The best part is that though I’ve just dipped my toes in the water, I can see they really do mean the 5 minutes part. This may sound like one of these wonder weigh loss programs where you can eat as much as you want, don’t have to exercise and you will lose 12 pounds (5 1/2 Kg) in the first week. I’ve made my first batch of starter dough, called “Basic Boulle” and two loaves of “Crusty White sandwich Loaf” and it really is as quick and easy as they say. I never thought I’d be able to make some of the artisan breads shown in the book, but I am happy to say they look to be no big deal: A few more ingredients, same easy prep. In case you don’t believe me and feel it still sounds too good to be true, let me mention that King Arthur Flour bundles the book in a kit with some of their flours. If this process didn’t work, they aren’t going to put their reputation on the line.
The “Basic Boulle” starter dough is 4 simple ingredients: All-purpose flour, lukewarm water, yeast & salt (left). You mix just to combine the ingredients, kneading is not required (right). For this first batch I used a hand mixer with dough hooks, but next time I will try it with a wooden spoon.
To begin at the beginning though, lets talk about the process. You start off making 4 pounds (1.75 Kg) of starter dough which is good for up to 4 loaves of bread. You can make this bread anywhere from 2 hours to 2 weeks later. The bread actually takes on a sourdough quality the longer you go into that 2 week period. The basic Boulle starter, which is what I made is 4 ingredients: All-purpose flour, water, salt & yeast. You don’t need fancy equipment to mix it, you can use a wooden spoon. The recipe makes a very wet dough that requires no kneading or multiple rises for proofing. You mix the 4 ingredients, let them rise at room temperature for about 2 hours and then put the dough in a container you store in the fridge. The container should not be 100 percent airtight, you want to let a little air in. I use a 6 quart dough doubling pail that I seal and then crack the lib back open in one spot. This dough will last for up to 2 weeks. The only “difficulty” and it is minor, is that the dough is very wet and sticky and is a bit tough to handle. Any thing it touches, from your hands to plates to work surfaces need to be coated with flour, cornmeal or non-stick sprays for the bread pans.
This is the dough after a two hour rise at room temperature (left). At this point you can begin making your first loaf or put the pail of dough in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. I made my first loaf the day after. Here I’ve measured out the 1 1/2 (0.66 Kg) pounds needed to make a loaf of the “Crusty White Sandwich Loaf”.
When you want to make a loaf, you open the container, dust the dough with a little flour and flour your hands. Then you reach in and pull off a 1 to 1 1/2 pound (0.5-0.66 Kg) piece of dough. You can measure it on a scale or use their description of a grapefruit (1 lb./ 0.5 Kg) or a cantaloupe (1 1/2 lb./ 0.66 Kg) sized ball to approximate the weight. You first shape the dough into a ball, then give it a shape appropriate for what you are doing and place it on a pizza peel or in a pan depending on the version you are doing. There is typically a single rise at this point. Then you place the dough in the oven. Many recipes have you pour water onto your oven’s broiler pam to make steam, which helps crisp the crust. Some recipes mention the use of a pizza stone, but this is not 100 percent necessary. That is really all there is to it. The book has many variations on what you can do with the starter doughs. Sometimes you make a different shape, sometimes you add something when you are forming the dough, sometimes you bake the loaf on a peel, sometimes in a pan such as a bread pan.
After shaping the dough quickly into a ball, then an oval, it is inserted into the pan. The top is slashed with a knife and the dough rises for 1 hour 40 minutes. After the rise the dough is baked in a 450 degree (230 C) oven for 30 minutes. At the beginning you pour one cup of hot water on a broiler pan placed on the lower rack. This makes steam that helps give you a crispy crust.
Once you have made some breads from the starter dough recipe, called a “Basic Boulle”, there are other chapters to explore with other types of doughs such as Peasant Loaves which make ryes or pumpernickels, wheat breads, olive bread etc. There is another chapter on Pizzas and Flatbreads and another with Sweet Breads and Desserts. These more advanced starters change the doughs or add one or more additional ingredients such as sugar. These starter recipes make 4 pounds of dough (1.75 Kg) from which you can make various other types of bread. Like the “Basic Boulle” starter there is no kneading, no complex mixing, you just combine the ingredients and refrigerate. I should add that the book also has some companion recipes for sandwiches, pizzas or desserts that use the various doughs. The doughs are the prime focus and there are less recipes than there are dough types.
The loaf is allowed to cool before slicing. This bread was hearty and had a wonderful crispy crust. I had one loaf with some beef stew and it was the perfect bread to go with the thick stew.
So far I’ve now made two loafs of “Crusty White Sandwich Loaf” from the “Basic Boulle” starter dough. It really is as easy as they say. The bread has a nice texture on the inside and the crust has a nice bit of crackle to it, without being hard to chew. To store the loaf, the authors just have you place it cut side down on a clean flat surface. The two loafs I made were good for about 48 hours without getting too hard. I am very excited about this process which really seems too good to be true. I don’t know what I want to do next: a pizza dough from the Basic Boulle starter or make the pumpernickel starter to get some rye and pumpernickel for some grilled paninis, or perhaps make the pizza dough starter. This is the kind of tough decision I don’t mind having. Once again the book is called Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day, by Jeff Hertzberg & Zoe Francois. If you like freshly baked bread: Get it, you won’t regret it.