On Monday I picked up a copy of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, and after reading about half of it Monday night in bed I woke up Tuesday determined to become a master baker in five minutes. And not a second more, damn it, because I’m an American and we’re impatient!
Artisan Bread Basic Dough Recipe: Making the Dough
The recipe in the book for the basic dough in the book basically goes against everything that I have learned thus far about baking. For example every recipe I’ve ever read about bread says that you have to knead your dough for about six weeks to activate the gluten. The five minute recipe does not. In fact they specifically tell you not to knead. The basic concept is that you make a large-ish batch of dough at the beginning of the week (estimated time to produce: 15 minutes) and then cut off loaf sized handfuls whenever you’re ready to bake. The kneading is replaced y this procedure which gluten-coating thing. I’ve read four times and still don’t quite get how it works. Essentially you form the loaf with the un-kneaded dough and dust the dough ball with flour, which “coats” the ball in gluten. I understand the mechanics but I just don’t get why it works. But fear not, says I, I will plunge in without a complete understanding. Because after all, I’ve done that with really hard, complex, and non-five-minute recipes, so nows not the time to wimp out. So here I go.
8:30am: In lieu of a dough bucket I dug out a plastic box from the Container Store which had formerly held some ties (which I never wear) from my closet.
8:45am: After losing a quarter of an hour worrying that my box was too small, looking up new containers to buy online, going back to stare at the box I have, and several more minutes fretting that the world might end if my box proved too small, I was decided to go ahead with the dough.
8:50am: I measured out three cups of filtered water and heated them on my stovetop to 100 degrees. As a side note I should point out that we got rid of our microwave when we left New York with the intention of buying a new one, but never got around to doing it. I haven’t even missed it.
8:52am: I poured the water into my plastic box and added 1.5 tablespoons each of yeast and salt. Stir to mix.
8:53am: I add in 6.5 cups of all purpose flour. I used a half cup measure which fits through the opening of my flour jar, so 13 scoops leveled off with the back of a knife. I was a little surprised to see the scoop and level method, since most recipes call for exact weight measurements. My parents taught me the scoop and level method when I was a kid, so this step seemed very natural.
Once I added in all the flour I mixed it all up, first with a wooden spoon, then with my hands. I occasionally ran some warm water over my hands to ease the mixing. Also, the dough seemed a bit dry, so I thought the little extra water would help.
9:02am: All of the flour incorporated into the liquid resulting in a sticky dough. It seems more dry than I was expecting, but I’m determined to follow the directions correctly this time and see how it goes. Non-air-tight lid goes on box.
9:03am: Stare at completed dough in box. Turns out the dough doesn’t do tricks. Drink coffee and eat another chocolate chip cookie for breakfast. More staring at the box of dough. Finally decide to do something else for the two hours it’s supposed to take to rise.
Total time spent making dough to this point: 17 minutes. This puts me at 2 minutes over par for the recipe. If you include the fifteen minutes of anxiety-fueled inaction worrying about the size of my box and then the coffee, cookie, stare-at-dough-like-a-moron break I was 18 minutes over par.
11:22am: I checked on the dough just under two and a half hours after I finished mixing it. The dough rose considerably, but seemed to have stopped rising at this point, almost perfectly filling the 5 quart container. I make the decision to go for a run before putting it in the fridge.
12:30pm: Back from the run, dough goes into the fridge. The book says that I should let it sit overnight in the fridge, or wait at least three hours before making a loaf from my dough as the dough will be a lot easier to work with when it’s cold. Additionally the longer amount of time it spends in the fridge the more interesting the flavor will be apparently.
Artisan Bread in Five Minutes
Ok, so on baking day I woke up a bit earlier than usual (perhaps because of my pre-baking excitement), and headed to the kitchen to make my first loaf of bread. I have to admit, my expectations were quite high.
7:13am: Dusted my peel with cornmeal in preparation for the bench proof (or rest time as the book calls it)
7:14am: Pulled the dough from the fridge, dusted the top with flour then grabbed a hunk to make my first loaf. I had a serrated knife at the ready to cut it loose, but found that the hunk I pulled out of the container tore right off. This may be an indication that the dough is too dry.
7:15am: I shaped the dough into a boule shape and put it on the peel to rest. I used the gluten-coating method as prescribed by the book, which surprisingly worked like a charm. I got a smooth surface almost immediately.
Entire process of making the loaf took me just over three minutes!
A few of notes on the dryness of the dough:
- The books calls for a container that isn’t air-tight for making the dough so that it doesn’t explode. But if air can get out, it will take moisture with it. Especially considering that over the course of the two weeks I would be worried that a lot of moisture would escape. More research/experimentation is needed.
- I wonder if my Oxo measuring cups are slightly larger than they should be. I am finding that all of my bread recipes have been too dry. Perhaps this is an argument for using the weight system after all.
- I wonder if I could use my spritzer and spray the remaining dough in the fridge to add some moisture or if the dough is ruined once it’s too dry.
7:58am: Bread goes in the oven with along with a cup of water dumped into a brownie pan for the steam.
8:15am: A quick peak and it looked like the bread had cracked open. I’m guessing this is due to the dryness.
8:29am:Timer for 30 minutes went off, and since the color looked good and the loaf felt firm I took the bread out of the oven. Turns out that had cracked along the seams of my slashes. Other than that it looked amazing and smelled fantastic.
After Action Report
I ended up making a second loaf later in the day in the form of a baguette. Same dough, same basic method, only I used whole wheat flour on the peel and didn’t dust with flour when I slashed it. Also the resting period what shorter, resulting in a denser and heavier loaf.
Dr. Fiance and I ate both loaves of bread for dinner along with a kickass salad (more on the salad later) and a bottle of cheap but tasty wine. For my first time out with the “five minute” recipe, I was more than satisfied. The bread was perfect for tearing off of the loaf to sop up extra salad dressing, and was perfectly fine plain. I’m sure a dap of rich salted butter would have made it even better, but I consider it a success that additional condiments were completely optional.
While there is certainly room for improvement, the bread was by far the tastiest bread that I’ve made (excluding a couple of recipes I have for rolls). The crusts were strong and chewy, while the crumb was light and flavorful and not too dry at all, despite my earlier fears. Both loaves, but especially the baguette were a little dense, and I’m going to stick with my theory that a dough that is more moist will fix that by aiding the final rise a bit. To be sure, however, the five minute recipe is going to be a staple in my kitchen for a while.