Third Time’s the Charm

After my second baking experiment, I felt really encouraged. I’d paid attention to the details, learned a little bit more about the chemical reactions in the baking process and as a result, my white bread loaves were fluffy and buttery, exactly as I’d imagined. A couple of weeks later, I was at a party and my friend Brady showed up with some bread he’d just baked that afternoon. It had a lovely crisp crust and a soft crumb that was perfect when dipped in olive oil. Ever the student, I began asking questions. Brady pointed me in the direction of a book called “Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day“. So I did some research.

The authors of this book, Dr. Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois, have created a cottage industry around this concept. In addition to the book on artisan bread, they’ve authored two other 5-minute cookbooks, one for pizza and one for healthy bread. I found numerous reviews for this recipe and by all accounts it looked like an excellent next step for my growth as a baker. This dough can be kept in the fridge for up to two weeks, so you can make fresh bread in about an hour and a half any time you want. That worked perfectly into my long term plan to make artisan bread starting with a sponge. This dough would become my future sponge.

This is a no-knead dough and while it really only takes five minutes to mix it up, it takes two to five hours for it’s first rise and 45 minutes for it’s second rise. This recipe could not be more simple and straightforward. It calls for:

1 1/2 tbsp of dry active yeast
1 1/2 tbsp of kosher salt
6 1/2 cups of baking flour
3 cups of 100-115 degree water.

Everything just gets mixed together, no yeast blooming, no kneading, the wet and dry ingredients are combined until there are no visible dry patches of flour and the whole thing gets covered and rests for anywhere from two to five hours. I mixed it all up in my special bread-rising tub and walked away. I decided to give it 3 1/2 hours, just for grins. And when I finally uncovered this dough, it was very stretchy and moist. It looked kind of luck chewing gum, partially stuck to the side of the bin and stretching into the center. The recipe instructed me to flour it, pat it down a little bit and break off grapefruit sized pieces of dough to form into loaves. It was a really soft dough, very pliable and slightly more sticky than the dough for the white bread loaves I’d made. I shaped two lovely loaves and still had enough dough leftover to make two more – that went into the fridge for my next project. I put down a layer of cornmeal on a cookie sheet, gently rested my loaves on the cornmeal and set it aside for it’s second rise of 45 minutes. Finally, I scored the surface with a sharp knife and got ready to slide these bad boys onto my pizza stone, which was preheating in a 450 degree oven. Here’s where things got a little interesting.

The instructions called for placing a roasting pan on the lower rack of the oven while it was pre-heating. When the bread goes in, the pan gets about 2 cups of water, causing instant steam, which helps develop a crusty exterior. My roasting pans were burried under a bunch of other large kitchen equipment. Have I ever mentioned my extreme lack of kitchen storage space before? It’s a nightmare, expecially when it comes to baking equipment that tends to be rather large and bulky. So, I was lazy – I didn’t go the extra mile to dig out a metal roasting pan. I took a shortcut – and that was a mistake. I used a pyrex pie plate.

The loaves had stuck to the cookie sheet, so they would not slide off onto the pizza stone. I had to wedge them free from the cookie sheet, which deflated them just a bit. I finally got them onto the pizza stone, but when I poured water into the pie plate, it shattered into a gazillion pieces in the bottom of my oven. I say it shattered – it was more like a small explosion that blew pieces of white hot broken glass all over the bottom of my oven. Sigh. I am such an idiot sometimes.

It was not fun, but I managed to get as much broken glass out of the roasting hot oven as I could. And of course I made sure no tiny shards of glass had flown up and onto my bread. All was safe, while the bread baked for 30 minutes, I swept the kitchen and cleaned up the broken glass.

The bread was delicious. The crust was not very thick, but it had a nice crackle to it. The crumb was firm and moist, but not quite elastic like french bread. We sampled it with a dish of seasoned olive oil and I have to say we were very pleased with the results. So, aside from the shattered pie plate, my third baking project was a another success. I think I’m getting the hang of this baking thing. And now I have a container of yeasty future-bread in my fridge, which means I’m committed to the next step – the sponge method!! Wish me luck.

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About radioabby

I'm a broadcast professional and home cook who loves music, travel and exploring unique, distinctive things, places and ideas. I love to cook, discover new flavors and improvise in the kitchen.
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5 Responses to Third Time’s the Charm

  1. Joan Mirantz says:

    Try misting the breads(in the oven) with a mist bottle(a plant mister or I use an old pump bottle)…then close the door really quickly!
    It works pretty well!

  2. Sylvia says:

    I just recently bought the same book. Just like you, the cornmeal slide onto the baking stone didn’t work so smoothly. However, my first effort was a great success and the sponge produced several more tasty loaves. But on my second attempt, I overwarmed the water and did the bare minimum rises resulting in flat, doughy loaves. My final conclusion, this solution is really sensitive!

  3. Lisa P says:

    Have not baked in…..forever – but I used to LOVE to bake and found a bread recipe I adored that depended on dehydrated (non-instant) milk powder and honey as ingredients. It turned out a chewy-sweet loaf that reeked of wholesomeness and was enjoyed often in fall and winter – toasted; with cups of Irish Breakfast tea. Baking (cooking in general!) and gardening are two things that I have relegated to the “will do someday” corner of my life. What am I waiting for?

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