Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day

For Christmas Annalisa gave me a copy of Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois and I love it.  It goes without saying that the very best bread is not going to come from this cookbook, but it comes close—really.  Hertzberg and Francois offer a wide range of bread recipes to meet all of your needs, but their basic recipe (and the place to start) is the boule.  First a few words about their technique and then on to the recipe.

The trick with this bread (as with Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread popularized by Mark Bittman) is a high water content and slow rise.  These two tricks make kneading unnecessary because the water dissolves the gluten in the flour and, over time, brings the gluten sheets into alignment the same as with kneading.  Likewise, the high water content creates steam in the oven, causing the slack wet dough to puff up with big airy holes as it cooks.  The very best bread is going to come when you use some version of a pizza stone.  When my old one broke after years of use I replaced it with the watering tray for a 14″ terra cotta pot for about $10.  I just turn it upside down in the oven and it works just fine.  It takes a bit longer to preheat, but it gets the job done.  If you don’t have a pizza stone then make the bread on a cookie sheet (but don’t heat the cookie sheet in the oven ahead of time).

So, off we go with the recipe.  You should get four 1lb. loafs from this recipe.  Get yourself a large (at least 5 quarts) container and measure out in this order:

  • 3 cups water at about 100°
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons (that’s 1 T, 1 t, and 1/2 t) yeast
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 6 1/2 cups flour

Mix it all together until the ingredients are incorporated and let it sit at room temperature, loosely covered, to rise for an hour or two until it has roughly doubled.  At this point you could take a hunk of dough and make your first loaf, but I recommend that you be patient and place the dough in the refrigerator at least overnight.  You can store the dough in the fridge for up to two weeks and the longer it sits, the more flavor it develops (think sourdough). 

When you are ready to cook a loaf place a broiler or jelly roll pan on the bottom of a gas oven or the bottom shelf of an electric one and your pizza stone on the middle rack.  Preheat the oven to 450°.  Then get out your container of dough and flour, oil or dampen your hand so that you can grab a ball of the sticky dough.  Use a serrated knife to cut of a ball of dough about the size of a grapefruit (roughly 1 lb.). 

On a floured surface shape (don’t knead) the dough into a round ball with a smooth surface, turning the rough seams to the bottom.  Dust a bakers peel (or an overturned jelly roll pan) with coarse cornmeal, which acts as a lubricant for sliding the dough onto the stone, and place your newly formed loaf on it to rise for at least 30 minutes (sometimes I’ll go up to an hour). 

Just before baking, lightly dust the loaf with flour and then make three slashes with a good serrated knife.  I like to make these deep (~1/2 in.) since the bread really expands in the oven—the slashes give more room to expand.  Then slide the loaf onto the pizza stone and pour about a cup of water into the broiler pan (steam in the oven makes a better crust).  Bake for about 30 minutes and turn the loaf after about 20 to ensure even browning.

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