Bread Baking: in not quite 5 minutes a dayOctober 23, 2008
Years ago I made bread almost daily. I worked at a job which allowed me to get home early and deal with a second rising (I was also running over 10 miles a day). Many life interventions later I missed the bread but wasn't enthused about all the labor I'd be taking on again. Then in January a friend recommended a book: Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.
You can watch authors Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois talk about their straightforward approach at YouTube. (I wanted to embed the video in my blog but YouTube is doing some house cleaning tonight and I can't set that up. I hope this link works instead.) Their method calls for making a large sponge or batch of dough which you store in the refrigerator. When you want bread you cut off a hunk of this, form a loaf, let it rise, and bake it. The authors' techniques include using a baking stone and pouring water into a boiler pan in the oven to create steam. The resultant loaves are crusty, delicious, and easily reproducible.
Is the bread as good as the traditional approach? I don't know, memory is a funny thing. But back when I baked daily I was grinding my own flour fresh for each batch too. That's hard to beat. I do know everyone who has had some of this bread I've been making enjoys it. (Happily my own consumption coincided with my return to bicycling!)
My only caveat is that it takes a bit more than 5 minutes a day. Your working time is minimal after you have made a batch and put it in the fridge (and even that process is quick); but you do have to be around to pull out dough in order to set the loaf out to rise and to bake it. Some time management and planning are required so that you can do 20 seconds of work but let 80 minutes or more of clock time pass. Still multitasking is just part of life. When you can have fresh bread, great tasting bread, it's worth making the effort.
So my advice is get the book and read the master recipe right away. I let the book sit on my shelf for about 5 months! Don't do that.
After you read the master recipe make a list of any tools or supplies you need (like the baking stone perhaps) and then go and get them when you next run errands. Don't think about it, just do it. Or the book will languish in your pile of good intentions too!
When you make your first batch take some notes. I found for instance, that our refrigerator must be colder than theirs because I have better loaves when I use a longer rising time than the authors recommend. There are some other adaptations I've made. Your notes, along with immediate feedback from eating the fresh loaves, will tell you where you'll want to tweak things.
I put the video link in this message because reading the book gave me one impression of how much flour to use when forming the loaves and I was surprised to see how much more flour the author actually used on the video. I won't change what I'm doing because it works, but words and video can give you a different message.
Once you start making the master recipe all you will have to worry about is buying another refrigerator in which to store all the dough! I have managed to rearrange things so that I have 3 containers of bread in the refrigerator at the same time: the master recipe or some white bread variant; light whole wheat; and also some new experiment. In this way I've worked through most of the loaves in the book that seem appealing to me and have favorites always on hand.
And of course if you're doing all this baking you are going to be giving a lot of bread away, and then you are going to need a logo right? Just a nice little label to go on a brown paper bag. OK, maybe it's a little too hot in the kitchen.
Still, if you enjoy bread but think you don't have time for it I recommend this book. It has reawakened my love of baking. I'm looking into other methods and recipes again, happy in the knowledge that if something doesn't work out I have a reliable standby right at hand.