bread really be created from the four humble ingredients that form the book's title? I was ready to find out. Almost.

The book is arranged into four main sections: "The Principles of Artisan Bread," "Basic Bread Recipes," "Levain Bread Recipes," and "Pizza Recipes." I started by reading the principles section, and found it to be informative and interesting. The second chapter, entitled “Eight Details for Great Bread and Pizza” is invaluable. It gives reason for the persnickety level of detail found in the recipes, as well as the purpose behind the various steps in the dough-making process. It also has a troubleshooting section for when problems inevitably arise. Once I felt well-grounded in the science behind the recipes, I was ready to actually bake bread.

I started with the basic Overnight White Bread, and making the dough by hand was simple yet gratifying. Forkish employs several somewhat unusual techniques, like the “pincer method” for mixing the dough, and “folding” for both mixing the dough and helping it to develop its structure. The book presents clearly written directions as well as photo tutorials for each process, and following in the footsteps of Jim Lahey (My Bread) and Chad Robertson (Tartine Bread), the loaves are baked in preheated Dutch ovens. This allows the bread to create its own steam, which makes a crispy crust. After mixing, folding, rising, shaping, proofing, and an unbearably long 30 minutes of blind anticipation, it was time to remove the lid. Huzzah! The bread had risen nicely; the top spanned with wide, shallow fissures. After a bit more time in the oven, the exterior became nut-brown and flecked with patches of flour. It was a photo from the book brought to life. I ate the first slice plain, reveling in the crisp crust, chewy interior, and clean, yeasty flavor. I was elated! I had succeeded in making a picture-perfect loaf of bread, one with a depth of flavor that somehow exceeded its four simple ingredients.

Over the next several weeks I became a bit obsessed with the book, and made white breads using biga and poolish methods to preferment part of the dough, which adds complexity of flavor and helps the bread keep longer. My favorite white bread was the “palate-sparkling, almost buttery-flavored” White Bread with Poolish, but the slightly earthy White Bread with 80% Biga was also delicious. Next up, a levain culture to use in sourdough breads. I used it to make the breathtakingly gorgeous Walnut Levain, dotted with nuts and streaked purple throughout. Then I used it to make Pain Au Bacon -- my only recipe failure –- which was overly dense but still deliciously tangy and savory. But the troubleshooting section in the book had answers; I rectified my missteps and was able to create a sublime vegetarian version of the same bread using green olives and olive oil instead of bacon and bacon fat.

I postponed the final portion of the book until I was very comfortable with making dough. I take pizza seriously, and am a wood-oven, thin-crust pizza junkie. I chose to make the Overnight Pizza Dough with Poolish. With it, I first made salami pizza on a baking stone, and it was the closest to wood-oven pizza I've ever made at home. The edges were poofy with brown spots and a small amount of char, the crust crisp but still a bit chewy. It was downright fantastic! Next I made iron skillet pizza with red grapes, mozzarella, and salami, which had a thicker, chewier crust perfect for heavier toppings. I used the remaining dough to make a thick-crusted focaccia with a perfectly chewy, open texture and a rich, buttery flavor. Overall I was so pleased with the dough that it will be hard to convince me to try another recipe.

I am grateful I tested Flour Water Salt Yeast. The knowledge and experience I gained while working though the book have markedly improved my bread and pizza making. The book is relevant for a wide range of skill levels: novice bakers will be able to start with the basic doughs, while experienced bakers will be able to push their boundaries to the point of being able to create their own recipes. With its largely approachable techniques and its artisan-caliber results, this book deserves a spot in any home kitchen. And now you'll have to excuse me; I need to go bake some bread.


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  • jennhill
I am an amateur baker and cake decorator. I enjoy cooking, as well as eating and feeding others. I live in the beautiful Pacific Northwest with my husband and our menagerie. I enjoy outdoor activities including hiking, mushroom hunting, tide pooling, beach combing, and snowboarding.


luvcookbooks February 24, 2013
This is the best (read most useful) review I have read in this year's Piglet. I am getting this book and committing to work as hard as you did to make the recipes! Thank you thank you thank you!!
hardlikearmour February 24, 2013
Thank you!
MarjorieR February 19, 2013
I couldn't agree with this review more. I'm obsessed with this book for all the same reasons. I learned about this book while taking an Ancient Rye Bread class at the Stone Turtle Baking school here in Maine. The owner/teacher of the school has taught for King Arthur for 30 years and could not say enough great things about this book. Nothing beats hot crackling bread out of the oven when your guest arrive for dinner. Eat bread!
hardlikearmour February 19, 2013
I'm glad I'm not the only one who became a obsessed with FWSY!
Midge February 17, 2013
Thanks for an excellent review. I might just have to join the Dutch oven bread-baking revolution after all.
hardlikearmour February 17, 2013
Viva la Dutch oven revolución!
Kateq February 17, 2013
I LOVE this book. I read it with great pleasure and have made some of the best bread of my life following his instructions.
hardlikearmour February 17, 2013
My experience exactly!
jennhill February 17, 2013
I live in Portland, where Ken Forkish has a bakery and pizza restaurant. I can't wait to get my hands on this book which I only just learned about. Ken's bread is the best I've ever had, hands down, crusty and chewy and perfect. His pizza is equally delicious! Thanks for the review, now I know what to expect and look forward to
hardlikearmour February 17, 2013
I live in Portland, too! The bread & pizza crust are as close to Ken's Artisan as you can get at home. (Now if he'd only publish how to make is croissants and canelés!)
lifeofcolors February 16, 2013
This book has transformed my bread baking! I don't pretend to be a baker or chef but I've baked my own bread on and off for 25 years or so. I've used conventional methods and/or bread machine up until I bought this book, but the bread from this book is fantastic. I highly recommend it. I just don't like the flavor or texture as well of other breads anymore. :-)
hardlikearmour February 16, 2013
I'm glad I'm not the only one!
BavarianCook February 16, 2013
Thanks for a great review! I just might have to get this book now! And, by the way, you are not the only person who dislikes salmon :)
hardlikearmour February 16, 2013
Thanks! Do page through the book if you've got a chance -- it's really lovely. I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who doesn't care for salmon!
Fairmount_market February 16, 2013
Great review HLA! This really inspires me to continue exploring bread making. Would you recommend this book for baking with whole grains? I have a steady supply of locally grown whole wheat and rye flour from a CSA. I've been experimenting with recipes from Peter Reinhart's "Whole Grain Breads", but would like to try others as well.
hardlikearmour February 16, 2013
There aren't any 100% whole grain breads in the book, but there are blends using from 40 to 75% whole wheat flour as well as a few breads containing smaller amounts of rye flour, wheat germ, and wheat bran.
ATG117 February 15, 2013
Great review--well written and informative. Sometimes I think I'm the only person in the world that doesn't care for sourdough.
hardlikearmour February 16, 2013
Thank you! It's okay if you don't like sourdough. Sometimes I think I'm the only person who doesn't like salmon!
nannydeb February 15, 2013
Great review! Very inspiring! I've been dabbling with sourdough in a dutch oven with good results and am ready to move on. I must have this cookbook!
hardlikearmour February 15, 2013
I don't think you'll be disappointed if you get it!
lapadia February 15, 2013
Great review, Sara! I love baking yeast breads of all kinds, there is just something about the feel of the dough, the kneading, shaping, creating, slowing down, waiting for it to rise…finally getting it into the oven, smelling the aroma throughout the kitchen and at last feeling the hot loaf fresh out of the oven, tapping it, tasting, sharing a fresh slice with others…it is all fun and for me somewhat therapeutic. Reading about your fun baking through this book has inspired me to buy another bread book, to experiment, to and take advantage of the equipment I have on hand…first stop = Pain Au Bacon!
hardlikearmour February 15, 2013
It takes 5 days to build the levain from scratch, so you may as well explore some of the non-levain breads while you're waiting! I recently made the Harvest Bread with Poolish that contains a little wheat germ and bran -- it's got a really great flavor.
lapadia February 15, 2013
It all in the fun! Now...if only my little town didn't close the bookstore, will have to do a little traveling to get my hands on this book, or Amazon.
EmilyC February 15, 2013
What a great, thoughtful review, Sara! The sounds of that iron skillet pizza might be reason enough to buy this book.
hardlikearmour February 15, 2013
The pizza dough was a revelation! And the iron skillet version is really nice - thick but still light and chewy. I think I'm going to have to plan a pizza night soon.
davidpdx February 15, 2013
Thanks for the review. I live down the street from Ken's bakery and wondered if I ever could make similar delicious loaves. Bought the book; started, like you, with the overnight bread; and it was outstanding. I've been told, "Why make it when you have Ken's in the neighborhood?" But, there is something uniquely satisfying about making your own bread. Your review will encourage me to march through the rest of the book!
hardlikearmour February 15, 2013
There really is something immensely satisfying about making your own bread -- from the feel of the flour on your fingers to the whispery crackling noises the bread makes as it's cooling. I will say I'm more than slightly jealous of your proximity to Ken's!
Cristina S. February 15, 2013
What a great review! I find the idea of bread baking a bit intimidating, but you make it seem manageable. And now I'm hungry for everything you baked!
hardlikearmour February 15, 2013
It is a bit intimidating at first, but definitely manageable! The hardest part is figuring out what will work for your schedule with the fermenting and proofing times. Forkish also has demonstration videos at the Ken's Artisan website:
Greenstuff February 15, 2013
Nice! I live in an area where I can buy great bread, and I'm always saying I won't make it much until I can have a bread oven in the back yard. But now, you have my Dutch oven calling to me. Thanks!
AntoniaJames February 15, 2013
Let's hope your Dutch oven is a 4 quart one as that is the only kind that Forkish recommends. Okay, he begrudgingly will let you use a 5 quart one, but warns that the bread won't be as good . . . ;o)
hardlikearmour February 15, 2013
That's a good point AJ! Forkish used 4 quart ovens, but states about the 5 quart "...But you'll still get good bread, so why not take advantage of equipment you already have?" I used a 3.5 quart Dutch oven w/o any problem. If you need to invest in a Dutch oven the Lodge Cast Iron 4 qt. can be found for about $45 on, and was one of the ovens Forkish used for testing his recipes. In my mind the bread you can make will be worth the investment, but I don't claim to be unbiased!!
mrslarkin February 15, 2013
Beautifully written review, hla. Can't wait to get my hands on this one.
hardlikearmour February 15, 2013
I am clearly enamored with FWSY. A large percent of my instagrams are now bread photos!
fiveandspice February 15, 2013
Awesome review Sara! I have The Breadbaker's Apprentice and thought maybe that was enough, but now I'm pining for this one. And for some of that olive bread!
hardlikearmour February 15, 2013
I'm munching on a slice of Pain au Bacon. I can't decide which I like better -- olive or bacon -- so maybe next time I'll add both!
fiveandspice February 15, 2013
Yes! And then you will send me a loaf. ;)
hardlikearmour February 15, 2013
The recipes do make 2 loaves!