I used to make bread, by hand, very often. I loved making bread. The whole process, even the kneading.
But making bread takes time, four or five hours or so from start to finish, and that kind of time is in short supply these days.
So, I make bread on special occasions. Rolls for Thanksgiving, that sort of thing.
For the most part, the smell of bread baking is gone from my kitchen.
Or should I say was.
In the last week I have made 4 loaves of fresh, French style bread, and it took me about 15 minutes of actual hands on time. The rest of the time, the yeast and time were doing all the work.
This is thanks to an an article in Mother Earth News reviewing a book called "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day".
The process is quite simple. Mix your dough, (about 5-10 minutes mixing time) which is much more moist than the traditional dough, and let it set. A couple hours on the counter, and then pop it in the refrigerator. With the basic "boule" dough, you can use it to make loaves of bread for 14 days. The idea behind the title is that it takes only 5 minutes of hands on time on baking day to get the dough ready to pop in the oven. I have found that to be very true.
When you want fresh bread, simply take the dough out of the refrigerator, (I keep mine in a big 1 gallon ice cream container) dust the dough with flour, cut off what you want, shape it into whatever shape you want, and pop it on a bakers peel to rise. You are done! It does the rest of the work! When ready, slide off the peel and onto your baking stone, and in 20-30 minutes you have bread that you would think came from an expert baker!
They do recommend you baking the free-form loaves on a baking stone, with a broiler pan underneath to fill with a cup of water at the last minute. This produces a steamy environment in your oven and gives the loaves a crisp, cracking crust.
I bought an unglazed ceramic floor tile for my stone, but it cracked in half on the first use. So I went to Tractor Supply and bought three fire-bricks, around $3.00 a piece. They have worked great so far.
Here is the basic boule dough recipe, which was in the Mother Earth News article. The book advises you to get familiar with the basic recipe before moving on to the others. I strongly suggest you buy the book, there is much additional info, tips, and many, many more recipes.
3 cups lukewarm water
1 1⁄2 tbsp granulated yeast (1 1⁄2 packets)
1 1⁄2 tbsp coarse kosher or sea salt
6 1⁄2 cups unsifted, unbleached, all-purpose white flour
Cornmeal for pizza peel
Mixing and Storing the Dough
1. Heat the water to just a little warmer than body temperature (about 100 degrees Fahrenheit).
2. Add yeast and 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 the 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.
4. Cover loosely. Do not use screw-topped 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. We recommend refrigerating the dough at least three hours before shaping a loaf. And relax! You don’t need to monitor doubling or tripling of volume as in traditional recipes.
On Baking Day
5. Prepare a pizza peel by sprinkling it liberally with cornmeal to prevent the loaf from sticking to it when you slide it into the oven.
Sprinkle the surface of the dough with flour, then cut off a 1-pound (grapefruit-sized) piece with a serrated knife. Hold the mass of 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; it doesn’t need to be incorporated. The bottom of the loaf will flatten out during resting and baking.
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. 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.)
9. 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.
10. Refrigerate the remaining dough in your lidded (not airtight) container and use it over the next two weeks: You’ll find that even one day’s storage improves the flavor and texture of your bread. This maturation continues over the two-week period. Cut off and shape loaves as you need them. The dough can also be frozen in 1-pound portions in an airtight container and defrosted overnight in the refrigerator prior to baking day.Next I will try the oatmeal bread and some of the others, like European peasant bread, deli-style rye, pumpernickel, and 100% whole wheat. There are many recipes in the book, including even some recipes for things to do with the bread, such as sandwiches, soups, ect.
There are also recipes for flatbreads, pizzas, panettone, and even sticky pecan rolls. This is quite a bread book, all based on the "five minutes a day" principal.
Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois have written a revolutionary book with "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day!- The Discovery that revolutionizes home baking." I highly recommend it!