It’s time to make bread.
My little townhouse heats up quickly, so I rarely–maybe never–bake in summer (unless it’s pie). Come September, I’m ready for the comforting smell of warm bread in late afternoon. And I can have that, even on work days, since I discovered Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, by Dr. Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois. Their no-knead, high-moisture dough is pre-mixed and pre-risen, and it keeps in the refrigerator. I make a two-week supply on Sunday, then feed my family fresh bread every night of the week. Tonight I’ll shape some into a loaf, let it rise for about 20 minutes and bake. All I need is flour, yeast, salt and a baking stone–”one of the keys to artisanal baking,” according to the authors.
“By pre-mixing high-moisture dough (without kneading) and then storing it, daily bread baking becomes easy; the only steps you do every day are shaping and baking,” Hertzberg and Francois explain in “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day” in Mother Earth News. “As the dough ages, it takes on sourdough notes reminiscent of great starters. Because this dough is wetter than most, it can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. And kneading this kind of dough would add little to the overall product; it can actually limit the volume and rise that you’ll get.”
Hertzberg and François are on a quest to make baking with whole grains straightforward and easy so everyone can experience the great European breads that Hertzberg took for granted as a kid in New York City. Back then, “this simple comfort food brought to America by modest immigrants” was as ubiquitous as the corner shops that turned out daily loaves. And, “nobody’s grandmother would ever have paid $6 for a loaf of bread,” Hertzberg writes. Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day is Hertzberg and Francois’s attempt “to help people re-create the great ethnic breads of years past, in their own homes, without investing serious time or effort.”
My favorite bread to make is the basic model French boule, which also happens to be the easiest. The trick is keeping the dough wet enough to foster sourdough flavor but dry enough to hold a loaf shape. The recipe is below, and you’ll find more recipes–as well as bread-baking tips that will amaze your friends–in the article Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.
If you’re in the area, Hertzberg and Francois will share tips at the Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, Pennsylvania, on Saturday, September 24, and Sunday, September 25.
This easy, delicious crusty-outside, moist-and-chewy-inside boule costs about 50 cents to make.
Photo by Mark Luinenburg
Makes 4 1-pound loaves
1. Heat 3 cups water to just a little warmer than body temperature (about 100 degrees Fahrenheit).
2. Add 1-1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast (1-1/2 packets) and 1-1/2 tablespoon coarse kosher salt to the water in a 5-quart bowl or, preferably, in a resealable, lidded container (not airtight — use container with gasket or lift a corner). Don’t worry about getting it all to dissolve.
3. Mix in 6-1/2 cups unsifted, unbleached, all-purpose flour by gently scooping it up, then leveling the top of the measuring cup with a knife; don’t pat down. Mix with a wooden spoon, a high-capacity food processor with dough attachment, or a heavy-duty stand mixer with dough hook, until uniformly moist. If hand-mixing becomes too difficult, use very wet hands to press it together. Don’t knead! This step is done in a matter of minutes and yields a wet dough loose enough to conform to the container.
- Cover loosely. Do not use screw-top jars, which could explode from trapped gases. Allow the mixture to rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse (or at least flatten on top), approximately two hours, depending on temperature. Longer rising times, up to about five hours, will not harm the result. You can use a portion of the dough any time after this period. Refrigerated wet dough is less sticky and easier to work with than room-temperature dough.
On Baking Day:
1. Sprinkle the surface of the dough with flour, then cut off a 1-pound (grapefruit-sized) piece with a serrated knife. Hold the dough in your hands and add a little more flour as needed so it won’t stick to your hands. Gently stretch the surface of the dough around to the bottom on four “sides,” rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go, until the bottom is a collection of four bunched ends. Most of the dusting flour will fall off. The bottom of the loaf will flatten out during resting and baking.
2. Place the ball on the pizza peel. Let it rest uncovered for about 40 minutes. Depending on the dough’s age, you may see little rise during this period; more rising will occur during baking.
3. Twenty minutes before baking, preheat oven to 450 degrees with a baking stone on the middle rack. Place an empty broiler tray for holding water on another shelf.
4. Dust the top of the loaf liberally with flour, which will allow the slashing, serrated knife to pass without sticking. Slash a 1⁄4-inch-deep cross, scallop or tick-tack-toe pattern into the top. (This helps the bread expand during baking.)
5. With a forward jerking motion of the wrist, slide the loaf off the pizza peel and onto the baking stone. Quickly but carefully pour about a cup of hot water into the broiler tray and close the oven door to trap the steam. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the crust is browned and firm to the touch. With wet dough, there’s little risk of drying out the interior, despite the dark crust. When you remove the loaf from the oven, it will audibly crackle, or “sing,” when initially exposed to room temperature air. Allow to cool completely, preferably on a wire rack, for best flavor, texture and slicing. The perfect crust may initially soften, but will firm up again when cooled.
6. Refrigerate the remaining dough in your lidded (not airtight) container and use it over the next two weeks. Even one day’s storage improves the flavor and texture. The dough can also be frozen in 1-pound portions in an airtight container and defrosted overnight in the refrigerator before baking day.