I had to take a little break from wedding blogging (not too many posts left – just one on the food and beverages and one on all the little odds and ends that don’t fit neatly into any one category) and write a food post.
Even though Noe and I didn’t register for anything, we still got some wedding gifts from people who know us pretty well…and people who know me pretty well tend to give me food-related presents. My mom’s friend Mary G. gave me a cookbook she had read about, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg, M.D., and Zoe Francois. I hadn’t heard of it yet, but the blurbs on the jacket from the New York Times and Andrew Zimmern convinced me that I should have.
The concept ultimately boils down to Hertzberg, a professional science guy/amateur baker, trying to figure out how to pinpoint and eliminate “unnecessary” steps in the time-consuming bread-making process while still retaining the taste and texture of old-school, homemade bread. His thought was that if the process could be simplified so that working professionals would still have time to bake bread, perhaps America wouldn’t continue down the Wonder Bread path to hell. He teamed up with Francois, a Minneapolis chef, and she became instrumental in fine-tuning the techniques and the recipes for truly artisan results.
Their method consists of creating a wetter than expected dough, letting it rise, and then storing it in the refrigerator and baking as needed. The master recipe makes enough bread for four 1 lb. loaves, or four day’s worth of bread (the loaves are fairly small). Once the dough is made, all you do is pull it out of the fridge, shape it a bit, let it sit for about 40 minutes, and then pop it in the oven. Actual hands-on time? Less than five minutes with the pre-made dough.
This is all sounds well and good, you say, but…does it actually work?
In a word – yes.
Using the master recipe on page 26, I spent about ten minutes mixing up a basic French boule dough. All I used was lukewarm water, yeast, salt, and flour. I mixed it up in the morning, then put it in a plastic container with a (not airtight) lid and let it rise for a couple hours. That’s all. No kneading – just make sure the dough is mixed. No monitoring the rising and punching it down. Just let it go for a couple hours. Once it has risen sufficiently, you can stick it in the fridge and use at your leisure.
Following the directions in the book, I pulled off a blob of dough about the size of a grapefruit, did some minimal shaping, and let it rest on a pizza peel for about 50 minutes. I then baked it on a pizza stone (with a broiler tray of water underneath providing steam) for 30 minutes, when a nice, brown crust had formed. I pulled it out of the oven, let it cool, and then ate it with just a little bit of butter and sprinkling of sea salt.
The dough should keep for up to 14 days, and supposedly tastes even better after a day or two in the fridge (more of a sourdough flavor). Once you master the master recipe, the book has recipes for other types of breads and then branches into pizza doughs, flat breads, and even pastries.
Although I have only tried one recipe – the first and simplest one at that – I heartily endorse and reccomend this book. This is so easy, it makes a bread machine look complicated, and the result is a much crustier, more satisfying loaf of bread. Bonus: it will make your house smell out of this world while baking.
I don’t know why it took so long for me to start baking bread, but I don’t think there will be any going back, especially with the easy techniques outlined in this book. Go ahead, give it a try – I bet you’ll like it.