Contents of "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day"
The cover of the book has a beautiful, full color picture of bread, while the inside pages are of thicker, coarse paper, smallish, black and white photos, and not many of them. There were enough photographs in the how-to section that the work steps were easy to follow, however, as well as six, full page, color photos of several recipes from the book. The how-to steps were clearly explained and easy to follow with the layout selected. This is a workbook for people who want to bake bread, not a coffee table book.
An introduction explains the secret of their bread making technique, which is to mix the wet dough in a large batch at least 3 hours ahead of time, use small pieces, and refrigerate the rest. The authors go on to talk about various flours and other techniques, equipment needed and the step by step method of making and shaping this kind of bread. Then they introduce a master recipe, which is simply flour, water, yeast and salt.
Also included in the book are approximately 34 unique bread recipes plus variations for each, and many other recipes to enhance your bread eating experience, such as spreads, sandwiches, marmalades, ragouts and soups. These are all carefully chosen to go with the breads being made in each section and comprise a nice body of work. The accompanying recipes make it easier to pair the different ethnic breads with meals. I did not test any of these recipes. I did make two of the bread recipes.
Baking a Recipe from "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day"
I, of course, did not start with the simplest “Master Boule Recipe”, which would have been wise. My family prefers whole wheat loaves, so I flipped to page 76 where the “100% Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread” recipe was listed. I mixed up a batch as described, and refrigerated it for two days until I had time to bake it.
On baking day, I chose to try a free-form loaf instead of the loaf pan, because I like the crusts on free-form loaves better. I shaped the dough as described into two “loaves” and let them rest on plenty of flour, covered with a clean towel as I preheated the oven for twenty minutes with the baking stone ready. The loaves were hard to form well.
The loaves rested for 1 hour and 40 minutes on my counter top after shaping, and flattened out even more. Slightly worried, I placed them on top of the hot stone and made steam in the oven as described in the book. They baked until done, about 30-40 minutes, and did not rise much beyond what I had seen before. They ended up being about 2 inches tall.
Crumb and taste were the next steps. After cooling somewhat, I broke apart the bread and found that the large-holed, artisan bread look I was after was not developed in the loaf. The bread was porous, but had no stretch, it was as crumbly as the first whole wheat loaves I made, many years ago. The taste was strongly of yeast, not really a sourdough taste as suggested in the book, but like an over fermented piece of dough. The taste and texture being unsatisfactory, I gave the rest of the bread to the dogs at dinner and threw the book in the corner for several months.
Second Chance for "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day"
I pulled it out again, to give it another chance, partly because I felt guilty that I had not tried the basic, white bread, master recipe, which should be the one worked on the most and tweaked to perfection. Whole wheat is notoriously difficult to work with and only in recent years have home bakers become familiar with dough retardation and folding techniques that help whole wheat breads rise. It was not really fair to judge a book on that whole wheat recipe alone.
I also wanted to compare the no-knead method in “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day” with the no-knead method by Jim Lahey, the results of which are found here. So I made the recipe from page 26 (I cut the recipe in half and made two loaves) and followed the instructions closely, baking on the second day.
This time, the shaping went a little better, although the entire procedure is messier than I would like, strewing flour in all directions. I slashed the loaves before sliding them onto the stone (on top of parchment paper). The dough was slack and flat and I had very little hope for them. But a quick look 10 minutes later revealed a miracle had occurred in my oven. The loaves had doubled in height and were forming a nice crust!
The end result was a beautiful, crusty loaf that was about half the size of what you buy in the supermarket. It would feed one or two teenage boys or three to four adults when eaten with soup. The taste was inviting and not over-yeasted, and the crumb was adequate. Although not as airy as foccacia, it would be a great bread, warm from the oven for a simple supper.
The Pros and Cons of "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day"
And that is what this bread is, a simple supper bread. The crust softened considerably after cooling and although baking enthusiasts natter on about cooling for at least two hours before slicing, I believe you miss this bread’s true calling if you wait that long before eating.
- This is a fun book to have if you like experimenting with bread.
- You can have hot, crunchy bread for dinner if you come home at least two hours before dinnertime to make it. Total work time for the bread itself, about 10 minutes.
- If you stick to simple shaping, the method works (I did not try the other shapes on this wet dough).
- The time spent is minimal and you can impress people with the bread.
- It does not take up much space in the refrigerator.
- Messy. The three, no-knead doughs I have tried so far have needed extra flour on the work surface and in the oven to keep them from sticking.
- This method works best with an oven stone, which costs about $50 and must be stored when not in use.
- Freezing and thawing pre baked bread for dinner would be quicker, but this only works if you have freezer space.
- Not all recipes in the book are equal.
- Each recipe calls for a large amount of yeast. Depending on where you are buying your yeast, this can be expensive. It can also affect taste.
- You must think and plan ahead, this is not last minute food prep.