Many of you have been baking bread using the do-ahead dough and methods described in the book Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois. I’ve been an off-and-on bread baker for years, getting back into it last winter more after a few years of rarely baking, but always using what has come to be the traditional method for making yeast bread at least in much of the United States. In fact, I used the key bread recipe from the old Whole Foods for the Whole Family cookbook published by La Leche League International.
I was happy enough with that bread baking experience, and honestly, the bread could not have been better, even if my loaves were not as polished in appearance as those of my more domestic and foodie friends.
But I decided to look into the make-ahead artisan bread craze because I heard more and more friends talking about it. In fact, I think most of the women in our homeschool co-op regularly use the make-ahead-in-five-minutes dough. I ordered the book even though there is a lot of information on the Artisan Bread in 5 website, and I began the journey.
You mix a big batch of yeast dough and refrigerate it, using portions of the dough for various recipes throughout the following week or two. I started by mixing a batch of dough using 6 1/2 cups of flour but began doubling it with my second and subsequent batches. There are various master recipes you can mix and keep as a basic dough, but so far I’ve used the first and most basic dough for a wide variety of things — basic loaves of bread, pizza, breadsticks, calzones, cinnamon swirl bread, hamburger buns and other baked goods.
My first several batches of dough were made extra good by a special ingredient I’ve been saving since I acquired it last summer–hand harvested sea salt I got from Outer Banks Epicurean, where my friend Amy Pollard Huggins offers cooking classes and delicious “slow food for busy people.” Lovely to remember last summer’s beach trip while cooking up this winter’s bread with salt from the Atlantic.It’s a yeast bread, so it rises a lot. Having a large enough container to keep this double batch of dough from growing over the edges is important.
I went for a rectangular container because it fits into my refrigerator with less wasted space.The first loaf of bread I made was a boule, recommended in the book. Rather than kneading, you form a small amount of the dough (grapefruit size amount) into a ball by creating a gluten cloak. You do this by stretching the outside of the dough toward the bottom and giving it a quarter turn and repeating several times. Then you let the dough rest and warm up to room temperature. Letting the dough rest may result in rising–but the authors also say to count on oven-spring to provide additional rise. This oven spring is aided by slashing through the gluten cloak of the rested dough before baking, which allows the dough to spread as it springs in the oven.
Baking the bread at a high temperature on an oven stone is part of the key to getting good results.
Part of me found my first efforts with the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes process to be not as miraculous as others have reported. After all, I’d been making bread for many years, and truth be known, the recipe barely differed from my original recipe. What was different was having permission to keep the dough in the refrigerator and use from it over a period of days–even up to several weeks. But even that was familiar, as I recalled the refrigerator rolls I’ve made from the vintage cookbook Let’s Start to Cook: Never-Fail Recipes for Beginners by the Editors of Farm Journal.
But I began to think differently once I doubled the recipe for the dough and branched out into making other baked goods the authors recommend. I also substituted some whole wheat flour for some of the white flour and added honey and some vital wheat gluten to make the dough more mine while still preserving the basic premise of the process. (The book includes part-whole wheat and whole wheat variations; I just improvised). Then I really began to capitalize on the efficiency of having the double batch of dough made up and ready to use. It still takes some juggling, though. I am out of the house a lot, so I still have to think ahead about how long the dough will take me to form and need to rest and bake. It’s not exactly Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes–it’s a bit more like Artisan Dough in 5 Minutes–and Bread You will Bake Because the Dough is Already Mixed and On Hand.
That turns out to be enough for me.
Nick and I have enjoyed working on some of the bread recipes together, and I’ll add some pictures of those in future posts about our Artisan Bread efforts.
The bread is delicious, and it is easier to have fresh bread on the table using this method. So, after initial enthusiasm, then a bit of misgiving, I have fully embraced Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes–even if I am regularly spending a bit more than five minutes on our daily bread.