Delicious Bread in 5 Minutes a Day
Zoe Francois and Jeff Hertzberg, authors of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, explain how you can make bakery-quality breads quickly and easily.
Commitment: Your book, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, is amazing! The basic premise is making a large batch of dough that can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, then using pieces of it each time you want to bake a loaf. How did you come up with this idea?
Zoe Francois: I’ll leave this to Jeff!
Jeff Hertzberg: I was a medical resident in the late 80s, in Minneapolis, and I was pining for the ethnic breads from authentic bakeries that I’d left behind in New York City. My wife taught me the traditional bread method but I couldn’t possibly do that as often as I wanted great bread. So I started dropping things from the traditional method until I’d pared it down to a basic recipe that wasn’t kneaded, but more importantly, could be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
Commitment: How does your technique revolutionize home baking?
Zoe: I would say it is the accessibility of our recipe. We’ve stripped away all of the elements that seemed intimidating and laborious. It is so easy and fits into people’s schedule, so now they will actually bake a fresh loaf of bread every day. Storing the dough in a bucket over 2 weeks allows people the freedom to do this on their time line.
Jeff: We didn’t invent wet dough, and we didn’t invent no-knead—those are old European techniques that have been in books since at least 1999. What we experimented with and perfected was storing the dough in the refrigerator, so that you mix once and bake many. Mix once-bake once just doesn’t work for buy people. All that effort for one precious loaf.
Commitment: When did you realize you had the perfect bread recipe?
Zoe: I realized very early on when I asked my mom to test the recipes for us. Despite her wealth of talents she has never been a very good baker. I can’t ever remember her turning on the oven, let alone bake a loaf of bread. She agreed to test the recipe out of love. I got a hysterical phone call a few days later and she said “you can’t believe the gorgeous loaf I have just pulled from the oven!” She has been baking bread almost daily since then. If she could do it, I knew that we had a great recipe!
Jeff: When non-bakers/non-cooks started using it! These were people who swore they’d never try another homemade bread again, after mediocre results. People tend to knead in too much flour with the traditional method, and if you do that, you end up with a dry, tough, and flavorless loaf.
Commitment: Who is this book's target audience?
Zoe: Everyone from the novice who has always shied away from baking bread, to the experienced baker who wants an alternative to the more time consuming methods. Originally we thought it would be for beginners, but we have heard from just as many experienced bakers who using our method because they are getting great results with much less effort.
Jeff: Really, anyone who loves great bread. But the exciting new group is made up of people who’ve never baked before. That’s the group that we really target with this book. Experienced bakers like it too, but they often want to tweak the recipe—letting it age a little longer, allowing a longer rest time.
Commitment: Zoe, you are a renowned pastry chef, but can people with little or no baking experience benefit from this book?
Zoe: In fact, I think it is easiest for people with absolutely no experience to make our bread. More experienced bakers want to knead and fuss with the dough too much. With our method the less you handle the dough the lighter the crumb. Kneading can be a hard habit to break!
Commitment: The concept of preparing a large batch of dough, refrigerating it, and using it on an as-needed basis seems so simple. Why has it not been used before?
Zoe: I think it is because of strong traditions in the kitchen. Bread baking is an art that has been executed the same way for hundreds of years. The traditional ways are wonderful and great fun, but most people will never try them because they are perceived as being too difficult or time consuming.
Jeff: Because the culinary world is tradition-oriented. It’s very difficult to violate basic rules and assumptions if you come from inside that world. One basic rule was that dough couldn’t be stored longer than a day or so, that it would lose too much rising power. So no one experimented with it for a cookbook. We’ve shown that dough can be stored for 10 to 14 days, so long as it’s wet enough (but not so wet that it won’t hold its shape).
Commitment: Of the many great bread recipes included in your book, which are your favorites?
Zoe: Mine is the brioche recipe. Brioche is traditionally one of the more time consuming and finicky recipes! Some call for as much as 30+ minutes of kneading, while slowly adding the soft butter. I went through this crazy process for years at work because it is such wonderful bread. When I met Jeff and he shared his concept with me the very first recipe I developed was a brioche. I just dumped all of the ingredients in the bucket, melted the butter and poured it in as well, stirred it up and I had a brioche that I love! This was a revelation to me! I make sticky buns, Danish style braids, breakfast pastries and even savory flatbreads with it.
Jeff: I love the Roasted Red Pepper Fougasse (page 154), partly because it’s a gorgeous and easy French flatbread with incredible flavors, but also because it brings me back to an unforgettable trip to Provence, France, with my wife.
Zoe: But my workhorse dough is the European Peasant Bread (page 46). I use it for everything, even pizza, though we don’t say that in the book.
Commitment: Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day also includes other delicious recipes that go well with your breads. Can bread be eaten with just about anything?
Zoe: Come to my house and I will show you all the ways that bread can be incorporated into your meal! As you know we have a website and every time we discover a new way to use the dough we share it with our readers. Recently I used the dough to make Bacon and Eggs in Toast, baked in a muffin pan. People loved having a new way to make a classic breakfast. When you have big buckets of dough in your fridge you are more likely to play and discover new recipes. We ask people to share their bread creations with us on the website!
Jeff: I eat bread with anything and everything, but then, I love bread more than any other food.
Commitment: What is the most important thing to know about baking artisan bread?
Zoe: It should be a fun process or the bread won’t taste as good! There are several tips to getting a great loaf of bread, but none of it matters much if you are not enjoying the making and the eating!
Jeff: Keeping the dough on the wetter side will improve just about any amateur’s homemade bread. As I say, I’ve seen so many amateurs work in too much flour so it won’t be sticky—it needs to be sticky! And then store it, or you won’t bake bread every day. And I think life’s too short not to have homemade bread every day.
Commitment: Does a person have to buy a lot of fancy kitchen equipment to be able to follow your recipes?
Zoe: No, most of what we suggest is easily done with things you already own. In fact we purposefully used all-purpose flour because we knew just about every household would have that on hand. There are a few things that will greatly improve your crust, such as a baking stone, but you don’t absolutely need that. The only piece of equipment I feel is a much is an oven thermometer. Knowing the true temperature of your oven is so crucial for any baking.
Jeff: Nope! To start off, all you need is an oven thermometer (to make sure your oven is accurate), a baking stone (to get a crisp crust on freeform loaves), and a pizza peel. You can avoid the stone and the peel in your first experiments (bake in the loaf pan you already have). But we love freeform breads, and the stone and the peel really make it easier to get a great freeform result. A dough scraper (sometimes called a “bench” scraper) is also nice, especially for pizza. Same for a covered dough-rising bucket, though you can use a bowl covered with plastic wrap too.
Commitment: Now that Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day is on bookshelves everywhere and your baking talents are known, do you get invited to every pot luck dinner in town?
Zoe: Just about and guess what they want us to bring! ;)
Jeff: Yes, but that’s OK, I love potluck. Food always tastes better when someone else makes it for you. And bread from our book is the single easiest, fastest thing you can possibly be assigned for a potluck!
Jeff Hertzberg has been a physician, university professor, information technology consultant and ardent amateur baker. He developed a love of great bread while growing up in New York City's patchwork of the 1960s and 1970s, and he refined this love with extensive travel throughout France, Italy, Germany and Spain. He lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota with his wife and two daughters.
Zoe Francois is a pastry chef and baker trained at the Culinary Institute of America. In addition to teaching baking and pastry in the Twin Cities, and consulting to resaurants, Zoe creates artful desserts and custom wedding cakes. She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota with her husband and two sons. Visit her website at www.zoebakes.com.
To purchase Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, click here.