For years I’ve had something of a love hate relationship with baking bread. It’s a domestic skill I could never quite master. And that bothered me in the way that little things can.
This would be my pattern: Four out of five tries would flop, then in an act of mercy by the yeast gods I’d turn out a specimen fit for judging at the Iowa State Fair. But the time involved, the angst, the stress—not much in my life is worth all of that and surely not bread.
Several months ago the outrageous price for decent bread met headlong with a book and its intriguing title: Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day. Sure, uh-huh. Like anyone in her right mind would believe that. Five minutes a day? It takes longer than that to bake a loaf of frozen Bridgford dough—not exactly a hearty artisan choice, but bread nonetheless. And if this book was touting some prepackaged mix or pricey piece of equipment, I wasn’t interested. The photo on the cover is what compelled me to explore further. If what I was seeing was correct and the title was not a trick, this would qualify as too good to be true.
The verdict is in. It’s true, but not too good to be. Authors Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois have truly taken the home baking world by storm. They have created a method that takes out all of the variables of baking yeast breads, the time, the hassle, the waiting, the worrying—all of that gone.
I stand before you a changed woman. And a consistent home baker of artisan bread—the rustic, beautiful kind of bread you see in an European bakery. The kind of bread that is made once a day, consumed by the family and then replaced the following day. Every day. And yes, I am as busy as I ever was. Even I have five minutes a day to bake bread. I have not purchased bread for months. It’s become a tiny obsession. I’ve joined the BYOB movement (bake your own bread) and my goal is to hold out for an entire year. So far so good.
Here’s the deal: On Saturday I take about ten minutes to make up the Master Recipe. The ingredients are simple: water, flour, yeast and salt. That’s it. No eggs, oil, or sugar. I use my Kitchenaid mixer, but I could do this by hand. I measure the ingredients, mix to incorporate and that’s it. I pick up the bowl, dump the dough into my “proofing box” (a 40-cup plastic container with a lid), leave it on the counter for two hours then move it to the refrigerator. All of this takes only a few minutes and makes enough dough for eight one-pound loaves and will last for two weeks in the ‘fridge.
When I want to bake a loaf (usually each morning), I open the box, grab a wad of dough, dust it with a little flour, shape it quickly and set it on a wooden peel. There it sits for 40 mins to an hour as I get ready, the oven preheats and I do other things. I pop it into the oven on a baking stone and in about 30 minutes we have fresh, European bakery-style bread that is just to die for. Did I say no kneading? None! I tell you this is so simple, so awesome and so gratifying.
Since I became a BYOBer, I’ve used the master dough to make breadsticks, soft pretzels, pizza and dinner rolls.
Here’s the best part. A decent loaf of bread at my store is now closing in on $4. A loaf of my homemade artisan bread? About forty cents. That’s right. One-tenth the cost and about ten times better, too.
There’s something more for me that comes with baking bread. It’s soul-soothing. I love knowing that I have lots of yeast in the freezer and plenty of flour in the pantry. My survival gear makes me feel self-reliant.
I like that.