For years now we have talked about baking our own bread, but the vigilance and care required to nurse a sourdough starter, or the time required to mix, knead, proof and bake a traditional loaf, always proved too much of a hurdle for us to overcome.
That all changed recently when we were given the game-changing cookbook, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking , by our sister-in-law Margo, who is a very accomplished bread baker in her own right. Margo has been baking fabulous breads and bagels the old fashioned way for years, keeping everyone she knows abundantly supplied with delicious baked goods. She has trained at the King Arthur Flour Education Center in Norwich, VT. (which she has come to affectionately refer to as “Mecca”), and has diligently baked her way through a few of the bibles of bread baking such as The Bread Baker’s Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread , & Crust and Crumb: Master Formulas for Serious Bread Bakers.
In short, this gal knows what she’s doing, so when she endorsed the new “short-cut” methodologies in “5 Minutes a Day”, we decided we had run out of excuses for not making our own….it was time to get baking.
Actually, let me rephrase that. It wasn’t exactly WE that decided to get baking, but rather, my wife decided to get baking, and to enlist me as her sous-chef as we began our explorations of artisan bread world. Honestly….this arrangement is working perfectly for me, because with the exception of the two baguette classes I had at Le Cordon Bleu, my prior bread baking experience adds up to a whopping 0 days. My wife on the other hand, has done a fair amount of bread baking over the years, and was totally jazzed about playing with this “no-knead” bread baking method. Once she gets me trained up in the fine art of bread baking, we’ll get the kids involved and give them a crack at it!
Our (her) results so far have been outstanding, and the process is really quite simple. There is hardly any special equipment required, though a 6 quart plastic proofing bucket (Camwear Polycarbonate Round Food Storage Containers ), and a good quality baking stone (Old Stone Oven 4467 14-Inch by 16-Inch Baking Stone) do make things much easier. With few exceptions, the basic premise is this. Take some flour, water, yeast, and salt, and toss it all into a large container and gently mix until all the ingredients are wet. Cover and let sit at room temperature for about 2 hours to rise. Throw it into the fridge for up to a week, pulling 1 pound sized chunks from the container for quick forming and baking when you want a fresh loaf of bread (in our house, that is turning out to be a loaf about every 2-3 hours!)
Can you really bake a loaf of bread in 5 minutes given the methods in the book? No….. but with about 5 minutes of activity on your part, and about an hour of resting and baking time, you can have a loaf that rivals all but the very best you are able to get from your local artisanal bread bakery (if you’re actually lucky enough to have one near you). If you have any interest at all in having the dreamy aroma of freshly baked bread wafting through your house on a regular basis, but don’t have the time or patience to make your own the old fashioned way, buy the book, you won’t be disappointed.
Cheers – S
Boule (Artisan Free-Form Loaf)
- 3 cups lukewarm water
- 1-1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast (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 for pizza peel
Mixing and Storing the Dough:
- Warm the water slightly: It should feel just a little warmer than body temperature, about 100°F. Warm water will rise the dough to the right point for storage in about 2 hours. You can use cold tap water and get an identical final result; then the first rising will take 3 or even 4 hours. That won't be too great a difference, as you will only be doing this once per stored batch.
- Add yeast and salt to the water in a 5-quart bowl or, preferably, in a resealable, lidded (not airtight) plastic food container or food-grade bucket. Don't worry about getting it all to dissolve.
- 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; don't press down into the flour as you scoop or you'll throw off the measurement by compressing. 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 vessel 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 is done in a matter of minutes, and will yield a dough that is wet and loose enough to conform to the shape of its container.
- Allow to rise: Cover with a lid (not airtight) that fits well to the container you're using. Do not use screw-topped bottles or Mason jars, which could explode from the trapped gases. Lidded plastic buckets designed for dough storage are readily available (see page 14 of the book). Allow the mixture to rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse (or at least flattens on the top), approximately 2 hours, depending on the room's temperature and the initial water temperature. Longer rising times, up to about 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. So, the first time you try our method, it's best to refrigerate the dough overnight (or at least 3 hours), before shaping a loaf.
- The scoop-and-sweep method gives consistent results without sifting or weighing. It's easier to scoop and sweep if you store your flour in a bin rather than the bag it's sold in; it can be hard to get the measuring cups in a bag without making a mess. Also: Don't use an extra-large 2-cup-capacity measuring cup, which allows the flour to overpack and measures too much flour.
- Relax! You do not need to monitor doubling or tripling of volume as traditional recipes.
On Baking Day:
- The gluten cloak: don't knead, just "cloak" and shape a loaf in 30 to 60 seconds. First, prepare a pizza peel by sprinkling it liberally with cornmeal (or whatever your recipe calls for) to prevent your loaf 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-size) 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 correctly shaped final product will be smooth and cohesive. The entire process should take no more than 30 to 60 seconds.
- Mrs. Oui, Chef yanking a 1 pound hunk of dough from the bucket.
- Here she is forming.....
- Rest the loaf and let it rise on a pizza peel: Place the shaped ball on the cornmeal-covered pizza peel. Allow the loaf to rest on the peel for about 40 minutes (it doesn't need to be covered during the rest period). Depending on the age of the dough, you may not see much rise during this period; more rising will occur during baking ("oven spring").
- Twenty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 450°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 bread.
- Dust and slash: Unless otherwise indicated in a specific recipe, dust the top of the loaf liberally with 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 (see photo).
- Baking with steam: After a 20-minute preheat, you're ready to bake, even though your oven thermometer won't yet be up to full temperature. With a quick forward jerking motion of the wrist, slide the loaf off the pizza peel 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. When you remove the loaf from the oven, it will audibly crackle, or "sing," when initially exposed to roomtemperature air. Allow to cool completely, preferably on a wire cooling rack, for best flavor, texture, and slicing. The perfect crust may initially soften, but will firm up again when cooled.
- Store the remaining dough in the refrigerator in your lidded (not airtight) container and use it over the next 14 days: You'll find that even one day's storage improves the flavor and texture of your bread. This maturation continues over the 14-day storage period. Refrigerate unused dough in a lidded storage container (again, not airtight). If you mixed your dough in this container, you've avoided some cleanup. Cut off and shape more loaves as you need them. We often have several types of dough storing in the refrigerator at once. The dough can also be frozen in 1 pound portions in an airtight container and defrosted overnight in the refrigerator prior to baking day.