Making Artisan Bread
I’ve been living away from family for about three and a half years now and when I first left I had an inkling that they would miss my food more than they would miss me. I’m pretty sure I was right in thinking that, because the first thing that my mum said to me when I picked them up from the airport for their annual visit was, “I can’t wait to eat that sandwich that you used to make!”. And she hasn’t stopped bugging me about said sandwich for the past week. What she doesn’t know is that the bread situation here is pretty abysmal, not at all the same with the breads back in Qatar. In here they’re pretty small and too soft. Soft breads are not up to par for sandwiches; you need a sturdy bread to absorb all the juices and give it that crunch when grilled. So this little predicament brought me to baking my own bread. I’m sure most people have heard of the “Artisan Bread in 5 minutes a Day” by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois. It’s deemed revolutionary because it doesn’t involve making a starter dough, proofing the yeast or even kneading. To be honest, I thought the title was a bit misleading. I had entertained a thought where I’d whip this dough up and be able to eat it in 5 minutes. Of course, this is not the case. The whole process takes about 3 and a half hours, with 10-15 minutes active time. But the upside is that once you’ve made your dough, you can have a fresh, crusty loaf of Boules (or whatever bread you choose to shape the dough into) everyday for about a week.
Artisan Bread Dough: (makes 4 1lb loaves)
[ 3 cups lukewarm water + 1 1/2 tablespoons fast acting (instant) yeast + 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher or other coarse salt + 6 1/2 cups unsifted, unbleached all purpose white flour ]
All you need for this recipe is a plastic container with a lid. Easy clean-up recipes are always a plus in my book.
Pour the lukewarm water (it should feel just a little warmer than body temperature, about 100 degrees F) into the container.
Add in the yeast and salt into the water.
Dump in all of the flour unceremoniously. Stir the mixture with a wooden spatula until just combined.
You’ll end up with a scraggly, wet dough. And now, believe it or not, all you have to do is put the lid on.
If you’re using an airtight container, make sure that the lid isn’t snapped on completely. The yeast in the mixture will need vents to let the air escape. Leave at room temperature for 2 hours. If your water was a little cold or you decreased the amount of yeast, you’d have to let the dough sit for a bit longer.
**The initial dough mixture, after the 1 hour mark, after 2 hours - respectively.
You can, if you choose to, use the dough straight after it’s initial 2 hour rest. But ideally you should refrigerate it overnight (making sure the lid is not tightly snapped on). The yeast will continue to ferment and it will improve the texture and flavour of the bread.
So I made this bread the day after I made the dough. When you take the dough out of the fridge, it would’ve deflated and the top has collapsed. This is completely fine.
Shaping the dough:
Prepare a bowl of flour nearby. Take a small handful and sprinkle it on top of the dough. Dust your hands liberally with flour. Grab a handful of dough and pull it out. Pinch off the dough or use a pair of kitchen shears to cut it off.
* If your dough breaks instead of stretching, then your mixture is probably a little too dry. Add in about 3 tablespoons of water and leave the dough for 30 minutes to let it absorb the extra moisture.
** Glorious gluten formed without back-breaking kneading. Beautiful!
Ideally, you would use a baking stone to bake this. But if you don’t have it then just place a piece of parchment paper on a baking tray.
Then what you’d do next is a method the book called “Forming a Gluten Cloak”. And since I only have two hands, I couldn’t take a step-by-step picture of me doing it. But I’m going to link you to this very helpful one that I found.
You can form the dough into any shape you like when forming the gluten cloak. I chose to make Boules, just because it’s the easiest.
Place the boules on the parchment paper and let it rise for 30-40 minutes (you can start preheating your oven at 300F 20 minutes into the rising step).
Sprinkle the top with some flour and score the dough or mark a cross on top using a sharp knife. This scoring is necessary to let out the trapped gas that could deform your dough.
Baking the bread:
Set the oven temperature at 450F.
Take a baking tray and fill it with water. Put this tray in the lowest rack. Then slide in your baking tray with the dough (and the parchment paper) into the middle rack. Leave to bake for 25-30 minutes.
The water-tray is necessary to create that crusty exterior to the bread, while leaving the inside relatively soft and moist.
Once the bread is done, leave it to cool for about 20 minutes. If you prefer to eat it straightaway while it’s warm, that’s fine too. But the texture improves considerably during the wait.
Eat with your favourite jam, honey or use it to make a sandwich. Or french toast, if you have leftover slices on the next day.
The leftover dough will keep happily in its container inside the fridge for about 14 days. The flavour will deepen the longer you leave the dough, and you can always pull out a boule to have freshly baked everyday.