Review: Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day
Every Sunday, I review a cookbook in an attempt to lend some guidance in a field that has become overrun. These days everyone is writing cookbooks and it is incredibly upsetting to buy a dud and have it sit on your shelf for years – staring at you, mocking your poor judgment.
I’ve been using Mark Bittman’s no knead bread recipe for a few months now. I even wrote a post on it. The one limitation I have with the recipe is that I only know how to make that one loaf. I can add oats and seeds and try to spice it up but after six months, I need a change.
Enter Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. When I first saw the title I had a hunch that this book would somehow use a no knead bread solution and it does. But it also does something much more. It introduces a number of great bread dough base recipes and then extrapolates on those to make a tons of different delicious breads. The authors’ goal is to keep your work at a minimum and your bread enjoyment at a maximum.
A Conversation With Mom
Over the holidays I was spending time with my Mom and we got to talking about bread making. In Wyoming, there just isn’t any way to get fresh bread. I mentioned that she should start making it. She responded with the normal things people say when they think about making bread: it takes too long, is a lot of work, requires too many special pieces of equipment, and the end result will probably suck.
Before this book ventures into recipes, it tackles these complaints head on. In just a few chapters, it disproves all of these myths. Bread making at home doesn’t have to be any of these things. My mom and I set out one afternoon to make her first loaf of homemade bread using a recipe in this book.
The authors are not secret about their secret. The goal is to get a dough together that can be stored effectively in the fridge for many days (actually many weeks). Using this recipe, you can make a big batch and then just break off hunks of dough daily, shape them quickly into your desired loaf, and bake. It’s that easy.
The book presents a number of different dough bases that can be used, but they all have a few things in common: 1) They have a high moisture content. I’m not a scientist but it makes sense that a moist dough will store better than a dry dough. 2) No special steps to make. This means no kneading. No proofing of yeast. And no sourdough starters. This stuff is easy.
Variations and Recipes
The dough recipes they give you like a basic Boule dough, European Peasant Bread recipe, and a Deli-style Rye are just the start. They spend a good number of pages then using these base doughs to make tons of different variations. This is what I was missing from my no knead bread of old: Variety.
Some recipes that sound especially delicious to me were the Onion Rye recipe, the Raisin-Walnut Oatmeal Bread, Caramelized Onion and Herb Dinner Rolls, and the Sun-Dried Tomato and Parm Bread. In short, they have enough varieties to keep me baking and happy for many many years.
The Sweet Side of Bread
While most of the book talks about savory bread making which is what I like the best, there is a whole chapter on enriched breads and pastries. I’ve never seen anything like this. They came up with recipes for a Challah and Brioche that you can store in dough form! Then they again give some varieties on those doughs.
I must admit that I haven’t tried these yet, but they are on my list.
I don’t usually write a lot about authors when I review a book, but I think these two authors are worth spending a few words on. Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François come from two very different backgrounds (one a scientist and one a chef) which helped in the development of this book, but more importantly both of them have a real love of home bread baking. It comes through clearly in the book.
Most cookbook authors have a passion for the subject of their book. What sets these authors apart though is their accessibility. They are very helpful and accessible beyond the book. It’s one of the few books I know that has a really great (and updated) website: http://www.artisanbreadinfive.com/. Also, they are very active on Twitter and will respond to questions. You can follow them at @ArtisanBreadIn5.
This book does an absolutely fantastic job of making bread baking accessible. If you are upset about the variety and poor quality of store brought bread these days (you should be), but you are hesitant that you can do any better, this book is for you. And guess what. I’m sure you can do better.
My mom and I ended up mixing a batch of the Boule dough in just a few minutes. We cut the recipe in half just to try it. We made it in the morning and let it do its thing throughout the day. That night for dinner we had a beautiful loaf of fresh baked bread. It was maybe 10 minutes of actual work and totally worth it.
One note: You will need some equipment to bake really good bread. You can’t make bread in a frying pan dude. One piece of equipment that they recommend and I second is a good quality baking stone. While you can make bread on a baking pan, it just isn’t the same.