Saturday, August 22, 2009

Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day

I got a new book last week. Well, actually, two new books, and they're both great (the other is Desperately Seeking Paradise, of which I'm about 3 chapters in and enjoying it), but I'm going to focus here on book #2: Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day.

You might recall that I made a no-knead, yeast bread for Mother's Day, and we were pleased with the outcome. That, plus seeing a number of people blog about this book (and, holy cow, check out the positive reviews at Amazon!), AND how much HH looooves homemade bread, made this a no-brainer for my $25 Amazon gift card.

The premise of the book is that you can make great artisan bread -- the chewy inside, the great yeasty/wheaty/slighty-sourdoughy flavor, the super crispy crust -- by mixing together a few simple ingredients to make a bit batch of a very wet dough and letting it sit in a sealed container in your fridge for up to two weeks. When you want fresh bread (um, every night when it's not 90 degrees outside?), you pull off a hunk, let it rise and then bake it ... about 5 minutes of hands-on time per day.

I'm making my first batch right now. It's a long recipe but since I know you're all dying to know how I can be so fantastic (cue hilarious laughter on the part of those who know me well), I'll share my secret with you.

The Master Recipe: Boule (artisan free-form loaf)
makes four 1-pound loaves. This recipe is easily doubled or halved

3 cups lukewarm water
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher or other coarse salt
6 1/2 cups unsifted, unbleached, all-purpose white flour, measured with the scoop-and-sweep method (scoop flour out of the container rather than spooning it in, as you're supposed to with most flour measurements)
cornmeal for pizza peel

Mixing and Storing the Dough
1. Warm the water slightly, to around 100 degrees.

2. Add yeast and salt to the water in a 5-quart bowl or, preferably, in a resealable, lidded (not airtight) plastic food container or food-grade bucket. Don't worry about getting it all to dissolve.

3. Mix in the flour - kneading is unnecessary. Add all of the flour at once, measuring it in with dry-ingredient measuring cups, by gently scooping up flour, then sweeping the top level with a knife or spatula; don't press down into the flour as you scoop or you'll throw off the measurement by compressing. Mix with a wooden spoon until the mixture is uniform. If it becomes too difficult to incorporate all the flour with a spoon, you can reach into your mixing vessel with very wet hands and press the mixture together. Don't knead! It isn't necessayr. You're finished when everything is uniformly moist, without dry patches. This step is done in a matter of minutes, and will yield a dough that is wet and loose enough to conform to the shape of its container.

4. Allow to rise. Cover with a lid (not airtight) that fits well to the container you're using. Do not use screw-topped bottles or mason jars, which could explode from the trapped gases. Allow the mixture to rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse (or at least flattens on the top), approximately 2 hours, depending on the room's temperature and the initial water temperature. Longer rising times, up to about 5 hours, will not harm the result. You can use a portion of the dought any time after this period. Fully refrigerated wet dough is less sticky and is easier to work with than dough at room temperature. So, the first time you try our method, it's best to refrigerate the dough overnight (or at least 3 hours) before shaping a loaf.

(this is getting long, so I'm going to break it into parts; click here for part 2)

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