Forgotten: 5 Minute Bread Tool

Somehow I failed to include my favorite Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day tool in the post I wrote yesterday.  It’s this spoon:

Authors Hertzberg and François recommend that you use a a half-tablespoon for speed measuring.  This one has a tablespoon on one end which inverts, forming a half  tablespoon measure on the other side.  The other side does the same for teaspoons.  It’s my secret to shaving 30 seconds off that five minutes.

OK, maybe not, but it certainly is convenient, and since it’s dedicated, I always know where it is, and that it hasn’t previously been sullied for some non-essential activity, like making dinner.

It’s a Trudeau 4-in-1 Reversible Measuring Spoon.  Reviews on Amazon suggest that putting it in the dishwasher is not a good idea.


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?



Eating the “European” crêpe at Profi’s at Reading Terminal made me think of the crêpes I made back in the days when I cooked, ate whatever I pleased, and gave nary a thought to consuming massive quantities of rich, flavorful butter.

I had — well, I still have, it’s just unused now — a marvelous crêpe pan, and, more importantly, a proper crêpe batter bowl to use with it.  The bowl is curved so that its internal angle perfectly matches the curve on the crêpe pan.  A flick of the wrist is all it takes to pick up the requisite amount of batter:  Three minutes later, a perfect crêpe slides gently off the pan, ready to be filled with whatever.

“Whatever”, in my culinary heyday, was usually mushrooms sautéed with finely chopped onion and white wine, smothered in a buttery cream sauce.  On occasion, I was not above folding the crêpes into quarters and simply dipping them into melted butter as an alternative to dinner.  I was a tiny person with fierce metabolism; this activity did not seem particularly hazardous at the time.

Where’s the lovely  melted butter for dipping?  (Oh, the arteries!)
Image source:  Our Recipe Club
(Robyn’s crêpe recipe uses oil, not butter).

It was unclear exactly what made my Profi’s crêpe “European”.  The Profi crêpe itself was light, flavorful, and far larger than the little 7- or 8-inch versions I made at home.  The cashier had been vague about exactly what I could expect to find in my “European”, but the finely minced vegetables seemed to include everything she mentioned:  mushrooms, onions, peppers, spinach, tomatoes, carrots, olives and possibly broccoli.  And cheese, lovely cheese:  In this case, feta, which you may or may not consider European..

The Profi’s crêpe in no way resembled my crêpes of yore.  Nor did it resemble anything I’d consider French. The filling came closer to what I’m used to seeing in “wraps”, but was more refined (those tiny, tiny minced pieces!  the olive oil, the feta!).  A wrap leaves me cold; the Profi’s crêpe was satisfying, light and delicious.  Not gourmet, mind you, but tasty and so much better than I expected.

Reflecting on how differently we’ve come to eat over the years made me think about Regina Schrambling’s recent mediation on Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  Schrambling discourses on what she calls the “inconvenient truth” belied by the major fuss over the movie Julie and Julia.

1965 on left; 1979 on right.  Note author shift.
The blue jacket is a dust cover;
the cover underneath is nearly identical to the 1965 edition.

No contemporary human, Schrambling argues, will ever willingly choose to cook from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  It’s not just that truth that’s inconvenient, she says, but the cooking itself — recipes that go on for pages and pages.  She doesn’t claim that the results may be anything but wonderful; just that Child’s carefully recorded techniques are no longer viable in what is now a very different world.  “You will never cook from [Mastering the Art]” she asserts gloomily.

Yeah, well, maybe not. It really is a different world; most people, like me, who inherited the original version of Mastering (and who may have actually been fed from it as children), probably have never used the book as a cookbook.  And most of the newly-created Child fans probably won’t either, just as Schrambling claims.

We don’t have time to cook now, and we’ve been told ceaselessly that we really can’t afford to eat as Child once ate.  If we’re going to eat in the French manner now, we must attend to portion control, and as French portions are so minuscule compared to US ones, it hardly seems worth the effort to plow hours and hours of work into food preparation.

Cooking wasn’t Child’s only avocation.
Image (and more) from CBC News.

So I wondered a bit, as I ate my Profi’s crêpe, why I wasn’t a bit sadder about this lost world, in which butter and cream sauces were featured so prominently and so satisfactorily. But I couldn’t drum up any dismay at all; my  lunch was perfectly suited to the needs of the moment, and, maybe, of the era.

Tastes change, culture changes, science changes and we move on as we must, accommodating as we see fit or need to.  They were lovely, those homemade buttery crêpes, but now my breads (of any sort) are few and far between, and my vegetables mostly unadorned.  Accommodation:  Life requires it.  Fortunately, good flavor comes in many guises, not all of them buttery.


Unbento – Gyoza on a Red Plate

Homemade gyoza filled with Chinese cabbage, spring onion, shrimp and ginger; steamed rice with furikake; and dipping sauce of shoyu with rice vinegar, garlic and ginger.

Image of a Bento with Gyoza in Red

The wrappers were purchased, and the dumplings crimped in a gyoza mold we bought a few years ago. Next time I’ll make the filling-to-dough ratio a bit higher.