Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes

Every good thing you’ve heard about Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day is true:  It’s an amazing book, and it really is possible to make chewy, crusty, real bread quickly and easily.  Five minutes?  Yes, really, five minutes of actual labor, excluding resting and cooking, which, after all, don’t require you to do anything.  Here’s my second loaf (in our zeal to consume it, we forgot to immortalize the first loaf):

Here’s what the dough looks like in the fridge (divided into two 4 quart containers to fit on our top shelf):

Edit:  Whoops, Allium points out that this is actually panetone dough, not the master recipe.  Same idea.

The instructions in the book are very clear, but there’s also a huge amount of additional information on the blog, especially in the comments, where every question possible seems to have been posed.  The authors are great about responding to questions; there are a few errors in the book, and those are corrected on the blog, too.

I can’t add much to the wealth of information already available there, but here are the tools I use when making the bread:

From the upper left:

  • an elliptically shaped measuring cup — I like this shape best for tossing the water into the broiler pan beneath the bread
  • an oven thermometer — this one (a Taylor) was awful, in the sense that there was no way at all to get it to hook or to stand on our oven racks, so I wouldn’t recommend it; however it did check the temperature accurately
  • an instant-read thermometer — when this reads 205 degrees (your final reading may be different), we know the bread is done perfectly
  • a mixer — when our huge KitchenAid’s base plate stopped locking the bowls in place, I thought making bread dough was out of the question, since I have trouble with rotary motions.  Incredibly, this hand mixer can blend an entire Artisan master recipe without a problem.  Don’t get the KitchenAid 5 speed (cheap now, but universally panned) or the 7 speed; it’s the 9 speed that’s got the power (the one above is the KitchenAid Architect 9 speed)
  • the dough hooks — for the hand mixer.  Look tiny and feeble, don’t they?  Looks can be deceiving.
  • a peel — for tossing the bread into the oven.  Most people use a wooden one, but I prefer metal, and this one is the best we’ve tried, even though you’ll pay extra because a chef’s name is on it.  (It’s Mario Batali.) We hang ours on the wall, but it has a knob on the back, and can be folded in half to store in a much smaller space.  There’s a huge (and silly) discussion on the Amazon review of the book about peels, with people claiming that you must have a wooden peel to place the bread, and a metal one to retrieve it.  One metal one will do fine for both.  Trust me.

The dough is stored in non-airtight containers.  I use this type:

They’re available online, but also in the food service sections of “wholesale” big box stores.  If you use the round ones, you can mix the dough right in the storage container, but they take up a lot more room in the fridge.  I use this six quart size for the whole master recipe, and it works fine, but we also have two four quart size containers.  I’ve even used similar small 2.5 quart containers, dividing the dough appropriately.   Splitting the dough into smaller containers works fine, too, and may be easier to manage in a really small fridge, or on a shallow shelf like our upper one. These containers aren’t air-tight even if closed; that’s important if you don’t want an explosion.

Instead of a single, heavy pizza stone, we use six unglazed tiles:

They’re much easier to move in and out of the oven and to store.

Not shown:  our broiler pan, which goes on the bottom oven rack.  When you want a perfect, crunchy crust, you toss a cup of water onto the pan just after you slide the bread into the oven.

Of course, you’ll need a wire rack to cool the bread, a cutting board and a bread knife.  Stick around when you take the master recipe out of the oven; you’ll be amazed to hear it crack and crackle as the crust settles.  Be patient, and wait for the crackling to finish before you cut the loaf; if you don’t, you won’t get that spectacular crust.

Note:  It’s possible to bake the dough the same day you make it, but you may find the flavor disappointing. A mere 24 hours makes a big difference, so don’t assume that you’ve had the full experience if you don’t wait!

In addition to a huge number of batches of the master recipe, I made panetone over the holidays.  Panetone  is an Italian holiday bread studded with candied fruit.  There’s a traditional (and expensive) panetone pan, but I followed the suggestions of some of the Artisan blog commenters, and made mine in recycled coffee cans, lined with parchment paper:

The tricky part was finding cans.  It turns out that most supermarket coffee is now sold in plastic canisters, but I did find quite large containers, and these smallish ones, which gave my bread a more-or-less panetone shape.  (Well, less rather than more, but, hey, they worked fine!)  Here’s what the dough looked like:

The panetone dough should fill the baking container about two-thirds full.  Calculating the cooking time was tricky; the large containers I used first took almost fifty percent longer than the recommended time in Artisan; these smaller ones took only about 20 minutes longer than the time suggested for the large loaf in the book.  They turned out well, with a texture equal to the best commercial panetone we’ve tasted, and a lovely flavor.

Store the loaves cut side down on a bread board, or, as in our case, cut side down in one of the unused storage boxes,withthe lid offset so that air circulates around the bread.  (Cat-proofing, if you must know.)  There is a significant down side to making this heavenly bread:  Carb overload.  Try SparkPeople for redemption.  They’ll teach you how to have your Artisan bread and your health, too.

Speaking of which, we just bought a copy of authors Hertzberg’s and François’ latest book, Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day.  How could we resist?