Sunday, March 24, 2013

Homemade Artisan Bread

Some women fantasize about Italian leather and diamond jewelry. Not me. I fantasize about bread. Lopsided crackling loaves of mouth-scathingly crusty on the outside, chewy, almost gummy on the inside bread really get me.
Looly is as fanatical about her bread as me. Bean is hardly one to refuse a warm slice with butter and lately, Roo's been coming around to embrace the crumb too. This is huge for those of you who aren't familiar with his oral textural struggles, and I'm all for keeping the trend moving forward.

But good bread, really, truly good bread, is hard to come by. Say nothing of that nonsense they pawn off as "Italian bread" or "baguette" at the grocery store. Lucky for us we have 2 honest to goodness bread bakeries within walking distance of home. But, they can never make the nut-free promises we need to keep Roo safe. Hence my excitement over the book, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by carbohydrate dream team Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois.

I admit, I was a skeptic. It's not that I didn't believe I couldn't whip something up in 5 minutes as promised by the book's title. It's that I didn't believe I'd really want to eat the resulting loaf. I thought it would be disappointing, not crusty enough, dry in the middle. How very wrong I was.
The master recipe upon which all others in the book are based, known simply as "boule" in our house, has become a near daily honored guest at our dinner table. The 5-minute method does not take rising and resting time into account. It also requires a few items you probably don't have on hand yet but that can be acquired easily thanks to my friend, Once you have everything you need, the process is really simple and I promise you will not be disappointed.

Here's the equipment you'll need:

Storage bucket or other food safe container with a loose fitting lid (5-quart or larger)
baking stone or pizza stone (I use this one)
pizza peel (I use this one and it works well for bread and pizza)
Dough whisk (totally optional, but handy)
granulated yeast - pretty much any dry yeast will do, instant or otherwise. I'm currently using Fleischmann's Instant Dry Yeast

Now you're ready to get to work.

Homemade Boule (free-form Artisan Bread)
from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day

Recipe makes four 1-pound loaves

3 cups lukewarm water (not hot!)
1 & 1/2 tbsp granulated yeast (2 packets)
1 & 1/2 tbsp kosher salt
6 & 1/2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour (do not sift)
cornmeal to sprinkle on the pizza peel to allow easy dough transfer

1. Pour the lukewarm water into a 5-quart or larger bucket. Add the yeast and salt to the water. Stir to combine but don't worry about dissolving every last granule.

2. Add all of the flour. Mix with a dough whisk, wooden spoon, or your hands until the flour is incorporated. If you're using your hands, get them wet first to prevent the dough from sticking to your everywhere. There is no need to knead the dough.

Set the bucket aside, cover loosely (no tight lids!), and let it rise until it flattens on top and/or begins to collapse, about 2-3 hours depending on your room temperature and the temperature of the water you started with.
At this point you can put the bucket of dough in the fridge for later baking. It will keep in the refrigerator for a solid week at least, and you can cut a hunk off to bake at any time. If you're hungry for bread like me, get ready to bake!

Sprinkle a pizza peel with cornmeal. Don't be stingy. More cornmeal helps the dough slide easily off the peel and onto the baking stone.

Sprinkle the top of your dough with a little flour. Don't worry, it won't affect the bread itself but will help prevent sticking as you're trying to cut off a hunk. Grab some dough in your hand and pull it up and out of the bucket. Using a serrated knife, cut off a chunk about the size of a grapefruit. This will be approximately a 1-pound loaf.

Take the hunk of dough in your hands and gently wrap and stretch the surface of the dough around itself and tuck the ends under, turning the dough as you go to make a shape somewhere between a ball and a disc with a smooth outer "skin". It should look something like this.
Place the dough on the prepared pizza peel and let it rest for about 40 minutes.

Place your baking stone in the oven and preheat for at least 20 minutes to 450 degrees. Put an empty broiler tray (or other old pan you don't care about) on any oven rack that won't get in the way of the bread rising as it bakes. You will be pouring water into the pan to create steam while the bread bakes.

After the dough has rested for 40 minutes, dust the surface with flour and use a serrated knife to slash a shallow pattern (about 1/4-inch deep) into the top. A tic-tac-toe pattern or scallop work well but you can get creative. It doesn't need to be perfect.
Using a quick thrusting motion, slide the dough off the pizza peel and onto the preheated baking stone. Using the hottest tap water you can muster, quickly and carefully pour 1 cup of hot water into the broiler pan and close the oven as soon as possible. This will create steam.

Bake for about 30 minutes, until the crust is deep brown. I find my oven consistently takes closer to 45 minutes to get a good crust, but fear not. The dough is wet enough that it's very difficult to dry out the center of the loaf even with longer baking time. Use the pizza peel to remove the bread from the oven and cool on a wire rack.

Store the remaining unbaked dough in the refrigerator for a week to ten days and cut off a hunk any time the mood strikes.


  1. My homemade bread never looks that good!

  2. Is it just me or has posting comments gotten more difficult? I always need multiple tries before I get the CAPTCHA right. Am I a computer?

    1. Maybe it's just a strategy to increase my number of comments :)

  3. Oh yeah I got an easy one that time :)