The Art of Artisanal Bread

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Learning to maintain a pantry has been more challenging for me than learning to cook. What constitutes a well-stocked pantry is different for everyone, but once achieved, it certainly makes the question, “What’s for dinner?” easier to answer. I combed sites like thekitchn.com to get a general idea, but it’s mostly trial and error, “Why did I purchase those lasagna noodles if I’ll never make lasagna?”

It’s not difficult to swing by the grocery store or farmer’s market in the summer for a missing ingredient, but that’s not always possible during the winter months. It seemed to snow a few times each week this winter season, so keeping our staples on hand was important: beans, canned tomatoes, a few grains (pasta, quinoa, rice) milk, flour, eggs, butter and bread. This, of course, is pretty barebones but still allows for options. Specifically eggs, butter and bread. I can do a lot with eggs and bread.

Eggs and toast is a fallback meal either for breakfast or a light dinner, but looking at bread ingredient labels is a little disheartening. Why is there so much unnecessary crap in them? Especially since the essence of bread is flour, yeast, salt and water; all things I have at home. I’ve been making my own pizza dough for years, but for everyday bread? That seemed time consuming and impractical. I received Artisanal Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François as a Christmas gift a couple of years ago. Their tagline is “mix once, bake many…” Alright, I could handle that.

Their premise involves a slightly wetter dough that keeps in the refrigerator (up to two weeks) and doesn’t need much work, i.e. kneading. The basic recipe makes about 4 1 lb. loaves* that you pull apart and bake freeform on a pizza stone (or ceramic tiles). I’ve used other recipes but I like the fact that the dough rests in the refrigerator until I am ready to use it. Relying solely on their master recipe, I don’t feel the need to go back to store-bought bread again!

The book has so many different styles of bread. I look forward to branching into bagels and flatbread.

The Master Recipe

3 cups lukewarm water
1 1/2 tablespoons yeast (2 packets)
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
6 1/2 all-purpose flour (I have also used bread flour)

Warm the water (it can be cold, it’ll just take a little longer to rise) and add salt and yeast. Mix just slightly (it doesn’t really need to dissolve) before adding all of the flour. I use a wooden spoon to incorporate the water mixture and flour until it comes together. Sometimes I add a little more water if it feels dry. Cover and set aside for 2-5 hours (sometimes I forget and let it rise longer). After the first initial rise session, refrigerate with a lid until ready to use. You can bake immediately but Hertzberg and François recommend waiting and refrigerating overnight.

When it is time to bake, pre-heat oven to 450. Slice off the amount of dough needed and slowly stretch a little to reshape into a ball, which they call cloaking*. Due to the wet dough you’ll want some flour on your hands. Set the ball aside to rest for about 40 minutes. Using a cerated knife make a few slices to the top of the dough. They suggest using a pizza wheel to place dough onto pizza stone, but I just grab it with my hands and carefully toss it onto the stone. You can also place a baking pan with water in the oven to create a steam bath. It helps create a nice crust. I have forgotten on occasion though.

Bake for about 30 minutes. The outside will look golden when ready.

Slather on the butter and honey. Enjoy!

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*While researching videos on how to cloak, I discovered the authors have a youtube channel which has helpful tips for yeast breads.

*I usually only get 3 loaves out of each batch. I grabbed a smaller amount this time, but I think I made it too small 🙂

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