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Thursday, November 13, 2008

No need to knead this daily bread

BouleBaking is a nice, cold-weather indoor activity — it makes the house smell good, puts humidity in the air, and the end result (if all goes well) is something good to eat.

A recent story in the Seattle P-I about an easy way to make bread caught my attention, so I decided to give it a try. The basic recipe is by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois, authors of the book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. In a nutshell, all one needs to do is mix together flour, water, yeast and salt, then store the resulting dough in the fridge until you’re ready to make bread. Then just take out some dough, let it come up to room temperature, and bake. It does work, and it’s pretty darned tasty!

3 cups lukewarm water (about 100°F)
1½ Tbs. granulated yeast (two packets)
1½ Tbs. kosher salt, or other coarse salt
6½ cups unsifted, unbleached, all-purpose white flour (measure with scoop and sweep method)
Cornmeal or parchment paper

Preparing the dough:
In a 5-quart bowl or a resealable, lidded, plastic food container, add yeast and salt to lukewarm water. I like to sprinkle a few grains of sugar in just to make sure the yeast is alive, but the authors say proofing isn’t necessary with modern yeast. Don’t worry about getting it all to dissolve.

Add in all the flour at once. Mix with a wooden spoon or a heavy-duty stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Stir until mixture is uniformly moist without dry patches.

Cover with a lid that fits well, but is not airtight. Allow to rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse, about 2 hours. (You can let it go up to 5 hours; I did 3.) The dough is ready to use at this point, but will be easier to shape if it is refrigerated at least 3 hours first.

On baking day:
The authors say to use a pizza peel to put the dough on while it comes up to temperature, but I just used a small plate by sprinkled liberally with cornmeal. Alternatively, you could use a piece of parchment.

Sprinkle the surface of your refrigerated dough with flour. Sprinkle some more flour on your countertop or bread board. (I used whole wheat flour for this.)

After coating your hands with oil, pull up and cut off a 1 pound (grapefruit-size) piece of dough, using a serrated knife. (Since the recipe yields four one-pound loaves, just use a quarter of the dough.)

Plop the dough on the floured surface and roll it around until the surface is no longer sticky. Gently form it into a ball. Handle the dough as little as possible.

Place the shaped ball on the cornmeal-covered plate. Allow the loaf to rest for about 40 minutes, uncovered. Depending on the age of the dough, you may not see much rise (more will occur during baking).

Twenty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 450°F, with a baking stone placed on the middle rack. Place an empty broiler tray for holding water on any other shelf that won't interfere with the rising bread.

(NOTE: I used a baking stone the first time I baked a loaf, and its bottom was still quite moist. I turned the loaf upside-down and baked it for another 10 minutes, and it turned out fine. For the second loaf I used a perforated pizza pan, and had better results.)

Dust the top of the loaf liberally with flour. Slash a ¼-inch-deep cross, scallop or tic-tac-toe pattern into the top, using a serrated bread knife.

Slide the loaf off the pizza peel and onto the preheated baking stone. Quickly but carefully pour about 1 cup of hot water from the tap into the broiler tray and close the oven door to trap the steam.

Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the crust is nicely browned and firm to the touch. Allow to cool completely, preferably on a wire rack.

Store the remaining dough in the refrigerator in a lidded — but not airtight — container. Cut off and shape more loaves as you need them anytime over the next 14 days. The flavor and texture will improve after even one day’s storage.

This makes a good, chewy, everyday bread. For more recipes, buy the book or visit the authors’ blog .
J. Silverheels Gray, 1:11 PM


I'm Jeff Hertzberg, one of the co-authors of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. I'm so glad our recipes are working well for you. Come visit us anytime at, where you can post questions into any "Comments" field, or click on "Bread Questions" on the left side of the homepage and choose among the options.

Jeff Hertzberg

Chicago tribune video:
Blogger Jeff Hertzberg, at 11:32 PM  

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