I'm not very good at answering form questions. "What's your favorite color?" "What's your favorite movie?" "Who's your favorite band?" "What's your favorite place to go on vacation?"
All of those questions make me anxious. I like a lot of colors, I enjoy movies that are so bad I don't like to publicly admit that I've seen them and sometimes I listen to Z100. I never went on vacations as a child and as a result, I'm pretty much open to going anywhere as long as I have as little responsibility on said vacation as possible. Actually, I guess I just answered them, but I still dislike being put on the spot.
Even the question, "what's your favorite food?" makes me want to break out in hives because I like a lot of different types of food. I could eat ice cream daily for the rest of my life, I've never met a sweet potato that I disagreed with and some might say that I've had a love affair with a certain turkey sandwich with Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato and honey mustard. You can tell I have quite the refined palate, right?
Another one of the items that would have to go on my must have list along with chocolate, cheese, spinach, hummus and fresh tomato sauce is bread. There are few things better than freshly baked bread – be it wheat bread for sandwiches, biscuits to slather with butter at Thanksgiving dinner or a crispy baguette to dunk into soup at lunchtime.
Recently, Zoë Francois of 'Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day' fame invited me to review a copy of the book that she co-authored with Jeff Hertzberg, which is quickly becoming a ubiquitous title around the interwebs.
Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day is as great as everyone says. The book practically has a cult following on the internet, which is no surprise given that the recipes are written clearly and all of the instructions are spelled out in simple terminology for the home baker.
I've baked bread before but this was my first attempt at a free-form loaf. I started with a simple, sourdough boule and only made one near-fatal error when I let my dough rise in a too-small container. Luckily, I'd thought to set the bowl on a baking sheet otherwise my counter and stove top might never have been the same.
In the book, you'll find a recipe for just about every type of bread you could want to make. Some are simple, some are more complicated but they're all based on the principles of one master recipe. You can store the dough in container in your refrigerator for a week, cutting off individual pieces so that you can bake a loaf of bread anytime – with only five minutes of hands-on time per day.
Artisan Sourdough Boule
Once your batch of dough has been mixed and stored, each loaf will only cost about 5 minutes of active preparation time at once. Makes four 1-pound loaves
3 cups lukewarm water (about 100º F)
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher or other coarse salt
6 1/2 cups all-purpose white flour (no need to sift)
Cornmeal for the pizza peel
1. In a 5-quart bowl, mix the yeast, water and salt. Add all the flour, then use a wooden spoon to mix until all ingredients are uniformly moist. It is not necessary to knead or continue mixing once the ingredients are uniformly moist. This will produce a loose and very wet dough.
2. Cover with a lid (not airtight). Allow the mixture to rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse, about 2 hours, but no more than 5 hours.
3. After rising, the dough can be baked immediately, or covered (non completely airtight) and refrigerated up to 14 days. The dough will be easier to work with after at least 3 hours refrigeration.
4. On baking day, prepare a pizza peel by sprinkling it liberally with cornmeal to prevent the bread from sticking when you transfer it to the oven. Uncover the dough and sprinkle the surface with flour. Pull up and cut off a 1-pound (grapefruit-size) piece of dough (serrated knives are best). Store the remaining dough in the bowl and refrigerate for baking at another time.
5. Hold the mass of dough in your hands and add a little more flour as needed so it won't stick. Create a smooth ball of dough by gently pulling the sides down around to the bottom, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go. While shaping, most of the dusting flour will fall off. The bottom of the loaf may appear to be a collection of bunched ends, but it will flatten out during resting and baking. Shaping the loaf this way should take no more than 1 minute.
6. Place the dough on the pizza peel. Allow the loaf to rest for about 40 minutes. It does not need to be covered. The bread
may not rise much during this time.
7. Twenty minutes before baking, place a pizza stone on the center rack of the oven. If you don't have a baking stone, use another baking sheet. Remove any upper racks. Place a broiler pan on a rack below the pizza stone or on the floor of the oven. Preheat oven to 450 F.
8. When the dough has rested for 40 minutes, dust the top liberally with flour, then use a serrated knife to slash a 1/4-inch-deep cross or tic-tac-toe pattern into the top.
9. Slide the loaf off the peel and onto the baking stone. Quickly but carefully pour 1 cup of hot water into the broiler tray and close the oven door.
10. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the crust is nicely browned and firm to the touch. Allow the bread to cool completely, preferably on a wire cooling rack.
Now, believe me, I'm no expert at baking bread overnight, but Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day is a great starting point for new bakers or for seasoned chefs who want to learn a quick new method. The supplies that the authors suggest are optional, but helpful, and I'm definitely on the market now for a baking stone, a pizza peel and a bucket to store my dough.
Tell me about your favorite kind of bread! What's your favorite way to eat bread? If you bake your own, I'd love to hear some of your favorite tips so I can hone my skills.