Saturday, May 7, 2011

Weekend Cooking: ARTISAN BREAD IN 5 MINUTES A DAY by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois

artisan bread cover

The Beginning:

Starting last semester, I became obsessed with baking my own bread. I'm one of those people who eats massive amounts of bread, and I spent a ton of money buying baguettes from Panera. Then I thought to myself, "Hey, maybe I could make my own baguettes?!?" I knew I could save a lot of money if I made it myself because flour is cheap, yo. At the same time, though, I wasn't sure I could because it seemed like homemade bread required:
  • kneading (I'm a weakling)
  • lots of time
  • precise measurements and other things that bore me
  • special equipment and tools that I don't have and don't have the money to buy
Then I found this book! And I have to say, it does exactly what it claims to: makes baking bread at home very accessible to the average person. There are some caveat emptors to go along with that, but as someone who needs bread in their diet, I feel liberated now knowing that I can make my own bread any time I need or want it. The recipes in this book don't require kneading, have a very reasonable rise time, and are fairly flexible as far as the equipment required.

The Deets:

boule loaf
The first loaf of bread that I successfully made!

The heart of Artisan Bread is Hertzberg and Fran├žois' French boule recipe. While I definitely wouldn't call it an authentic French boule, it's close enough for a home kitchen. It has the crackly crust and slightly sour dough filled with holes that one associates with French bread. It takes about ten minutes to make up a batch of dough that will last two or three weeks, and you can put leftover dough in the fridge or freezer for when you want it.

Aside from the ingredients for the bread itself, there are only two things you'll need to buy that you probably don't have already: a baking stone and a pizza peel. I found a good baking stone at Target for $15, but the pizza peels tend to be more expensive, starting around $20.

Two things I should mention: one, the authors say the dough is moist, and they are NOT kidding. If you underbake this bread, it feels like you're eating a wet sponge. Not appetizing. Second, I've found that the dough is also really salty, especially if the bread is a few days old. For me, the salt content is way overboard, so I tend to cut back on it.

Don't Do This At Home:

I've been making the boule bread regularly for about four months, and now it seems fairly easy. But when I first started, it was a disaster! Actually, I wound up in the ER. Yes, that's right, only I could wind up in the ER after trying to do something as innocuous as bake bread.

Here's what happened: part of the baking process requires that you pour water into a hot dish that's placed in the oven--this makes the bread rise with the steam and causes all those holes in the dough. Unfortunately, the only oven-proof dish I had was Pyrex. I poured water into the dish and it exploded in my face. I got some glass in my eye, which I didn't realize until later. And since this was at, like, midnight (when do I ever do things at a normal time of day?), I had to go to the ER to get it taken out. To add insult to injury, the bread got hit with most of the water and glass, which meant I had to scrap it and start all over.

Lesson: DO NOT use glass when baking! Only use a metal bowl.

Other Breads:

petite brioche
Brioche rolls I make with chocolate chips.

Artisan Bread has many other bread recipes besides the French boule. Some of them use the same dough as the boule--baguettes and pain d'epi, for example--while other use a different dough. There are whole wheat, flatbread, and pastry dough recipes. Every dough can be used to make several different types of breads--for example, the olive oil dough can be used to make lavash, pizza, focaccia, and other types of flatbreads. The only other type of bread I've made from this book so far is the brioche.

Brioche is an "enriched" bread kind of like challah; it has eggs, honey, and butter in it instead of just flour, water, and yeast. It's said that when Marie Antoinette declared, "Let them eat cake," what she actually said was brioche--which would be a healthy thing for peasants to eat, but it's considerably more expensive than regular bread. Anyway, the reason why I started making this bread was pretty much for the same reason I started baking the boule bread: I love having a pain au chocolate (aka chocolate pastry) from Panera for breakfast, but they are freaking expensive! Again, I wondered to myself if there was a way I could save money by making something similar.

Pain au chocolate is made with puff pastry, something I know I cannot make from scratch, nor would I want to if I could. But I figured brioche was close enough. It's usually made in a loaf, like regular bread, but I baked it in muffin tins so that I could grab one in the morning and take it with me. Then I added chocolate because everything is better with chocolate.

The brioche muffins turned out great, and I highly recommend you try the brioche dough if you get around to buying this book. There are plenty of other types of bread recipes, including beignets, that you can make with it.


If you've ever wanted to bake your own bread, but thought it would be too complicated, you really need to check out Artisan Breads. I was amazed at how simple it made baking bread.

weekend cooking gif Weekend Cooking is a meme hosted by Beth Fish Reads. Every weekend, you can share your reviews of cookbooks, food writing, foodie novels, and movies that make you hungry.

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