I am the daughter of a flower child. Hmm.. does that make me a seedling? I mention this because since the new year began, I have been baking bread for my family which reminds me of a stretch of time in my childhood that was filled with the scent of freshly baked bread. As I go down this Making Groceries Road, I think I will call upon long-forgotten memories and unappreciated skills from Mom. I grew up in the yuppie 80s and deigned everything hippie about my mother deeply uncool. Now I scamper behind trying to learn what I once eschewed. I constantly call for recipes and gardening tips. I wonder if my boys will do the same to me? Already, they recognize dough as bread and eagerly check on its progress getting bigger in the bowl or baking in the oven. Max and Jack peer though a window of light that is not a television and intently watch their dinner take form.
Back to bread. My mom’s bread was good, but the recipe I’m sharing with you is literally the best I’ve ever tasted. Hands down, French bakeries included. It is also the simplest recipe for bread I’ve ever heard of and even though I’ve been making it for months, I’m stunned with every bite. The crust is hard and crunchy, the center: soft and chewy. I experimented with five recipes and this is my favorite. I found it online, but I did make some adjustments. The original recipe is credited to Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois and their book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. If you fall in love with this bread, and I do anticipate a hard fall, you should absolutely buy their book.
A few notes about this recipe.
It’s odd. There is no kneading. You store the dough in your fridge for up to two weeks, taking and baking as you please. If you’ve baked bread in the past, simply suspend all your previous knowledge and follow the directions exactly.
3 c lukewarm water
1 T honey
2 packets or 1 1/2 T yeast
1 1/2 T sea salt
6 1/2 c unbleached all purpose flour
1. Add slightly warmed water, honey and yeast to the bottom of a large mixing bowl. Stir a little to combine, but you don’t need to dissolve or proof it.
2. Add salt and flour all at once. Use the dough hook of a stand mixer or a serious bicep and wooden spoon to mix to a smooth and uniform consistency.
3. Cover dough, but not with an airtight seal, or you risk a messy explosion. Allow it to rise and double in size for two hours. Once it starts to collapse or the top flattens, it’s done. Dough is wet and loose.
4. Refrigerate dough for at least 1 day. It really tastes best and is easier to handle 3-5 days later. This dough makes either 3 small breads or 2 nicely-sized breads.
5. Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper. Sprinkle a bit of flour on top of the dough. Grab a grapefruit-sized handful of dough and quickly smooth the top, rotating as you work, forming it into a ball. The bottom of the ball can be a mess, just make a nice top. Place it on the sheet and allow to rise for 40 minutes. Preheat your oven to 450° about 20 minutes into rising.
6. Sprinkle dough with flour and slash an X on top of the dough with a serrated knife. As you place your baking sheet in the oven, also put a small baking dish with 1 c water into the oven on a different rack. This creates a steamy environment neccesary for the wonderful artisan texture. Don’t open for peeks. Bake 30 minutes, until crust is hard and golden.
7. Cool on a wire rack. Don’t you dare put margarine on it. Butter is in order. Enjoy.
A Note about Flour
Experiment with different flours. I thought that 100% whole wheat wasn’t as tasty as a 50-50 whole wheat-white flour combo. Never use bleached flour. The bleach is the same bleach used as a toxic cleaner. It has no place in food.
To buy a loaf of artisan bread cost $4.99- 5.99 at my local grocery store. To make it at home with organic flour, it cost $1.68 for the equivalent of 2 purchased loaves, or 84¢ a pop. The effort was minimal: five minutes a day is fairly accurate. I used my Kitchen Aid stand mixer, but I don’t think it was necessary as there wasn’t heavy kneading involved. I did have to get to the habit of planning, since the dough is best if it sits for a few days and also needs a bit more than an hour on baking day. The only drawback was the enormous bowl taking up space in my refrigerator. That was a small price to pay for the trade-off of affordable artisan bread and the delicious scent filling my home as it bakes.
It would be nice to replace all our bread needs with this, but the crunchy crust is laborious for Jack’s baby mouth, so it works better for breakfast toast and as a dinner side bread right now. Maybe in the future I’ll be able to use it for lunchtime sammies, but again, I’d have to get the planning down and figure out how to fit multiple recipes in my fridge too. I definitely think this recipe is a winner and everyone should try it. Dr. Atkins died of heart disease and was wrong about carbs. They give us essential energy and are too yummy to forgo. A special bread like this invites moderation, because it’s inherent value reflects the care that made it. Each of us is excited for our piece, but also recognize it is finite and must be shared.
One bonus I hadn’t anticipated was how engaged Max and Jack became in the process of making bread. They already recognize dough as bread and I wonder how many other toddlers would these days? They love dumping the flour, watching the dough rise and watching the bread bake. As a mother, it thrilling to see my children interact and understand the real food process. That makes a household chore double as a family activity, so I’m not alone in the kitchen. Pretty cool. Their relationship with food is forming right now, and it’s healthy, engaging and fun.