The year 2007 was a good one for me for lots of reasons. Here’s one: It’s the year I got good at baking homemade bread thanks to a simple discovery that would go on to revolutionize the world of home baking.
Presented in their book, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, authors Jeff Hertzberg, M.D. and Zoë Franḉois stated that anyone with an oven, flour, yeast, salt, and water could make authentic, artisan bread in just five minutes a day.
Within hours of getting my hands on that book, I was onboard. My first attempt was ridiculously easy. And so successful I shocked myself and my family! A more delicious loaf of bread I cannot buy anywhere. And why would I, when I could now make it myself for about $.40 a loaf in just five minutes a day?
I must admit that the exact terminology, “five minutes,” might be a stretch, but here’s how that term has come to be: Jeff and Zoë have honed this method to taking about 15 minutes to mix up a big batch of bread dough, which after it its first rise, sits in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
When you’re ready to bake a loaf, it takes all of about five minutes to reach into the container, tear off a pound or so of dough, shape it and get it oven-ready. That’s where the “five minutes a day” comes into play. It’s the amount of daily labor required.
I have used the method, but not baked every single day, since 2007. My husband could only dream of such a thing, that’s how much he loves this rustic, homemade French bread. It reminds us of our trips to Paris and the neighborhood bakeries where Parisiennes stop in every day to pick up fresh bread.
Pour 3 cups of warm water (about 100 F., which is just slightly warm to the touch) into a large container that has a lid. Add 1 tablespoon granulated yeast and 1 tablespoon salt.
Using a large wooden spoon or “dough whisk,” mix to incorporate but don’t worry about getting it to completely dissolve. Mix in 6 1/2 cups (2 pounds) all-purpose flour, adding it all at one time. Don’t knead! It’s not necessary. You’re finished when everything is uniformly moist without dry patches. You can do this with an electric stand or hand mixer, although that too is not necessary. Mixing by hand is perfectly fine. Cover with a lid that fits well to the container but can be cracked open so it’s not completely airtight. If you’re using a bowl, cover it loosely with plastic wrap. Towels don’t work as they stick to this very wet dough. Set the container on the counter and allow the dough to rise at room temperature until it starts to collapse (flatten on top), about 2 hours. Just walk away and let it rise. Next, without punching it down, move the container to the refrigerator. Leave the lid in place (slightly cracked) and keep refrigerated, to be used over the next 14 days.
Baking Day: Prepare a pizza peel by dusting it generously with cornmeal and/or flour; or cover with a piece of parchment paper. Set aside.
Move the container of dough from the refrigerator to the counter and dust the top of the dough with flour while the dough remains in the container. Now, pull up and cut off a 1-pound hunk of dough (grapefruit size) and set on a floured work surface. Move container back to the refrigerator. Dust your hands with flour. Gently stretch the surface of the piece of dough around to the bottom, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go. Dusting flour will mostly fall off and that’s OK. The correctly shaped loaf will be smooth on the top with the bottom looking like a collection of bunched-up ends. Good. This process should take less than one minute. Set the loaf on the prepared pizza peel to rest for about 40 minutes. It will become wider but not necessarily taller. Also correct.
Preheat baking stone, set on a rack near the middle of the oven, to 450F, at least 30 minutes before baking. Place an empty metal broiler tray, or similar (but not glass), for holding water on any oven shelf that won’t interfere with the bread rising while baking. Set a cup of water within easy reach of the oven. Relax while the dough rests and the baking stone gets sizzling hot.
After 40 minutes or so, liberally dust the top of the dough with flour. Using a sharp knife or kitchen shears, slash 1/2-inch cuts into the dough in any design you like. Just make sure you make at least four deep cuts. Leave the flour in place for baking. You can tap it off later, before eating.
Slide the loaf (including the parchment paper it’s sitting on, if using) onto the hot baking stone. Quickly but carefully pour the water from the top into the broiler tray and close the oven quickly. This will create a burst of steam. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the loaf, measured with an instant-read thermometer, reads anywhere from 205F to 210F.
Use the pizza peel to remove the loaf to a cooling rack. Admire your work. Wait for two hours (if you can) before slicing into fresh bread. This gives it time to cool inside and at the same time fully develop its flavors.
Store the remaining dough in the refrigerator for up to 14 days. One batch using this recipe should make four loaves, slightly less than one pound each. This recipe can be halved, doubled, or tripled depending on the size of dough container you have available.
TOOLS AND RESOURCES
While 5-minute artisan bread can be made using the tools and equipment most of us have already, we all know that using the right tools for the right job makes any job easier and produces the best results. Here are the right tools I have acquired over the years and use to make 5-minute artisan bread.
1. Dough container. This Cambro 6-qt Clear Polycarbonate Square Food Container is absolutely ideal for five-minute artisan bread dough. It will hold a double batch and is dishwasher safe. I like that it’s clear so I can see what’s going on inside. And being square it fits well in the refrigerator.
2. Container Lid. This is the lid that fits the 6-qt. Cambro food container. It fits snuggly but can be loosened by simply not attaching one of the corners. Beware: The lid is sold separately.
Use-what-you-have alternative: You can use any large food-grade container; even a plastic bucket that has a lid will work or a large bowl with plastic wrap, provided it will fit in the refrigerator.
3. Dough whisk. This dough whisk is such an awesome tool. There’s something about the design and the way the whisk part is shaped that makes mixing bread dough by hand a breeze.
Use-what-you-have alternative: A long-handled wooden spoon will work to get the job done. Just make sure everything is evenly “wet” before you put the lid on the container and set it out for that first rise.
4. Baking stone. Also called a pizza stone, this is the secret to baking fabulous artisan bread. It makes the bottom crust crisp and heats the dough evenly. I’ve cracked so many baking stones in my life in an attempt to get the thing hot enough; I was leery to give this highly rated Rocksheat Baking and Grilling Stone a try. But I’m glad I did because it’s all it’s, uh … cracked up to be! A beautiful product that really delivers. A
Use-what-you-have alternative: You can rest the formed loaf on a baking sheet prepared with butter, parchment paper or a silicone mat. The just place the baking sheet on the oven rack when ready to bake.
5. Pizza peel. This giant “spatula” known as a pizza peel is so useful for baking bread! First, you use it to slide the oven-readied dough into the screaming hot oven and onto the baking stone; then use it to reach in and retrieve that finished beautiful loaf of bread. This one is large, so I store mine on top of the refrigerator which puts it out of sight for all but the tall.
Use-what-you-have alternative: Parchment paper works. Either flour the paper well and add a generous amount of cornmeal so you can actually slide the dough off the paper, or set the dough— paper and all onto the oven rack. Just make sure you remove the parchment paper after 20 mins. of baking so the bottom of the bread can get crisp. Warning: this method is tricky.
6. Bread knife. Your first loaf of artisan bread is going scream “good bread knife please!” Done well, that bread will have a very crisp crust. A typical chef’s knife will simply tear it up. A typical serrated knife should be better, but not be sharp enough to give you the control needed for beautiful results. This Mercer Culinary Millennia 10-Inch Wide Bread Knife is not only the best bread knife out there (my opinion, but you can trust me on this), it’s super cheap at about $13. An amazing knife at an unbelievable price. Use it for bread only and never put it in the dishwasher.
Use-what-you-have alternative: If you have a bread knife, use it. If not use the sharpest knife available to cut your finished loaf.
7. Instant-read thermometer. You’ll want to eventually get a highly-rated, reliable instant-read thermometer (most out there are so unreliable it hurts). Thermoworks Instant Pop fits the bill.
8. Infrared thermometer. Soon you are going to want to know the exact temperature of your preheated oven and the temperature of the baking stone surface. An infrared thermometer gun is the way to go. ThermoWorks Industrial IR Gu is the best inexpensive option I know of.
9. The Book. In 2013, Jeff and Zoë released the completely updated and expanded (with color photos) The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day book. I donated my original edition to the library as I didn’t need both. But I need this new one desperately. Not only does it have so many ways to use this versatile dough (amazing recipes), it has tips and trick galore. For example, I live at 5,280 feet above sea level. That changes the way my bread turns out. But no worries. Jeff and Zoë have included detailed instructions for how to adjust the recipe using more water, less yeast, and bread flour in place of all-purpose flour, to accommodate those of us who live way up high in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains. (Hey, someone needs to live here!) Bingo. Following our move, I was back in business in no time at all.
Really, this is a beautiful textbook for every 5-minute bread baker. Your long-term success depends on it.
Use-what-you-have alternative: Any food thermometer will give you an idea of the correct temperature. Probably better than guessing so use what you have.