Sunday, January 18, 2009

Bake Us This Day Our Daily Bread

If you keep an eye on the books I read as noted in the sidebar, you'll remember that I recently picked up a copy of Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day.

It's been a pretty popular cookbook of late, and I've noticed among other blogs that other people are giving it a try. I always have mixed feelings about picking up a popular title of any sort, and I especially don't like getting caught up in the latest "foodie" thing as I don't consider myself a foodie. Besides, I really like kneading bread, and the whole point of this book is a kind of bread you don't have to knead. Where's the fun in that?

But an off-blog email exchange with Dear Reader Tara nudged me into giving it a try. And I gotta admit, this cookbook might well be one I'll have to add to my collection.

I've never been too interested in making artisan bread, but the more the Renaissance Man and I talk about the possibility of a masonry bread oven on the Farm, the more I think I ought to test some artisan recipes that would transfer well to a wood-fired oven.

So yesterday I pulled out the cookbook, one of my new 5-gallon food-grade plastic buckets and lids (thanks to My Wonderful Parents!), and opened up the Test Kitchen.

The dough is simple to mix. You don't proof the yeast, you don't knead the dough. It's a simple mixture of yeast, water, salt, and flour, and once you've stirred to incorporate the flour, you cover the bucket and let the dough rise. (You can use a bowl as usual, but the bucket is used for storage, so why dirty another pan?)

Once the dough has had a couple of hours to rise and develop, you cut a chunk of dough off from the rest and shape it quickly into a ball or boule. Again, there's no kneading, very little additional flour, and just a quick working of the dough before you put it on a cornmeal dusted peel or baking sheet.

While the oven heats, you dust the top with flour and slash the dough deeply for those dramatic artisan looks.

And after the appropriate time in the oven (complete with steam pan to give the crust that enticingly crisp texture), you end up with a stunningly beautiful loaf that smells like you just bought it at the local boulangerie. (It's very French!)

While it's tempting to tuck into the loaf right away, let it cool completely before slicing it. The interior is tender and fragrant, even in a whole wheat loaf like this. And with a little butter melting into the grain, it's heavenly.

Of course, that's just one loaf, and I still had plenty of dough left in the bucket. So this morning I pulled out another chunk, shaped it into a ball, and flattened it on the baking sheet so that I could make flatbread.

I sprinkled the top with za'atar seasoning from the farmers' market, then drizzled it with extra virgin olive oil.

It took only 20 minutes to bake this beautiful flatbread, which I then followed with another small loaf (since I had eaten most of yesterday's loaf -- it's that good).

The cookbook gives plenty of variations on the basic loaf, both in shape and in added ingredients or toppings. Many are ones I doubt I would use, but there's enough variety and inspiration in the book to make me think I need my own copy.

With this method, you truly could have fresh bread daily.

I'm afraid I might get hooked!

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At 1/19/2009 11:46 PM, Anonymous Clint said...

I actually bought this book note to long ago, as well. I've been wanting to bake my own bread for lunches and pizza dough, but I haven't had the time to make anything yet.

I'm slightly nervous about storing the dough in a refrigerator that I share with four other people (space is the major restriction), but once I start making the bread, I don't think my housemates will mind the extra space taken up by the dough.

How difficult did you find it to handle the wet dough once it had been refrigerated for two hours or more?


At 1/20/2009 7:00 AM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Truth be told, Clint, that big bucket didn't even fit in my fridge, so I set it in my cold storage room, which is only slightly warmer than the refrigerator. So if you have a space on a porch that isn't quite at current outside temps, that could work.

I think if you do add a handful of flour to the top of the chunk you're going to handle, and keep your hands lightly floured, you'll find that while the dough is sticky, it's not going to leave your hands a complete mess and the loaf a ragged sight. Since the loaf gets dusted with flour before baking, I think it's actually OK to use a little more flour until you're accustomed to handling sticky dough. :-)

Hope you try it soon -- I look forward to hearing your results!

At 1/20/2009 8:08 AM, Blogger Tara said...

Ooo, la, la! C'est magnifique! Or at least it looks like it is... Thanks for test driving this. Throw in a CSA salad and I'm thinking you'll have a divine summer supper on your hands. Just beautiful!

At 1/20/2009 8:11 AM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Ohhhhhhhhh... Now see what you've done, Tara? You've made me hungry! :-) Try it with a soup first, then you'll be whipping these out every night come CSA season.

At 1/21/2009 10:23 AM, Blogger Sara said...

Thanks for this post! I've been debating about adding that cookbook to my collection, as well. I think I'll have to break down and buy it, though. The bread looks amazing!

At 1/21/2009 10:46 AM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

I baked the last loaf from the batch last night, and I think it may have been even better than the first. I'm going to have to make more...

If you do go ahead and buy the book, Sara, I wish you much happiness and much good bread! :-)

At 1/21/2009 12:10 PM, OpenID eatclosetohome said...


Ahem. Excuse me. A little over-enthusiastic, perhaps. We've had dough in the fridge every day since I bought the book, and our favorite variation so far is the naan. Only 5 minutes in a skillet - saves time and a ton of energy, and dear sweet magnificent beneficent being(s) of you choice, is it good!

Also, instead of flour, I use water to keep the dough from sticking to my hands. Just run them under the tap before working with the dough, and re-wet if needed.

At 1/21/2009 12:33 PM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

OK, Emily, I'm sold! :-) I've never been satisfied with my naan recipe, so I'll have to give this a go.

I should have thought about the wet hands -- that's what I do to spread out pizza dough. Bingo!

At 1/22/2009 10:38 AM, Blogger Kelly said...

oh, what a hoot! I'm working on a post about this same book...about having failure after failure with my sourdough of late...and deciding to give the master recipe a twist (add sourdough) and a try. which i have yet to do because work has been so busy...but this weekend I'm doing it. I love the book and have pored over it a dozen times already.

I'm planning on building a wood fired oven in my yard this summer! pizzaaaaaaaaa.

At 1/22/2009 10:51 AM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Fingers crossed that you'll be able to play with it this weekend, Kelly! (I toyed with the idea of starting another batch this AM before work -- didn't, but it does seem so ridiculously easy!)

WOOD FIRED OVEN. I totally need to come and help you with that!!! ;-)


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