Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day ~ No Excuses

This is for all of you who have always wanted to bake your own bread and thought it was too difficult. Or that it took too long, or the risk of failure was too great. Or that it required techniques, equipment, or mad yeast-wrangling skills that you just didn't possess. In essence, this is for all you bread-baking newbies who are ready to step up and conquer your fear of yeast; to bake and eat your own bread.

This post is also for all you experienced, seasoned bread bakers. Those of you with five different starters and seed mashes hibernating in the back of your refrigerator. Those with not one but four or five types of flour on your baking shelf. Those of you who buy your yeast by the pound, not the packet. If you haven't already discovered this book and its technique, you'll want to. Don't worry ~ it won't take the place of conventional bread baking, but it will give you a formula for producing good bread in a few minutes' time. (And yes, I was skeptical too.)

This book, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking, by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois, has had a considerable impact on the way I bake, particularly regarding how often I do so. It has changed the way I ~ and my family ~ eat bread, and the way I shop for it. In a nutshell, it is this book that has made it possible for me, with a full-time job and a jam-packed schedule, to take on the commitment of BYOB ~ to know that it is possible to bake bread regularly enough to satisfy the needs of my bread-loving family. I know that even when I'm pressed for time and unable to plan for the stages of first rise, de-gas, second rise, etc., required by some of my favorite bread recipes, I can always rely on my tub of ABin5 dough, ready to bake after less than an hour on the countertop. I don't think we've eaten a homemade sandwich on store-bought bread since.

For those of you who aren't familiar with this book, I'll direct you to the book's companion Web site. Do yourself a favor and pay a visit. For those of you who are familiar, you won't need to be sweet-talked into anything. If you've made the bread ~ any of the breads ~ from the book, you're probably already hooked, just like me.

To the Newbies

If you are looking for a jumping-off point into the shallow end of the bake-your-own pool, this book is the equivalent of a full-body floatie. Get the book. Follow the recipes. You cannot fail. You will produce artisan-quality loaves of bread in your own oven, even if you haven't baked anything but brown-and-serve rolls up till now.

If there is a quibble to be had, it is that this book will not teach you certain standard bread-making techniques like de-gasing and folding/kneading dough to encourage gluten development. You don't need those techniques for this bread ~ and that's the beauty of it. But once you start producing such excellent breads, your confidence will increase to the point that you'll probably feel ready to branch out and tackle other, more involved yeast-dough recipes. And there are plenty of other excellent books to teach you those. This is a great place to get started, though.

To the Old-Hand Bakers

Maybe you're asking yourself the same question I puzzled over: How could this formula possibly turn out anything remotely comparable to bread doughs that require actual manual labor? I've made breads that required Advil to heal sore kneading muscles. Bread with real sweat equity. Could there be any merit to a mix/wait/bake formula? Of course I had to see for myself. I am so thankful I did, because since that very first batch several months ago, I have yet to go a day without a tub of ABin5 dough resting in my refrigerator.

The scoop? The bread is easy and it's good. Fantastically good. The first time I made this bread, my daughter asked, "Mom, is this from Panera?"

The crust is crackly and firm; the interior is dense and chewy ~ "custardy." Have I made other breads since I started making this? Of course! But no matter what other baking projects I'm working on, I always have that go-to tub of dough, and I bake from it on average every other day. I now consider the dough a kitchen staple, like eggs or milk. When we're running low on bread, I cut off a chunk of dough and let it come up to temp. Fresh bread in about an hour. The mind boggles.

A Caveat

There is one thing I feel obligated to mention. This dough is so simple to assemble and work with, and so amazingly versatile, that you may find yourself using it to the exclusion of other, less compliant doughs. I confess that it happened to me. To be truthful, the ABin5 formula spoiled me a bit, and I found myself shying away from recipes that required more labor or more ingredients or just more. {Incidentally, I cured this by turning to Rose Levy Berenbaum's The Bread Bible for a little slow-rise rehab. I made a pair of buttery cinnamon swirl loaves that took a couple of days (but very little actual hands-on time), and that helped me remember why I bake bread in the first place. Bread making ~ all types ~ has its own rewards. Stay tuned for that post, by the way!}

Even if you are completely enraptured by the heady lure of making your own artisan bread in less time than it would take to get to the store to buy some, I recommend that you enliven your bread-making repertoire from time to time with new and more challenging recipes. Expand your horizons a bit, and you'll enhance your time at the baker's bench.

A Note from the Bench: I decided to do this series on ABin5 as a way to answer the many queries I receive about my feelings on Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking. Future posts I'm planning include my suggestions for tools I use when working with the dough, my experiences with the recipes, and a few surprises.

Tips and Truc

  • I use an old 13" x 9"-inch baking pan as my water tray. If you do the same, remember to remove it from the oven after you take your bread out. I'm speaking from experience here: my pan is now completely corroded. It's gross looking, but it serves the purpose.

  • The first few times I baked this bread, I gave myself terrific steam burns opening the oven and diving right in to retrieve my bread. (Patience is a virtue, but sadly, not one of mine.) The oven will be full of very hot steam when you open it. Therefore, I strongly recommend that you open the door a few inches, lean away while the steam escapes, and then proceed to remove your bread.

  • I've played around with the flour blend, mainly because I ran out of unbleached all-purpose flour midway through mixing up a batch of dough. (It happens.) I now blend AP flour and bread flour when I know I'll be making baguettes, pizza, or naan. Also, I almost always make light wheat rather than white bread. My favorite whole wheat flour: King Arthur, hands down.

  • I always, always take the temperature of my bread to make sure it's done. {If you've ever invested three days in a loaf of sourdough bread only to cut it open (with visions of sandwiches dancing in your head) to find the interior still gooey, you will make a habit of using a thermometer too.} After the recommended baking time has elapsed, I take out the bread, lift it up with a heat-proof spatula, and stick my instant-read thermometer directly into the center of the bottom of the loaf. For most of these loaves, I've found that 195 degrees F is the perfect done temp.

  • To move your bread dough to your baking stone, you can use a peel if you have one, or you can prepare your dough on a piece of baking parchment. I shape the loaf and let it come up to temperature on my countertop on a piece of parchment while the stone is in the oven preheating. When the baking stone is ready, I pull it out of the oven (mine is in a rack, so it's easy to handle) and put the parchment with the bread on it directly on the stone. Most commercial baking parchment is heat-tolerant to a temperature of 420 degrees F, so you'll have to keep an eye on it. If it starts to look very dark, you can lift the bread with a spatula and pull the parchment out from beneath it after about 10 minutes of baking, when the loaf has firmed enough to hold its shape. I find that the moisture of the steam in the oven usually protects the paper enough to allow me to leave it in for the entire baking period, though it can be used only once.

  • This bread has a fantastic crust. This thick, crackly crust will protect the interior, keeping it nice and moist. When the loaf is whole, I wrap it in a cloth the first day. If there's any residual baking warmth, the cloth allows it to dissipate slowly, without forming crust-sogging condensation. Once the bread is cut, I wrap it in waxed paper ~ never plastic. To freeze, I wrap it in waxed paper and then in foil.


Judy@nofearentertaining said...

Incredible isn't it????

Patsyk said...

Your bread looks amazing! I'm a HUGE fan of ABin5!! Love their Olive Oil pizza dough as well. Yum!

Maureen said...

Today I start. Love the scent of bread baking.

Robin Sue said...

Great post! Loved the notes and tips. Wow you put a lot of work into this post and will be a great reference for many. This is a great bread and I try to keep the dough on hand for last minute bread, pizza, rolls, and stromboli. I have even broken my best stone when the steam hit it! So sad.

Shirley said...

I have this book on order and should have it in a few days. I can't wait to try it out.

I've saved this entire post to my computer so I can print it out to refer to when I bake bread. It's so full of info. Thanks.

ThePurpleFoodie said...

The bread looks incredible! My first batch wasn't quite a success. Will try my hand at it again.

Peter M said...

Sandie, you know this already but I'm a convert! I will delight in trying the different breads in this book.

To others reading...go buy the book...that moment when your beautiful bread comes out of the oven is worth every penny I paid for it.

Di said...

What a great post, for both new and experienced bakers. I got the Artisan Bread in Five book for Christmas, and like you, I now have a bucket of dough in my fridge at all times. I just need to post more of my experiences from it.

I'm thinking about joining your BYOB group, but I'm a bit nervous about committing to it. =)

Zoe Francois said...

Hi Sandy,

Your loaves are absolutely gorgeous! More lovely than the billions of loaves I bake myself! ;) Thank you so much for this wonderful and informative post. I think you did a fantastic job of capturing the essence of the book and explaining how simple it really is to have great bread.

Thank you so much! Zoë

Sandy Smith said...

Hi all! Thanks for your kind words!

~PurpleFoodie: For me, the key is getting that "gluten cloak" just right. I use a bread board with almost no flour on it, drag the ball of dough toward me while holding my pinkies down against the board, which tightens the skin. Replace the ball of dough, turn a quarter turn, repeat. Then, once I've done all four sides, I rotate the ball of dough in place to twist the bottom. This makes the top surface almost completely smooth. And I don't slash it until right before I put it in the oven. Hope you have many successes with it!! :)

~Di: Please join if you like! There's no formal "sign up" and no bread police to kick you out if you have to go out and buy an emergency loaf! :) It's just a personal commitment to try and bake as much of your own bread and baked goods as you feel is possible. (I'm a bit commitment shy myself at this stage, so I'm deliberately keeping it loose.)

~Zoe: Can't tell you how much your encouragement means to me! Thanks so much for your support and affirmation, but most of all . . . thank you and Jeff for writing this incredible and beloved book!!


Mary Beth Magee said...

Sandy, I've gained two pounds reading this post! What a great resource you provide. Thanks for taking the lead in this great trek.

For anyone who is a little uncertain about getting into bread baking, I can tell you from experience that there is nothing makes a house a home like the aroma of bread baking. And nothing turns food into a meal like a loaf of fresh, hot bread. So go for it! You will be rewarded with lots of appreciation from those enjoying the fruits of your labors.

glamah16 said...

What you said about this book giving you more confidence in baking is so true. I always felt so helpless with most breads as little as a year ago. Great post.

Alex Rushmer said...

Great book, great method, great post.

Kate said...

Well, shucks. I've just tasted my first loaf of Master ABin5 and I've done something wrong. I just don't know what, or how. Everything went swimmingly well yesterday, making the master dough. It had a great rise in the dough container, and into the fridge it went last night, to bake off tonight (Part 1).

Tonight was the Bake Off (Part 2). I molded it briefly. I put it on a peel. I let it sit 40 minutes. At 20 minutes I cranked the oven to 450 and put in an empty water pan. At 40 minutes, I put the bread on an oven stone, poured a cup of hot water into the hot pan, heard the distinct sizzle of the water in the hot pan, and hurridly slammed the door shut.

Thirty minutes later, I carefully opened the oven door and --- huh? No steam. Baked, but very very very blonde bread. Obviously not baked long enough. And the water pan was dry. So I quickly added more hot water, shut the oven again, and waited 15 more minutes.

I opened the door again, and there it was. A tad more cooked, but very very blonde. Not a huge rise, but a decent one (the raw dough was proud of itself, it was so high, so I know the yeast is good).

I didn't see any steamy artisan goodness, and the crust didn't crackle when I pulled it out. I let it cool a bit, and while the crust is definately very crisp, and the interior is cooked, it's not remotely like what is pictured in the book or your sample loaf.

Any ideas what I did wrong? Could it be that my oven is just not hot enough? Hmmm. Maybe that's it and I need to check the temp?

::sigh::: (oh, that doesn't mean I didn't eat it with butter - it tasted great, but I don't want to bake off more dough for the same blonde, lackluster loaf).

Sandy Smith said...

Hi Kate!

That stinks! Let's try and figure out what happened, so it doesn't happen again. Sounds like the dough is fine, so let's look at the mechanics of the baking process . . .

Here's what I think might have happened. First let me ask, did you preheat the oven stone? If not, this is part of the problem. I put my stone in the cold oven and preheat it along with the oven. So, when I put the bread on it, the stone is the same temp as the oven.

Second, I think a big part of the problem is that you ran out of steam. You can either add another cup of water halfway through the baking time, or start off with at least 2 cups. I use about two and a half cups of very hot tap water. I almost always have some water left over, but it solves the problem of having to check if the pan is dry.

Also, I would definitely invest in an oven thermometer if you don't already have one, especially if your oven is more than a couple of years old (like mine). I have one that I bought at Wal-Mart or Target years ago and it works great. It was less than $10 and I never take it out of the oven.

So ~ try preheating the stone if you aren't already, and make sure the water pan stays full and the oven stays right around 450 degrees F, and you should be all set. Then please let me know how it came out!


Kate said...

Thank you! The stone was piping hot -- I preheated it with the pan, so was good to go. I think I'll get the temp gauge as you suggested, and, next time (tomorrow), I'll add more water to make sure it doesn't boil away (I thought it said one cup but I could be wrong).

Mia said...

oh that was a great tip about the water! Love this site (but love my first successful delicious loaf even more) *grin*. I was thinking the water was SUPPOSED to steam off. The bread came out great, but next loaf I'm gonna try puttin' more water in the pan and see what happens.

Even I can't believe that I'm actually starting to think about never buying store bought again! ::laughing::

Natashya said...

I was thrilled and surprised too! I am on my third different batch of dough and am quite please with the results.
I do still love my labour-of-love hand-crafted loaves of course, but I am really happy to have ready-to-go dough in the fridge for quick and tasty homemade bread. So much easier and faster than even a bread machine.

maris said...

Ooh this looks so good. I think you've sold me!!

Are you still blogging on Eat Real? I haven't seen an update on my reader in sometime. Wondering if you changed domains? I miss your great recipes!

mlle noëlle said...

I just resolved to start baking bread and got "The Bread Baker's Apprentice" for Christmas. I think I would have been better off starting with this book, though. My first attempt from TBBA was not all that successful, and there is no "troubleshooting" section in that book for inexperienced bakers like myself. However, afterwards I did make Jim Lahey's no-knead bread and that turned out much better.

Mom to Many said...

I love the master recipe from this book! (I have reduced the kosher salt a bit though.)
I usually have a tub of it in the fridge. When the teenagers show up and start opening the fridge I have pizza on my peel faster than the delivery guy could get it here.
One day they insisted on buying pizza. (My less domestic child insisted upon commercial pizza, stubborn me I made mine anyway. Do we sound a like?)It hit the door as mine was coming gout of the oven. We tasted it side by side and theirs tasted like tasteless grease. Mine was fabulous. I think she is a believer now, but will she admit it? Love this bread!

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