Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Master Recipe

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, Copyright 2007
by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois
Master Recipe: Boule (Artisan Free-Form Loaf)

Freshly baked bread is one of those luxuries that many people merely dream about. Sure, you can pick it up in a bakery (for 5 or 6 dollars a loaf), and some whip it up easily enough in a bread machine, turning out a crust that is soft and fairly unappealing. But baking up loaves of bread completely from scratch can be rather intimidating to the home cook.

With a lot of experimentation, bread enthusiast Hertzberg and pastry chef Francois have uncovered the secret to making Artisan free-form loaves of crusty bread in just five minutes a day. The five minutes, refers to the time needed to mix and form the loaves (and excludes the time needed for resting and baking). I mixed up a large batch of chicken noodle soup this past week, and decided to try out a little homemade bread baking using this five-minute method- making the cover recipe of The Master Recipe- an Artisan Free-Form Loaf. A completely inexperienced bread baker myself, I found that the method was very easy to follow. I appreciated the fact that the instructions were explicit, yet simple, and though they’re long… the method really was very quick and effortless. The freshly baked loaf was just as they describe in their book… crusty exterior and perfectly baked inside. It was quite a good bread for dunking into chicken noodle soup..

See my notes below to see what I thought of this recipe…

Print Recipe

The Master Recipe: Boule (Artisan Free-Form Loaf)

Yield: Makes four 1-pound loaves.  The recipe is easily doubled or halved.

Ingredients:

3 cups lukewarm water
1 1/2 Tablespoons granulated yeast (1 1/2 packets)
1 1/2 Tablespoons kosher or other coarse salt
6 1/2 cups unsifted, unbleached, all-purpose white flour, measured with the scoop-and-sweep method
cornmeal

Directions:

Mixing and Storing the Dough
1.  Warm the water slightly:
  It should feel just a little warmer than body temperature, about 100 degrees F.
2.  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.
3.  Mix in the flour- kneading is unnecessary:  Add all of the flour at once, measuring it in with dry-ingredient measuring cups, by gently scooping up flour, then sweeping the top level with a knife or spatula.  Mix with a wooden spoon, a high capacity food processor (14 cups or larger) fitted with the dough attachment, or a heavy-duty stand mixer fitted with the dough hook 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 into your mixing bowl 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 should only take a matter of minutes, and should yield a dough that is wet and loose enough to conform to the shape of its container.
4.  Allow to rise:  Cover with a lid (not airtight).  Don't use any screw-top jars, which could explode from trapped gases.  Allow the mixture to rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse (or at least flattens on top), approximately 2 hours, depending on the room's temperature and the initial water temperature.  Longer rising times (up to 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.  The authors recommend that the first time you try this recipe, you refrigerate the dough overnight (or at least 3 hours) before shaping a loaf.

On Baking Day
5.  The gluten cloak:  don't knead, just "cloak" and shape a loaf in 30 to 60 seconds.  First prepare a pizza peel (or a cookie sheet or cutting board) by sprinkling it liberally with cornmeal to prevent the dough from sticking to it when you slide it into the oven.  Sprinkle the surface of your refrigerated dough with flour.  Pull up and cut off a 1-pound (grapefruit-sized) 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 final product with be smooth and cohesive.  The entire process in this step should take no longer than 30 to 60 seconds.
6.  Rest the loaf and let it rise on a pizza peel:  Place shaped ball on cornmeal-covered pizza peel.  Allow the loaf to rest on the peel for about 40 minutes (it doesn't need to be covered).  You may not see much rise during this period; more rise will occur during baking.
7.  Twenty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F., with a baking stone placed on the middle rack.  Place an empty broiler tray for holding water on any other shelf that won't interfere with the rising of the bread.
8.  Dust and slash:  Dust the top of the loaf liberally with the flour, which will allow the slashing knife to pass without sticking.  Slash a 1/4-inch-deep cross, scallop, or tic-tac-toe pattern into the top, using a serrated bread knife.
9.  Baking with steam:  After a 20 minute preheat, you're ready to bake.  With a quick forward jerking motion of the wrist, slide the loaf off of your cornmeal covered surface and onto the preheated baking stone.  Quickly but carefully pour about 1 cup of hot water from the tap into the broiler tray and close the oven door to trap the steam.  Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the crust is nicely browned and firm to the touch.  Because you've  used wet dough, there is little risk of drying out the interior, despite the dark crust.  Allow the loaf to cool completely, preferably on a wire rack.
10.  Store the remaining dough in the refrigerator in your lidded (not airtight) container and use it over the next 14 days.  The dough "matures" over the 14 day period, improving flavor and texture of your bread.  Cut off, shape and bake more loaves as you need them.

Tips:

*I halved the recipe and ended up baking up two loaves within the week.
*I didn't have a pizza peel, so I used a cutting board coated with cornmeal to let the bread rise. The first loaf I made, I didn't use enough cornmeal and my dough stuck a bit to the board. I had to knudge it onto the pizza stone and it looked a little mishapen and wobbly. When it came out of the oven though, it was a perfectly baked round loaf. On my second try, I made sure to coat my board liberally with cornmeal and had no trouble at all sliding it onto my pizza stone.
*Since you can cut off as big a piece of dough as you want to bake, the method is perfect for large and small families alike.
*I'm excited to try out other recipes in the book using the base dough- from other rustic loaves and rolls to sweet treats.

The results:

Wow. I may never buy bread again! It was so neat to have the dough ready to go in my refrigerator for making fresh bread. The baked result is fantastic.

Did this recipe deserve the cover spotlight?

Of course!  It’s the recipe that is used as the base model for all of the breads in the book, so it makes complete sense.