Recipe: master bread recipe from the new cookbook “The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day”

The premise of The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day is simple: once you make the master recipe, it takes only five minutes a day (excluding rising and baking time) to make a loaf of bread. The “five minutes a day” is more a metaphor than reality, but for the rushed person who wants a fast homemade loaf, this is the next best thing to bakery store bread. So, for your pleasure, follows is the recipe (with an edited ingredient list), good for four loaves. 

Final cover_New Artisan Bread

The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day master recipe

3 cups lukewarm water (100°F or below)
1 tablespoon granulated yeast
1 to 1½ tablespoons kosher salt
6½ cups all-purpose flour

1. Warm the water slightly: It should feel just a little warmer than body temperature, about 100°F. By using warm water, the dough will rise to the right point for storage in about 2 hours. You can use cold water and get the same final result, but the first rising will take longer

2. Add yeast and salt to the water in a 6-quart bowl or, preferably, in a lidded (not airtight) food container or food- grade plastic bucket. Don’t worry about getting it all to dissolve.

3. Mix in the flour—kneading is unnecessary: Add all of the flour at once, measuring it in with dry-ingredient measuring cups, or by weighing the ingredients. If you measure with cups, use the scoop-and-sweep method, gently scooping up flour, then sweeping the top level with a knife or spatula; don’t press down into the flour as you scoop or you’ll throw off the measurement by compressing. Mix with a wooden spoon or a heavy-duty stand mixer (with paddle) until the mixture is uniform. If you’re hand-mixing and it becomes too difficult to incorporate all the flour with the spoon, you can reach into your mixing vessel with very wet hands and press the mixture together. Don’t knead! It isn’t necessary. You’re finished when everything is uniformly moist, without dry patches. This step is done in a matter of minutes, and will yield dough that is wet and loose enough to con- form to the shape of its container.

4. Allow to rise: Cover with a lid that fits well to the container but can be cracked open so it’s not completely airtight—most plastic lids fit the bill. If you’re using a bowl, cover it loosely with plastic wrap. Towels don’t work—they stick to wet dough. Lidded (or even vented) plastic buckets are readily available (see page 24). Allow the mixture to rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse (or at least flattens on the top), about 2 hours, depending on the room’s temperature and the initial water temperature—then refrigerate it and use over the next fourteen days. If your container isn’t vented, allow gases to escape by leaving it open a crack for the first couple of days in the fridge—after that you can usually close it. If you forget about your rising dough on the counter, don’t worry: longer rising times at room temperature, even overnight, will not harm the result (though egg-enriched dough should go into the fridge after 2 hours). You can use a portion of the dough any time after the 2-hour rise. Fully refrigerated wet dough is less sticky and is easier to work with than dough at room temperature, so the first time you try our method, it’s best to refrigerate the dough overnight (or for at least 3 hours) before shaping a loaf. Once refrigerated, the dough will seem to have shrunk back upon itself and it will never rise again in the bucket— that’s normal. Whatever you do, do not punch down this dough. With our method, you’re trying to retain as much gas in the dough as possible, and punching it down knocks gas out and will make your loaves denser.

On Baking Day

5. The gluten cloak: Don’t knead, just “cloak” and shape a loaf in 20 to 40 seconds. Prepare a pizza peel with cornmeal or parchment paper to prevent your loaf from sticking to it when you slide it into the oven (the parchment paper slides right onto the stone along with the loaf). Dust the surface of your refrigerated dough with flour. Pull up and cut off a 1- pound (grapefruit- size) piece of dough, using a serrated knife or kitchen shears. Hold the dough and add more flour as needed so it won’t stick to your hands. Gently stretch the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter- turn as you go. Most of the dusting flour will fall off; it’s not intended to be incorporated into the dough. The bottom of the loaf may appear to be a collection of bunched ends, but it will flatten out and adhere during resting and baking. The correctly shaped loaf will be smooth and cohesive. The entire process should take no more than 20 to 40 seconds— don’t work the dough longer or your loaves may be dense.

6. Rest the loaf and let it rise on a pizza peel: Place the shaped ball on the prepared pizza peel, and allow it to rest for about 40 minutes. It doesn’t need to be covered during the rest period unless you’re extending the rest time to get a more “open” crumb. You may not see much rise during this period; much more rising will occur during baking (oven spring).

7. Preheat a baking stone near the middle of the oven to 450°F, which takes about 20 to 30 minutes. Place an empty metal broiler tray for holding water on any shelf that won’t interfere with rising bread. Never use a glass pan to catch water for steam— it’s likely to shatter.

8. Dust and slash: Dust the top of the loaf liberally with flour, which will prevent the knife from sticking. Slash a 1⁄2- inch- deep cross, scallop, or tic- tac- toe pattern into the top, using a serrated bread knife held perpendicular to the bread. Leave the flour in place for baking; tap some of it off before eating.

9. Baking with steam— slide the loaf onto the preheated stone: Place the tip of the peel a few inches beyond where you want the bread to land. Give the peel a few quick forward- and- back jiggles, and pull it sharply out from under the loaf. Quickly but carefully pour about 1 cup of hot water from the tap into the broiler tray and close the oven door to trap the steam. If you used parchment paper instead of cornmeal, pull it out from under the loaf after about 20 minutes for a crisper bottom crust. Bake for a total of about 30 to 35 minutes, or until the crust is richly browned and firm to the touch. Smaller or larger loaves will require adjustments in baking times. Because the dough is wet, there is little risk of drying out the interior, despite the dark crust. When you remove the loaf from the oven, a perfectly baked loaf will audibly crackle, or “sing,” when initially exposed to room- temperature air. Allow to cool completely (up to 2 hours), preferably on a wire cooling rack, for best flavor, texture, and slicing. The crust may initially soften, but will firm up again when cooled. If you’re not getting the browning and crispness you want, test your oven temperature with an inexpensive oven thermometer.

10. Store the remaining dough in the refrigerator in your lidded or loosely plastic- wrapped container and use it over the next 14 days: You’ll find that even one day’s storage improves the flavor and texture of your bread. This maturation continues over the 14- day storage period. If you store your dough in your mixing container, you’ll avoid some cleanup. Cut off and shape more loaves as you need them. We often have several types of dough stored in our refrigerators at once. Lean doughs like this (those made without eggs, sweetener, or fat) can be frozen in 1- pound portions in an airtight container for up to 4 weeks and defrosted overnight in the refrigerator before use.

From The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë Francois. Copyright © 2013 by the authors and reprinted by permission of Thomas Dunne Books. And credit for the photographs: ©2013 by Stephen Scott Gross.