Over the years I have tried many times to make homemade bread. I have even succeeded, after a fashion. But I was never pleased enough with the results to become a regular bread maker.
Still, I never lost the desire to bake that perfect loaf. So, when Maria bought me a copy of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, I took a serious look. The book is subtitled, The Discovery that Revolutionizes Home Baking. The cover features a beautiful load of artisan bread. The actual basic recipe only takes six pages (with pictures) to tell. But what six pages! I read it, and reread it. It truly seemed very simple.
The authors, Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois, have managed to pull off everything the title and subtitle to their book promises. What I love about this book is the simplicity of the method. The time you are actively engaged in making the bread is really less than five minutes (not counting the actual rising times and baking times). I break the process into two steps.
The first step is the mixing of the ingredients. I now use a dedicated six-quart dough rising container I got from King Arthur Flour I started with a regular five-quart mixing bowl. The nice thing about the King Arthur container is that I both mix and store the dough in a single bucket so there is one less item to wash.
Warm water is added to the bowl. I use an instant-read thermometer to get the right temperature. Then, the (unproofed) yeast is added to the water. Stir with a wooden spoon. Next, add the salt. Stir. Last, add the flour and mix with a wooden spoon until all the flour is damp. This is not hard to do. No electric dough mixer is needed. Just a wooden spoon.
After all the ingredients are mixed, you lightly cover the container and let it rest at room temperature for two to five hours. Then stick it in the refrigerator at least overnight. That's it for step one. No complicated tools and hardly any cleanup. This step should take no more than five minutes.
When you are ready to bake bread, you go to the refrigerator and get out the container of dough. Also locate a pizza stone and a metal water pan to put in the oven. You will need a pizza peel and some cornmeal. Put the cornmeal on the pizza peel and grab a wad of dough about the size of a grapefruit and cut it off from the rest of the dough. I use a serrated knife for this part. You fold the dough ball four times, rotating a quarter-turn each time. That's it for "kneading" the dough. Simplicity itself. Place the cut wad of dough onto the cornmeal that is on the pizza peel. Return the dough container to the refrigerator and let the cut wad of dough rest on the pizza peel for twenty minutes.
After twenty minutes are up, start the oven preheating by turning it to 450 degrees F. The oven will preheat for the next twenty minutes as the dough continues to rest. (This makes a total of forty minutes on the dough.) Forty minutes after you have cut off the hunk of dough, you are ready to slide the dough into the oven, and onto the hot pizza stone. The cornmeal makes the dough slide off the pizza peel with ease. Immediately after the dough is on the stone, add a cup of hot water to the metal pan you previously placed under and to the side of the pizza stone. This will release a cloud of steam. Quickly close the oven door so the steam stays trapped.
In about twenty minutes the bread will be baked. That's it. In sixty minutes in the morning you can bake a loaf of fresh bread for supper. And fabulous bread at that. This bread has a great tooth and a wonderful crust. Your friends will be amazed and your taste buds will be thrilled. This system is so simple that you will bake bread often. And I guarantee that if you give a loaf away, your friends will be amazed at the quality. Buy this book. You won't regret it.
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