I've always liked making bread. But I never had the focus or time to develop a practice or method to making bread that would assure some level of consistency. There always seemed like there was an element of chance and risk. Will it rise? Will it taste good? Will the crust be crispy and crunchy or will it be blah and chewy? I figured it was just a matter of time (that I didn't have) and practice, as well as finding a method that was easy enough that multiple variables wouldn't make a huge difference. Most bread baking doesn't generally take a lot of consolidated time, but it does take maintenance time and involvement over a long period of time. When you work 40+ hours a week, it's difficult to find ways to have blocks of time to make bread at home. I'd never tried a bread machine - that seemed a little to mechanical and hands off to me.
So when I saw the book "Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day" I was intrigued. Could you really make great artisan style bread in 5 minutes a day? Well... it depends on how you define "5 minutes a day." If it means that you can do it all in just 5 minutes, no, you can't. But, I did find the method described in this book to be both convenient and a time saver. The key time savers and convenience in the method described in this book are a) you don't knead this bread, ever - you barely touch it and b) you make larger batches of dough which are kept in the refrigerator for up to two weeks (more on that later) and use when it's convenient for you to bake bread. The general theory is that rather than developing flavor and texture of the bread by kneading it, you let time do the work. Mark Bittman wrote about a similar method back in 2006 in the NYT in his recipe for no-knead bread which he adapted from Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery in NYC. The main difference with the recipe below is that you make a larger batch of dough and use it over a period of time.
I started by making the master recipe and got mixed results initially. It did take some tinkering to get it right. My first few loaves didn't rise enough - an issue I figured out was with the temperature in my winter-cold kitchen. The crust has always turned out really well - crispy and crunchy and the right thickness, but sometimes the interior of the bread wasn't right - an issue I solved by making my dough even wetter than the recipe recommends (I've been baking bread at almost 2000 feet elevation, so rather than increasing liquid, I reduced the amount of flour), and baking it for 5-10 minuts longer than the original recipe recommended. But once I got a recipe working, I've found this method to be very easy, convenient and something I can easily do in the amount of time I have every weekend to make bread. I make a batch of Saturday morning, let it do the initial rise, then stick it in the fridge overnight. I make one or two loaves on Sunday, then the next weekend, I'll make the remaining 3rd loaf. It sounds like a lot of steps below, but once you get into the flow of things, it doesn't take a lot of time: work time is 5-10 minutes to mix the dough, 5 minutes to shape the dough, 5 minutes to prepare the oven and the dough ready to go in. Elapsed time after removing the dough from the refrigerator, about 2 hours.
Once I got this method working for me, I started wondering if making bread and easy process was maybe not the same as making GOOD bread. So I got a copy of what some consider to be the home bread-makers bible, Peter Reinhart's Bread Baker's Apprentice to compare not only the method, but the end results. My next blog post will be a comparison of the two methods and a comparison of the results. I'm also planning on trying more whole grain recipes from Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads book.
Note: This recipe makes up to three one pound loaves. If you don't want to start with that much dough, decrease this recipe by a half or a 3rd. Also, it states in the book that for the un-enriched recipes, you can leave this bread in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. I've found that after 1 week, or even 5 or 6 days, I get much less rise and oven spring from the dough, so I try to use it all within a week. I've thought about mixing the old dough in with a new batch, but haven't tested this yet.
Equipment you'll need:
- 5-6 quart plastic container with lid
- Pizza peel
- Square baking stone
- broiler or other metal pan
- 3 cups lukewarm water
- 1 1/2 T yeast (2 packages) - I use Fleischmann's active dry yeast
- 1 1/2 T kosher salt
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- 4 1/2 cups white flour
- 1/4 cup flax meal - available from Bob's Red Mill
- 1/4 cup wheat germ
- Finely ground cornmeal
- 1 to 2 cups of hot water
Mix yeast and water and stir to make sure yeast is dissolved. Add flour and salt and mix until incorporated, 2-3 minutes (I do this in a stand mixer with either a dough hook or a paddle). Put in covered but not airtight container and leave at room temp for approx 2 hours til it rises and begins to collapse. Either use the dough immediately or put in fridge for up to one week. I recommend putting it in the fridge for at least 12 hours or overnight.
When you are ready to bake the bread, sprinkle the top of the dough with flour, then cut off a one pound piece of dough. The dough will be pretty sticky, so flour your hands before you start. Quickly shape the dough into a ball, tucking the top edges into the bottom center of the ball. Don't spend a lot of time working the dough, just make it round, then place it on a pizza peel that has a small amount of the corn meal spread in a circle slightly bigger than the size of your ball of dough.
If you haven't refrigerated the dough, let it rest for 10-20 minutes. If you have refrigerated the dough, let it sit at room temperature for 20 - 60 minutes - depending on how warm your room is. This is important - if your kitchen is colder than 70 degrees, give it at least 60 minutes to get to room temperature. The bread will NOT rise a lot at this stage. It will grow slightly, but it won't double in size. If you do need to leave the bread for 40 - 60 minutes, it helps to jiggle it around lightly on the pizza peel to un-stick it from the peel about halfway through the resting period.
15-20 minutes before your bread is ready to go into the oven, place the bread stone in the oven, along with the broiler pan on a different shelf that won't interfere with the rising of the bread, then preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Also at this point, sprinkle flour on top of your loaf, gently spread it all over the top to cover it. Then with a sharp knife, cut 2 or 3 diagonal slices through the top of the bread.
When your oven is hot, slide the loaf gently onto the hot baking stone in the oven, then poor the hot water into the hot broiler pan to create a burst of steam. Close the oven quickly. Bake the bread for 30-40 minutes. If you use more than one pound of dough you definitely need to bake it longer. The crust should be dark brown and it should sound hollow when you thump it at the bottom. I've started using an instant read thermometer to check the interior temperature to make sure it is between 200 and 205 degrees.
When you take it out of the oven, immediately place it on a cooling rack. A few minutes after you remove it from the oven, you should hear the bread 'sing' - little crackling noises as the crust cools.
Definitely check out the tips and tricks on the book's blog. And consider buying the book - there are many other recipes for different types of bread.