Easy Bread Making (or in Which a Passion is Renewed for Fall)

It was last December when I discovered the wonders of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day... And by the first of January (2009) I was full out Obsessed.

Before that, I made bread, but not exclusively. I would try out different recipes, and did have a favorite that took me exactly 2 hours from start to finish - but still it was not as low-maintenance as the Five Minute type, which relies on a very wet dough that stores well for up to two weeks. I had tried labor intensive approaches, and even thoroughly poured over Nancy Silverton's mothering methods (feeding your starter 3 times a day, though I couldn't quite commit to that regimen) and had some 24 hour recipes tucked in my repertoire for happy occasions.

The Five Minutes a Day approach made me a committed bread maker. I doubt I've bought 3 loaves of bread since January, and as both my picky eater housemates would attest, I don't think I'll ever go back to purchasing store bread on a regular basis. While I still tinker with other recipes, I usually tinker with Five Minutes now, since it is generally foolproof for those of us unlucky enough not to attend Patisserie Schools...

Last week I ordered a yogurt maker from King Arthur Flour. After visiting with GOP, I decided that I'd give in and buy a new maker. I'm really happy I did. Not only did I have terrific yogurt, and less plastic waste from overly sweet supermarket brands, but I decided to order a packet of this mix:

For a week, I was so itchy to try this stuff! And finally, today, my chance came. We were out of town for the weekend, and there was not a stitch of bread to be had when we returned. At 8 this morning, I mixed up a batch of altered Five Minutes a Day dough, and by late lunchtime, I had a loaf of bread worth being excited about.

King Arthur Flours are single handedly responsible for breaking me of my food snobbery addiction to organic flour. They are so consistently wonderful, that I can't really think of co-op organic the same. I'm all for USDA Organic, but KAF: You have stolen my heart! They also have terrific recipes and help online, too. Win, Win!

Raising in the 6 qt. bowl...

I really do love carbohydrates, but in summer, my passion seems to wane a bit, since the heat and humidity of the Midwest tend not to make me very hungry. But in these first few cooler days of pre-Autumn, my appetites seem to be increasing. What excitement! I feel almost as excited as the first time a loaf of the "stored dough method" bread came dancing off the stone, perfect and crusty and begging to be cut into.

I will share my recipe: but please note that without the base recipe and indeed the book by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois, my baking self would not ever have been able to come up with it.

Cracked Honey Wheat Bread (by "stored dough method")

3 C. tepid water

1 1/2 T. Yeast (I use the active dry yeast from the bulk refrigerator section of the co-op)

1 1/2 T. Kosher Salt

1 C. whole wheat flour (I used King Arthur 100 percent Whole Wheat)

1/2 c. King Arthur Flour Cracked Whole Wheat Bread Base

5 C. AP flour (I used King Arthur)

Even though the Five Minutes approach is not to use machines, I insist upon using my stand mixer since

it really integrates the ingredients well. First, add the water. Then, float the yeast along the top of the water. Add the salt off to the side (and really I'm being so specific since I am a bit nutty, doing things the same each time. Really, you could probably just mix up everything in no specific order, and it will turn out wonderfully.) Add the flours and bread base and mix with the dough hook until well combined. I usually then scrape down the sides of the mixer and let it knead another 2 minutes or so - but that, too, would be totally unnecessary. Let it rise (I can use the same mixer bowl since mine is 6 quarts - you may need to transfer to a larger bowl) for 2 hours or until the dough looks like it has risen and fallen just slightly.

At this point, you can stash the whole bowl into the fridge for up to 14 days. But should you choose, you can hack off a portion and make a loaf right away. Normally, you can get 2 standard loaf pans out of one batch of dough, or about 3 pound size loaves, of a free formed shape. I opted for the boule today instead of a pan. I took about a 1/3 of the dough and quickly formed it into a ball. Let it rise on the peel dusted with cornmeal (or if you are without peel, try the back of a sheet pan lined with parchment - and slide the loaf with the parchment under it into the oven when you get to that part) for 40 minutes. If the dough has just come out of the refrigerator, really let it sit out for a couple of hours, until most of the chill of the fridge is out of it, and it has risen slightly.

(Note: if you want to make a loaf pan, usually the temp in the oven will need to be decreased. I haven't tried this one in a loaf pan yet, but I'd probably try it at 400 or even 350 degrees. Also, a baking stone and water for steam is unnecessary.)

About a half hour before you bake, heat the oven to 450 degrees, with the baking stone in the center of the oven. On the bottom oven shelf, place an empty pan to hold water. I like to let the oven really preheat well, so the baking stone is properly warm and the oven (mine is electric) doesn't cycle on and off so frequently due to the retained heat.

Dust the top of the loaf with flour, and slash in a tic-tac-toe shape with a razor blade. Slide onto the stone, and immediately pour 1 c. hot water into the empty pan.

Bake until deep golden brown, about 40 minutes, more or less.

There really is a wealth of information on the Artisan Bread website, even video links of them shaping loaves of dough. And should you have questions, like I did early on, email them. They got back to me frighteningly fast, and only served to encourage me more in my baking endeavors. They do have a second book coming out this October: Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day: 100 New Recipes Featuring Whole Grains, Fruits, Vegetables, and Gluten-Free Ingredients .

Meanwhile, you can check out the original book, and plenty of recipes on the website...and be ready to be transformed into a bread baking maniac. The beginning of fall is the perfect time for such an obsession!