For Christmas last year, I got The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg, and Zoë François. It completely simplified and demystified the way I think about home bread-making. The set of instructions below is adapted from the book’s “Master Recipe” which I have used to make artisan loaves, baguettes, dinner rolls, naan, and burger buns.
3 cups lukewarm water
1 tablespoon granulated yeast
1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons Kosher Salt
6 1/2 cups (2-pounds) all-purpose flour
In a stand mixer with a large bowl, dump in the water, yeast and salt. Use the paddle attachment (not the hook since this isn’t a kneaded bread dough). Turn on the mixer for a few seconds to help dissolve the yeast; let it stand for a minute or two. It is unnecessary to have the yeast fully ‘bloom’ as you would in other recipes. Dump in the flour all at once.
Turn the mixer on for as long as needed until all of the flour is just incorporated. This should take about 30-60 seconds and you may need to scrape the sides of the bowl to get all of the flour mixed in. It will be a wet, lumpy dough.
Once the ingredients are mixed, put some plastic wrap on the bowl (with a small hole to allow the fermentation gasses to escape). Leave the dough to rise at room temperature for about two hours.
While the dough is rising you can prepare the surface of a pizza peel with a generous amount of cornmeal. The cornmeal will act as ball-bearings to get the loaf off of the peel and onto the pizza stone in the oven when it comes time to bake the bread.
The recipe’s authors stress that you MUST NOT PUNCH DOWN THE RISEN DOUGH as is the case in kneaded breads! Just let it settle by itself. At around the 2 hour mark, the dough will be flat on the top. Normally I wouldn’t let it rise in the mixing bowl because as you can see in the photo, it is bit too small, but I knew I was making a few loaves after the initial rise. After the initial two hour rise, the dough can be placed in the refrigerator for up to two weeks during which time you can pull off pieces to make fresh bread whenever you like. As it sits in the refrigerator, the dough will ferment and become more of a mild sourdough over time.
The dough can be used right after the two hour rise, but it is much easier to handle when it is chilled (its much less sticky and more firm). When you are ready to make a loaf, dust the surface of the dough with a little flour, just enough to prevent it from sticking to your hands when you reach in to pull a piece out.
From the dusted surface of the dough, pull out and cut off a one-pound piece (about the size of a grapefruit).
Form the dough into a ball rather quickly (about 20-40 seconds). To form the ball, stretch the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter turn as you go. The bottom of the bread will feel like a collection of bunched ends but they will flatten and incorporate as the dough rises. If this sounds confusing, there are several YouTube videos that will show you how to do it (but trust me, it’s pretty easy). The key thing at this stage is to form the ball quickly and DO NOT KNEAD the dough!
Place the dough on the prepared pizza peel and let it rest for at least 40 minutes (letting it go 60 or even 90 minutes will give you a more open hole structure in the interior of the loaf). The recipe’s authors note that the loaf may not rise much during this rest, in fact it may just spread sideways, and this is normal. I place a bowl on top of loaf to prevent the outer layer from drying out. The bowl also prevents our carb-crazy counter-grazing dog from eating the uncooked dough (which happened once, and resulted in a trip to the emergency vet clinic because he had two uncooked loaves fermenting in his stomach. Very drunk dog on day one and a very hungover dog on day two).
While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 450 degrees with a pizza/baking stone on the center rack, with a metal broiler tray on the bottom of the oven (pictured here with water scale caked on it), which is used to produce steam (explained later). I also put an old baking/cookie sheet in between the pizza stone and the broiler tray to catch the cornmeal that inevitably gets launched into the oven when sliding the dough off the pizza peel. I haven’t developed a style or iota of grace in getting the dough off the pizza peel.
After the 40-90 minute rise, uncover the dough and dust the top with flour (I use a loose-leaf tea-ball filled with flour because I can’t manage to dust the surface evenly).
Cut or ‘slash’ the loaf to a depth of about 1/4-inch with a very sharp knife. The flour will help to keep the knife blade from sticking to the dough. Be creative with your slashes! The cuts are important since they prevent your bread from cracking during the last rise in the heat of the oven.
In a fairly quick motion, slide the loaf off of the pizza peel, into the oven, and onto the preheated pizza stone. Add a cup of hot water to the broiler tray and quickly close the oven door. The steam will create an instant and intense heat surrounding the dough, causing an ‘oven spring’ (final burst of rising just after a loaf is put in the oven and before the crust hardens). The steam will also help to create a crusty surface on the loaf.
Bake the bread for 30-35 minutes or until a deep brown color.
Allow the bread to cool on a rack until it is room temperature. As it cools, you will likely hear the bread singing (it will make popping and whistling sounds). You will get the best bread texture if the loaf is allowed to cool completely … don’t be tempted to cut into it too early!
Photos and text provided by Mike Bisaga, Calgary AB.