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 hae honed this method to taking about 15 minutes to mix up a big batch of bread dough, which after 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 Parisienne’s 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 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.
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 the 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. (I have two baking stones—love them both!—the one pictured below is cast iron.)
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 the 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 some of the the “right tools” I have acquired over the years and use to make 5-Minute Artisan Bread.
While I have several containers of different shapes and sizes, 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. Caution: Sometimes this container comes with the lid, most often it does not. Check carefully!
This is the lid that fits the 6-qt. Cambro food container. It fits snugly but can be loosened by simply not attaching one of the corners. Beware: The lid may be sold separately. Double check. You don’t want to end up with no lid, nor do you want two lids!
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.
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. Currently available in the round option. Here is my cast iron baking stone.
Use-what-you-have alternative: You can rest the formed loaf on a baking sheet prepared with butter, parchment paper or a silicone mat. Then just place the baking sheet on the oven rack when ready to bake, rather than heating it in the oven prior to adding the dough.
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.
Your first loaf of artisan bread is going to 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, too. 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.
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.
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.
Soon you are going to want to know the exact temperature of your preheated oven and the temperature of the baking stone surface. Jeff and Zoë estimate that most home ovens are “off” by as much as 75 degrees. You need a precise oven temp to make the best bread. An infrared thermometer gun (NOT for body temperature) is without a doubt the way to go.
In 2013, Jeff and Zoë released the completely updated and expanded (with color photos), The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. 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 tricks 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.
Homemade Artisan French Bread
- 3 cups lukewarm water 100 F or below
- 1 tablespoon granulated yeast (0.35 oz.; 10 grams)
- 1 to 1½ tablespoon Kosher salt (0.6 to 0.9 oz.; 17 to 25 grams)
- 6½ cups all-purpose flour (2 lbs.; 910 grams)
- cornmeal or parchment paper for the pizza peel
- Warm the water slightly. It should feel just slightly warmer than body temperature or about 100 F.
- Add the warm water to a lidded (not airtight) large container with a lid that can also be cracked just slightly. If you don't have a lid, you can use plastic wrap instead. More on that in a bit.
- Add yeast and salt to the water. Stir to incorporate but don't worry about getting it all to dissolve.
- Measure the flour with dry-ingredient measuring cups or by weighing it. Add all of the flour at once. Mix with wooden spoon or dough whisk until the mixture is uniform. You can use your hands if that's easier. Don't knead! You're finished with this step when everything is uniformly moist—no visibly dry patches. This step takes only a couple of minutes.
- Cover with a lid that fits well but can be cracked open so it's not completely airtight. If you're using a bowl, cover loosely with plastic wrap. (A towel won't work because this dough is so wet.) Set the covered container on the counter,
- Allow to rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse, or flatten on the top—about 2 hours. Leave the lid cracked to allow gases to escape.
- Place container as is in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours, overnight is better, to allow flavors to develop.
- On baking day, prepare pizza peel or baking sheet with cornmeal or parchment paper to prevent your load from sticking, and so that you can slide it onto the baking stone
- Open the dough container and dust the top lightly with flour. Don't punch down or knead! Pull up and cut off a 1-pound (about the size of a grapefruit) hunk of dough. Using a serrated know or kitchen shears, cut it off. Return the lid to the container, and the container to the refrigerator.
- Hold the dough and add a little more flour so it doesn't stick to your hands. Gently stretch the surface of the dough and bring it around to the bottom on all four sides, to form a large dough ball.
- Set the loaf on the pizza peel and allow it to rest uncovered and rise for about 40 minutes.
- In the meantime, preheat a baking stone in the middle of the oven set to 450 F. Allow the oven and the stone to heat while the dough is resting/rising.
- Place an empty metal broiler tray or another pan (NOT GLASS!) for holding water on any shelf that won't interfere with the bread.
- Dust the top of the bread dough ball liberally with flour to prevent the knife from sticking. Slash a 1/2-inch-deep cross, scallop or any design you want into the top of the dough, using a serrated knife.
- Carefully, slide the dough from the peel onto the pre-heated baking stone.
- Quickly but carefully, pour about 1 cup of hot water onto the broiler tray and close the oven door quickly to trap the steam in the oven. (If you used parchment paper, you will want to pull it out from under the bread after about 20 minutes.)
- Bake for a total of about 30 or 35 minutes or until the crust is browned and firm to the touch—about 205 F internal as measured with an instant-read thermometer.
- Remove from the oven to a cooling rack. For best results, allow cooling fully for 2 hours before serving. It's not easy to wait, but this will make all the difference in texture and taste.
- Yield: This dough will yield four about 1-pound loaves.
- Store the remaining dough in the refrigerator with lid attached loosely. The dough will remain useful for up to 14 days. And expect the flavor to develop and improve during this time!
- When your dough bucket is finally empty, or nearly, it's time to make more dough. Don't clean or wash the bucket. The aged dough that remains on the sides of the container will give your new batch a head start on sourdough flavor!
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