I love bread. So, needless to say, I did not jump on the low-carb bandwagon that began touring the nation years ago. Americans, in a move that frankly baffled me, ditched ages-old foods like bread and noodles, declaring them suddenly unhealthy. Bakeries and pasta manufacturers went out of business while sales of no-carb pork rinds and cholesterol medications skyrocketed. Sure, lots of people lost weight and some even kept it off. Fine, whatever works for you works for you, but I’m going to keep my homemade bread. It’s made with real ingredients, no preservatives, and hardly any pork rinds.
Not too long ago, a bread-baking book got my attention. It’s called Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day and was written by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois (you can get it here or here). I was intrigued, but felt a little like this should be advertised by a shouty salesman, like Billy Mays or the Sham Wow guy. “Five minutes a day! You’ll never be hungry again! Just pay processing and handling!” I assumed the process would involve special equipment or delicate yeast starters and such things, but then, the book’s authors were guests on The Splendid Table, a radio show about food on NPR. Lynne Rossetto Kasper, the show’s charming hostess, tasted the bread right in front of the microphone, and I could hear her crunching the crust and mmmmming as she chewed. This might just be worth a try.
The whole thing got even better when I learned that The Splendid Table website had posted the basic recipe. I printed it out in early April, lost it at least three times, put “try Artisan Bread recipe” on several to-do lists, and finally, this weekend, when it was beginning to get disgustingly hot outside and it would practically be an act of self-immolation to turn on the oven, I got around to trying this bread. (Perhaps it’s not very “green” to run the oven and the air conditioner at the same time, but…all in the name of good bread.)
To make a short story that I’m making too long short again, I liked it. The recipe is super easy and the results tasted terrific. I followed the basic recipe, which you can get here, pretty much exactly. I used bread flour, but since the recipe just calls for “unbleached flour,” I think you could use all-purpose flour. Basically, you just mix up water, yeast, salt and flour and forget about it until you need it. (“And it’s just that easy!”) You can keep the dough in the refrigerator for a couple weeks and it supposedly develops in flavor over that time. All you do when you want to bake some bread is hack off a blob of dough, form it into a round loaf, let it sit, and bake it.
The resulting bread is dense and chewy, and quite flavorful. I’ve been eating it alongside salads (of course), soup, and pasta. It’s also good thinly sliced, toasted and spread with jam or marmalade. You may want a softer sandwich loaf for something like a fluffer-nutter sandwich, but this bread is the kind of stuff you cut off a big chunk to use as an extra utensil with a rustic soup or pasta sauce.
The dough is wet, and did stick to my pizza peel when I used cornmeal between the dough and the peel. I had good results when using parchment paper instead. Also, I did need to bake the bread just a little longer than specified in the recipe. To check for doneness, I insert an instant-read thermometer into the bottom of the loaf. If the bread is about 200 F inside, I call it done. (You want the interior completely cooked, but don’t want all the moisture to steam away.)
I hope to try making other shapes, like baguettes and flatbreads with this dough (especially if I can use the grill…enough oven for a while!). I’ll try to keep you informed if the results are interesting. I may even actually buy the cookbook, and see what else the authors have to offer. It looks like this recipe, as easy and flavorful as it is, will help keep me a carb-carrying member of the breakfast, lunch and supper clubs for some time to come.