2/15/11

Bread Baking Simplified

If you've never made your own bread, or if, like me, you've been making breads for years, there's a whole new, simple, fast, fool-proof way to make fabulous breads at home.

I learned about this fairly recently, in an excerpt from ARTISAN BREAD IN FIVE MINUTES A DAY by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François, which was posted by Mother Earth News.

Half a batch of dough stored in the fridge.
I made the dough, trying their basic "boule" (which means ball in French) and made a small loaf. Then I made some English muffins. Then I made another small loaf, followed with some "naan" skillet bread. Everything I tried came out perfect. I was sold! I started sharing my discovery with friends, and baking bread in five minutes seems to be spreading like a chain letter. This is so easy!

The basic idea is that you make a large batch of a very simple dough, using just flour, yeast, water, and salt. No kneading; you just mix these ingredients in a container until blended (it's wet and sticky dough). You let it sit for two hours. You can use it right away to bake bread or put it in the fridge and use it little by little over the next 2 weeks. And when you go to use it, you basically just shape your bread, let it sit at room temperature, bake, and eat. And it's delicious!!

My boule, scored and ready to bake.
It's not only the simplicity and speed of making great bread that I like about this method, it's also the ability to just make a little bread at a time. A standard small loaf made in my bread machine is too much for two people, so I usually end up freezing the extra. Tastes ok when thawed, but certainly not as good as freshly baked. With the 5 Minute Bread dough, I can use little amounts at a time, to make two english muffins, or one skillet bread, or two hamburger rolls… in hardly any time at all.

I've now used the dough for pizza crust, calzones, and dinner rolls - every one a success. I've experimented with various flours too, using King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour for one batch, my own freshly ground whole wheat for another, etc. [Whole wheat has less gluten, and won't rise as much - but very healthy and tasty]. I own a baking stone, which they recommend, but mine is on permanent loan to my friends who make homemade pizza. But I read of an alternative, which is to use a cast iron skillet instead. I have a round one with a very low lip, and this works perfectly for a small "boule" loaf, set on a piece of floured parchment paper.

Skillet naan bread.
After finishing my 4th batch of this dough, I just purchased the authors' second book HEALTHY BREAD IN FIVE MINUTES A DAY, which focuses more on whole grains. Now I'm trying many of their other recipes - whole grain hamburger buns today. Still the same basic concept, but yummy variations. There are recipes for gluten-free breads too. Artisan breads I've tried in the past take a long time and a lot of fussing over how to knead, how long to rise… too much bother for me.

I also review the authors' website for FAQs, I have subscribed to their blog, and I've "liked" their Facebook page- all link from their website and they have many videos too [see one posted here]. So I can keep up with variations beyond their books, like adding sourdough starter to the dough, or reducing the salt, or making their beet bread into a valentine heart!

Slice whole wheat loaf.
Try this yourself. Unless you use only refined white flour or slather on loads of butter, you probably need not worry about eating too much. One of my friends said she might as well just stick the dough on her hips! But eating whole grains is healthy, so go for it.