Some of the Best Things in Life are Easy!

March 6, 2009

I think I have run into a slight problem. You see, I love homemade bread, as I have mentioned here many times (maybe too many), and whenever I have some in the house I tend to eat more than I should.

The good thing is that it tends to take so much time out of the day that I can only make it once or twice a month, so those extra calories don’t make it into my system that often.

The problem, is that I have run into a solution to that. That sentence just sounds wrong, but anyways, I managed to get my hands on a copy of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois.

This bread is amazing. Not only is it just as easy as it sounds, but the depth of flavor is incredible. This means that I can have fresh bread any day I want. Isn’t that horrible? 😉

This also means that all of you out there who have been hesitant to try making bread can take that leap and be assured you’ll have great bread without even trying! Don’t be afraid of the length of the recipe. Even though I edited it down a lot it’s still a bit wordy, but the actual process isn’t any more difficult than making cookies 🙂

Boule (Artisan Free-Form Loaf)
Source: Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day

3 cups lukewarm water
1 1/2 tablespoons instant yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
6  1/2 cups unsifted, unbleached, all-purpose flour

Mixing and Storing the Dough:

Warm the water slightly: It should feel just a little warmer than body temperature, about 100 F. Warm water will rise the dough to the right point for storage in about 2 hours.  Add yeast and salt to the water in a 5-quart bowl or, preferably, in a resealable, lidded (not airtight) plastic food container. Don’t worry about getting it all to dissolve.

Mix in the flour but do not knead. Add all of the flour at once by gently scooping up flour, then sweeping the top level with a knife or spatula; don’t press down into the flour as you scoop or you’ll throw off the measurement by compressing. Mix with a wooden spoon until the mixture is uniform. If you’re hand-mixing and it becomes too difficult to incorporate all the flour with the spoon, you can reach in with very wet hands and press the mixture together. Don’t knead! It isn’t necessary. You’re finished when everything is uniformly moist, without dry patches. This step is done in a matter of minutes, and will yield a dough that is wet and loose enough to conform to the shape of its container.

Cover with a lid (not airtight). Do not use screw-topped bottles or Mason jars, which could explode from the trapped gases. Allow the mixture to rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse (or at least flattens on the top), approximately 2 hours, depending on the room’s temperature and the initial water temperature. Longer rising times, up to about 5 hours, will not harm the result. You can use a portion of the dough any time after this period. Fully refrigerated wet dough is less sticky and is easier to work with than dough at room temperature. So, the first time you try our method, it’s best to refrigerate the dough overnight (or at least 3 hours) before shaping a loaf.

On Baking Day:

Sprinkle the surface of your refrigerated dough with flour. Pull up and cut off a 1-pound (grapefruit-size) piece of dough*, using 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 all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go. Most of the dusting flour will fall off; it’s not intended to be incorporated into the dough. The bottom of the loaf may appear to be a collection of bunched ends, but it will flatten out and adhere during resting and baking. The correctly shaped final product will be smooth and cohesive. The entire process should take no longer than 30 to 60 seconds.

Place the shaped ball on a piece of parchment paper on a cookie sheet. Allow the loaf to rest on the peel for about 40 minutes (it doesn’t need to be covered during the rest period). Depending on the age of the dough, you may not see much rise during this period; more rising will occur during baking.

Twenty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 450F.

Dust the top of the loaf liberally with flour. Slash the top as desired, about 1/4-inch-deep.

After a 20-minute preheat, you’re ready to bake, even though your oven thermometer won’t yet be up to full temperature. Place the loaf on the sheet in the oven. Quickly but carefully through ice cubes in the oven and close the oven door to trap the steam. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the crust is nicely browned and a thermometer inserted inside reads 200F.

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. Enjoy!

You can store the remaining dough in your refrigerator in your lidded (not airtight) container and use it over the next 14 days. You’ll find that even one day’s storage improves the flavor and texture of your bread. Cut off and shape more 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.

*The recipe states that you can have four loaves with this bread, but with two of us 1/4 of that dough really wasn’t enough. I think 1/2 is really more appropriate. And the longer you leave the dough, the more the flavor will develop, just make sure you don’t leave it past 10-14 days or it just won’t be as good.