It sounds impossible and idealistic, but it's not. The 'Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes' method actually works.
For the past six years, I have been immersed in a world of bread-baking. What started as a fun experiment turned into a passion and an ongoing quest for that perfect loaf of bread – an artisanal-style loaf with chewy interiors and crispy, crackly crusts. Since I live in a small town in rural Ontario, this is impossible to buy, which means I’ve had to learn how to make it myself.
Using many different recipes from various baking books, I’ve tried slow-rise, fermented dough, sourdough starters, the no-knead method, even regular quick-rise yeast dough, together with locally grown flours and a steam-filled oven, hot baking stones, and cast iron pots. I’ve mastered the techniques and can churn out boules, bâtards, and baguettes with comfortable regularity.The only problem is that all of these recipes require a fair bit of involvement. There is advance planning needed, weighing of ingredients, temperature maintenance, and regular intervention throughout the day in the form of feeding starters, punching down dough, shaping and resting. There are messy flour-laden towels, rolling pins, digital scales, spray bottles, and instant-read thermometers involved. It’s easy enough for me, since I work from home and spend a lot of time in the kitchen, but I’ve often wondered how bread-baking could be part of a busier person’s day. Was it even possible?
Then I discovered a new baking book at the library, The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François. (It’s not actually new; their revolutionary method was introduced in 2003, and this revised version was published in 2013.) The introduction caught my interest immediately because it answered my own question: “[This book] is our attempt to help people re-create the great ethnic and American breads of years past, in their own homes, without investing serious time in the process.”
Sure enough, they’ve done it. For the past several weeks I’ve been using their extremely simple Master Recipe that literally takes five minutes to mix up, and then sits in the fridge for up to two weeks, ready to use whenever you need fresh bread. All you have to do is cut off a hunk of dough, shape it, let it rest while you preheat the oven, and voilà, fresh bread with all the artisanal goodness that I’ve come to associate with a prolonged, drawn-out, and somewhat finicky process. The longer the dough sits, the better the bread tastes, since it takes on that yeasty, sourdough aroma that is so enticing.
As Hertzberg and François write on their website:
“The secret is homemade stored dough, mixed and refrigerated for up to two weeks. You’ve made enough dough for many loaves, so you can take a piece from the fridge whenever you need it. Mix once, bake many…”
If you want to make artisanal bread part of your regular routine, then this is a book worth having in the kitchen. You can order online.