Baking bread at home saves hundreds of dollars on groceries every year. With this easy five minutes a day for fresh-baked bread technique, each deliciously crusty-on-the-outside, moist-and-chewy-on-the-inside loaf will only cost you about 50 cents and 5 minutes a day. We’re not kidding!
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Five Minutes a Day for Fresh-Baked Bread
The Secret: Keep Dough Refrigerated. It is easy to have fresh bread whenever you want it with only five minutes a day of active effort. Just mix the dough and let it sit for two hours. No kneading needed! Then shape and bake a loaf, and refrigerate the rest to use over the next couple weeks. Yes, weeks! The Master Recipe (below) makes enough dough for many loaves. When you want fresh-baked crusty bread, take some dough, shape it into a loaf, let it rise for about 20 minutes, then bake. Your house will smell like a bakery, and your family and friends will love you for it.
I was trained as a scientist, not as a chef. That helped in developing a new process for homemade bread, but I never could have brought the recipes to this level without the rigorous standards of a professional — my co-author Zoë is a Culinary Institute of America-trained pastry chef. Over several years, we found how to subtract the various steps that make the classic technique so time-consuming, and identified a few that couldn’t be omitted. Then Zoë worked some pastry chef magic. She figured out that we could use stored dough for desserts, too. It all came down to one fortuitous discovery: Pre-mixed, pre-risen, high-moisture dough keeps well in the refrigerator.
How the 5 Minute Bread Idea All Began
Like most kids, my brother and I loved sweets, so dessert was our favorite time of day. We’d sit in the kitchen, devouring frosted supermarket doughnuts. “Those are too sweet,” my grandmother would say. “Me, I’d rather have a piece of good rye bread, with cheese on it. It’s better than cake.”
Secretly, I knew she was right. I could finish half a loaf of very fresh, very crisp rye bread by myself, with or without butter. The right stuff came from a little bakery in Queens. The crust was crisp, thin and caramelized brown. The crumb was moist and dense, chewy but never gummy, and bursting with tangy yeast, rye and wheat flavors. It made great toast, too — and yes, it was better than cake.
When I was a kid, handmade bread was available all over New York City, and it wasn’t a rarefied delicacy. Everyone took it for granted. It was not a stylish addition to affluent lifestyles; it was a simple comfort food brought here by modest immigrants. But now the ubiquitous corner shops turning out great European breads are no longer so ubiquitous. And nobody’s grandmother would ever have paid $6 for a loaf of bread.
So Zoë and I decided to do something about it. Our book, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, is our attempt to help people re-create the great ethnic breads of years past, in their own homes, without investing serious time or effort. Using our straightforward, fast and easy recipes, anyone can create artisan bread and pastries at home with minimal equipment.
Traditional breads need lots of attention, especially if you want to use a “starter” for that natural, tangy taste. Starters need to be cared for. Dough needs to be kneaded until resilient, set to rise, punched down, allowed to rise. Few busy people can go through this every day, if ever.
What about bread machines? The machines solve the time problem and turn out uniformly decent loaves, but unfortunately, the crust is soft and dull-flavored, and without tangy flavor in the crumb (unless you use and maintain a time-consuming sourdough starter).
By pre-mixing high-moisture dough (without kneading) and then storing it, daily bread baking becomes easy; the only steps you do every day are shaping and baking. As the dough ages, it takes on sourdough notes reminiscent of great starters. Because this dough is wetter than most, it can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. And kneading this kind of dough would add little to the overall product; it can actually limit the volume and rise that you’ll get. That, in a nutshell, is how you make artisan breads with the investment of only five minutes a day of active effort.
A one- or two-week supply of dough is made in advance and refrigerated. Mixing it takes less than 15 minutes. Every day, cut off a hunk of dough and quickly shape it without kneading. Allow it to rest briefly on the counter and then toss it in the oven. We don’t count the rest time or baking time (usually about 30 minutes to an hour each) in our calculation, because you can do something else while that’s happening. If you bake after dinner, the bread will still be fresh the next day (higher moisture breads stay fresh longer), but the method is so convenient that you’ll probably find you can cut off some dough and bake a loaf every morning before your day starts. If you want to have one thing you do every day that is simply perfect, this is it!
Bread Making Ingredients and Equipment
Great breads really only require four basic ingredients: flour, water, yeast and salt. The rest is detail. Here’s a short guide to the basic ingredients and equipment you’ll need to make artisan loaves.
Unbleached, white, all-purpose flour: Has adequate protein (around 10 percent) to create a satisfying “chew,” but low enough to prevent heaviness. We prefer unbleached flours because bleaching removes some protein, not to mention adding unnecessary chemicals.
Whole wheat flour: Contains the germ and bran, both of which are healthful and tasty. Together they add a slightly bitter, nutty flavor that many people enjoy.
Bread flour: For chewier bread, substitute bread flour (about 12 percent protein) for all-purpose white flour by decreasing the amount slightly (by about a quarter cup for every 6 cups of all-purpose).
Yeast: Use what’s readily available and buy in bulk rather than packets, which are much more expensive.
Salt: Use non-iodized coarse kosher or sea salt.
Baking stone: Use a high-quality, half-inch-thick stone. The porous stone absorbs moisture from your dough, allowing a thin, crackling, crisp crust to form — one of the keys to artisanal baking.
Pizza peel: This long-handled board helps slide doughs onto a hot stone. A cookie sheet or cutting board will work, but will be more difficult to handle.
Broiler tray: A pan to hold water for steam during baking.
The Master French Boule Recipe
The artisan free-form loaf called the French boule is the basic model for all the no-knead recipes. The round shape (boule in French means “ball”) is the easiest to master. You’ll learn how wet the dough needs to be (wet, but not so wet that the finished loaf won’t retain its form) and how to shape a loaf without kneading. And you’ll discover a truly revolutionary approach to baking: Take some dough from the fridge, shape it, leave it to rest, then let it bake while you’re preparing the rest of the meal.
Keep your dough wet — wetter doughs favor the development of sourdough character during storage. You should become familiar with the following recipe before going through any of the others.
Mixing and Storing the Dough
1. Heat the water to just a little warmer than body temperature (about 100 degrees Fahrenheit).
2. Add yeast and salt to the water in a 5-quart bowl or, preferably, in a resealable, lidded container (not airtight — use container with gasket or lift a corner). Don’t worry about getting it all to dissolve.
3. Mix in the flour by gently scooping it up, then leveling the top of the measuring cup with a knife; don’t pat down. Mix with a wooden spoon, a high-capacity food processor with dough attachment, or a heavy-duty stand mixer with dough hook, until uniformly moist. If hand-mixing becomes too difficult, use very wet hands to press it together. Don’t knead! This step is done in a matter of minutes, and yields a wet dough loose enough to conform to the container.
4. Cover loosely. Do not use screw-topped jars, which could explode from trapped gases. Allow the mixture to rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse (or at least flatten on top), approximately two hours, depending on temperature. Longer rising times, up to about five hours, will not harm the result. You can use a portion of the dough any time after this period. Refrigerated wet dough is less sticky and easier to work with than room-temperature dough. We recommend refrigerating the dough at least three hours before shaping a loaf. And relax! You don’t need to monitor doubling or tripling of volume as in traditional recipes.
Baking Bread on Baking Day
5. Prepare a pizza peel by sprinkling it liberally with cornmeal to prevent the loaf from sticking to it when you slide it into the oven.
Sprinkle the surface of the dough with flour, then cut off a 1-pound (grapefruit-sized) piece with 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 four “sides,” rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go, until the bottom is a collection of four bunched ends. Most of the dusting flour will fall off; it doesn’t need to be incorporated. The bottom of the loaf will flatten out during resting and baking.
6. Place the ball on the pizza peel. Let it rest uncovered for about 40 minutes. Depending on the dough’s age, you may see little rise during this period; more rising will occur during baking.
7. Twenty minutes before baking, preheat oven to 450 degrees with a baking stone on the middle rack. Place an empty broiler tray for holding water on another shelf.
8. Dust the top of the loaf liberally with flour, which will allow the slashing, serrated knife to pass without sticking. Slash a 1⁄4-inch-deep cross, scallop or tick-tack-toe pattern into the top. (This helps the bread expand during baking.)
9. With a forward jerking motion of the wrist, slide the loaf off the pizza peel and onto the baking stone. Quickly but carefully pour about a cup of hot water into the broiler tray and close the oven door to trap the steam. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the crust is browned and firm to the touch. With wet dough, there’s little risk of drying out the interior, despite the dark crust. When you remove the loaf from the oven, it will audibly crackle, or “sing,” when initially exposed to room temperature air. 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.
10. Refrigerate the remaining dough in your lidded (not airtight) container and use it over the next two weeks: You’ll find that even one day’s storage improves the flavor and texture of your bread. This maturation continues over the two-week period. Cut off and shape 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.
Tips to Amaze Your Friends
The “6-3-3-13” rule. To store enough for eight loaves, remember 6-3-3-13. It’s 6 cups water, 3 tablespoons salt, 3 tablespoons yeast, and then add 13 cups of flour. It’ll amaze your friends when you do this in their homes without a recipe!
Lazy sourdough shortcut. When your dough container is empty, don’t wash it! Just scrape it down and incorporate it into the next batch. In addition to saving cleanup, the aged dough stuck to the sides will give your new batch a head start on sourdough flavor.
Variation: Herb Bread. Add a couple teaspoons of your favorite dried herbs (double if fresh) to the water mixture.
Highly Recommended by the MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors:
Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François (Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press, LLC, Copyright 2007). The MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors whole-heartedly offer a big fat stamp of approval to this incredible cookbook, which proves hands-down that there is enough time in life for baking, and that baking at home can save you hundreds every year. The recipes reprinted here give you just a taste of the numerous treats you’ll be able to create — deftly! — by mastering one simple technique. Check it out for all kinds of troubleshooting tips and many more mouthwatering recipes (Almond Cream Pastry, Chocolate-Raisin Babka or Homemade Beignets, anyone?).