Tuesday, June 3, 2008


For my belated birthday, Leah and Juston gave me not one, but TWO, awesome bread/baking books. It was kind of a theme for my 36th, I guess. Either that or a not-so-subtle hint. One is the Cheese Board: Collective Works, the cookbook from the local Berkeley collective we love so dearly. There are at least two must-bakes from there, one cheesy, one chocolatey... and I'm sure there are a million other delicious and delightful treats to try.

The second, further to our conversations about no-knead bread, is Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois' book takes the popular concept one step further, creating a dough you can stir together in 15 minutes, don't need to knead, can ready for baking in 5 minutes, and that keeps in the fridge for two weeks. So basically, you stir together a gloppy (very wet) dough, let it proof at room temperature for two to five hours, and then you're good to go. Thereafter, you stick it in the fridge, and at any point over the next two weeks, you grab a grapefruit-sized handful, take 30-60 seconds to shape and stretch it, let it rise for 40-90 minutes, and bake it for about a half-hour.

You don't really get bread in 5 minutes, but you get fresh bread with 5 minutes' effort.

They have a master recipe and several other base recipes, and then there are dozens of recipes that use those as a jumping off point, adding other ingredients or techniques. Each appears to be equally simple, however.

I had to try the master recipe immediately. Unwittingly, I committed the cardinal sin and used bleached flour. (Didn't even look at what I was using, to tell you the truth.) My dough proofed beautifully, but it was incredibly wet and gloppy. It didn't even want to come off my hands, and of course both hands were covered, so I couldn't maneuver to add more flour or cornmeal or anything. Nothing could have saved this loaf anyway, but I plopped the dough into a loaf pan and figured I'd bake it just to see. It actually was edible. The crumb was a little wet, and there was a slight yeasty/alcoholy smell, but it was okay. (There was cornmeal mixed into the center of the loaf from where I'd tried to shape it, put it down on the cornmeal-covered pizza peel, then picked up the dough to transfer it to the loaf pan. Oh well.)

I quickly figured out my flour error. Research indicated that if your dough is too wet, you can add more flour next time, 1/4 cup at a time. But I wasn't sure if I could do that to the already-proofed dough. Figuring 1) sourdough starters function completely that way, and 2) what's the worst I can do - kill the dough?, I stirred in between 3/4 cup and 1 cup of good, unbleached flour, a quarter-cup at a time, and then left it to proof again at room temp for another two hours. (Good thing I started early!) It re-proofed just fine, and the texture was clearly closer to what it should have been. The second loaf looked, smelled, and tasted different... better... than the first. The crumb was generally more uniform and smaller, it was less wet (although wet, crusty, large crumb breads have a place in my bread world!), it behaved better, and it didn't have that yeasty sour smell. Josh definitely deemed it edible.

The loaf on the left is the second one I baked. See how the crumb looks more even (with the exception of the big air holes - don't know where those came from)? Though you can't tell from the angle, the second loaf is at least half again as tall as the first; definitely got a better oven rise.

The crust of the first loaf (right) is weirdly full of holes. The crust of the second loaf (left) looks better, though it stuck to the pizza stone in a couple of places (hence the holes). I keep catching Boy-o up on a stepstool, with the loaf in his hands, nibbling, so that's not an unreasonable explanation either. I may try parchment on top of the pizza stone next time, though I'm warned that may affect the crust, perhaps making it less crisp.

My next step will be to try the plain master dough again using the correct flour and see if I like the taste of that dough. My main argument with the taste so far is that I'm not sure it's exactly the taste I'm going for, and yet I don't know nearly enough about what to do to get it to taste different. It's like porn: I'll know it when I see it.

Also, after changing my methodology to try to be more exacting - becoming best friends with my kitchen scale - it's unnerving to be told to use the scoop-and-scrape method for measuring flour! The authors indicate they use a 5-ounce cup if you want to get exact; I usually use 4.25 ounces based on the King Arthur equivalencies. I get the point; they are trying to be accessible and easy for the everyday home cook. Makes sense, but I wasn't confident that I had the right amount of flour, especially given the extra-wet dough.

Of course, all my notes and comments are somewhat moot since I haven't made the dough properly, with the right flour, yet. Once I get that right, I can try other variations or try futzing with the ingredient proportions for the basic dough.

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