Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day -- A little secret

I posted last week, I believe, about my bread-baking experiments from the book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François. Jeff and Zoë are the proponents of a bread baking method in which one uses a very wet dough stored in the fridge for maximum gluten development, removing it from the fridge for a final proofing, then baking it either in a pan or on a stone in the oven. What made this whole thing even more stunning is that the recipe requires no kneading.

I can't tell you how stoked I was for this method to work. Fresh bread several times a week? With no boring kneading? Jeff and Zoë, I'm your girl!

So I bought the book. When it was delivered to my house from the nice people at, I did sit down to make myself read it before just leaping into action, as is my usual wont. I read it, and parts of it sounded plausible (I was rating the plausibility factor by lining what I read in ABin5 up against Peter Reinhold's The Bread Baker's Apprentice) and some of it sounded questionable. But you know? I am not a very experienced bread baker, so I figured who am I to judge? And I went on from there.

So I made Jeff and Zoë's basic recipe. I made the European Peasant bread. I made their Light Whole Wheat recipe, and their brioche. The brioche was the ONLY recipe I had any success with in terms of getting the stupid dough to rise. (And I have to say, the ABin5 recipe was MUCH better than the one in TheBBA.) Because I don't have much experience with bread, I didn't have a clue why the brioche rose to beautiful golden heights and the other breads were so, well, FLAT.

I mean, I have nothing against a flatbread if it's supposed to be one. But I have a great deal on angst about breads that are supposedly going to "bloom" in the oven but don't and come out tasting delicious, with a good, chewy crust and a holey, moist crumb, but are only an inch and a half tall. The girls and I have eaten many very short sandwiches in the past couple of weeks and it isn't as fun as it sounds.

And the other day, when my husband asked me if I'd make him a tuna-and-dill sandwich with fresh tomato on home baked bread to go along with the one I was making for myself? Well, let's just say when I presented the sandwich to him and it was four inches tall (because of the way I sliced the bread) but only and inch and a half wide? Well.

"This....uhhhh....looks great. Thanks!"

"I made that bread myself," I said shyly.

He scrutinized me thoughtfully. "Yes, I can see that you did." He then proceeded to eat the sandwich without another comment, but in a morose manner that suggested his (wisely unexpressed) inner wish that he could have a go at a great big plastic-wrapped loaf of nasty, squishy white bread from the grocery.

I was kind of frustrated. I wanted the ABin5 recipes to WORK, GOSHDARNIT! WORK! So that I don't have to! I think The Bread Baker's Apprentice is a fascinating book and I even bought my own copy finally, but I don't have a stand mixer and I don't want to do all that kneading and baking Peter's kind of bread from scratch makes delicious bread, don't get me wrong. But it is also time consuming. I don't have the kind of time to devote to that kind of baking, even with a stand mixer and a will to knead.

Then Kayte, blessed Kayte, sent me an email the other day. It turns out that she has had the time to experiment with ABin5 with some of her internet baking group friends, and she was having a lot of trouble too: Sometimes the bread would rise, sometimes it wouldn't and there was no predicting from one time to the next what would happen. MADDENING. Kayte had woefully brought this contretemps to the attention of her friend, Glynnis, who emailed Kayte back, saying that the ABin5 recipe is fatally flawed because it contains no sugar for the yeast to feed on and produce that necessary rise in the final proofing and the oven bloom.

I read Kayte's email on Sunday evening and went right out to the kitchen and stirred up a batch of Jeff and Zoë's Light Wheat, adding Glynnis's recommended two tablespoons of sugar to the dough, let it do its on-the-kitchen-counter initial two hour rise, and then popped it in the fridge. The next day, I went ahead and made one boule and it turned out PERFECTLY.

Nice and round, tall, luscious, honestly looked like it came from a bakery. And it tasted absolutely delicious. The sugar adds something, taste-wise. I'm not sure what, but I'd define it as...more complex. Richer, maybe. More....dimensional. I am very pleased.

And now I think I understand why the brioche recipe rose when none of the others did: Jeff and Zoë's brioche recipe contains sugar.

So now it is 7:08 a.m. and I'm going to the kitchen to get out another hunk of dough for its two hour pre-bake proofing. Hopefully, this amazing rise won't prove to be a one-off. Fingers crossed!

1 comment:

Kayte said...

Thank you Glynnis! I am having better luck now, but I am sticking to boules and baguettes still...can't seem motivated to go beyond that for some reason. Maybe it will grow on me. For one thing, I hate having that big container in my frig taking up so much space. I have to grow into this, I think. Happy that you are having success and enjoying it.