Monday, March 08, 2010

Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day

I love to be in the kitchen. I love to cook and I've really enjoyed working on bread baking the past couple of years. In fact, before I went on maternity leave I informed Scott that we would no longer be buying bread from the store; I would be making bread a couple of times a week. He agreed that was a wonderful idea but talked me out of buying the 25lb bag of flour from Costco. More worried I think, about me trying to haul it home myself while 8 months pregnant. (Of course I am not baking bread a couple of times a week. I was a fool to think I could. A FOOL!)

But! Perhaps you've heard of a little book that came out a couple of years ago called Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. It exploded off the shelves with rave reviews and made it simple to bake great tasting bread. And now Zoe Francois and Jeff Hertzberg have followed up with a second book, Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day. They've turned their skills to healthy breads this time around - whole grain, gluten free, and more.

So what is the secret to their system? A large batch of dough is mixed up and left in the fridge. When you're ready to bake a loaf all you need to do is cut off the correct sized piece, shape it, let it rise, and bake it. And you've got practically effortless bread.

There is a ton of variety in the book - 100 recipes - covering everything from a basic whole wheat loaf to fancier specialty breads like pumpernickel and brown rice. You can make a loaf, baguettes, or buns, and there are even recipes to turn some doughs into doughnuts, muffins or crescent rolls. Savory, sweet, traditional and innovative..... more breads than you could imagine.

Before jumping in, make sure you read the first four chapters which cover techniques and advice, ingredients and equipment. This is all both fascinating and of course extremely helpful. Then wade into the various bread chapters and start making the tough decision of what to make first.

I started off with the basic whole grain dough. The recipe makes enough dough for 4 one lb loaves, and can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 14 days. The recipe turned out lovely, hearty loaves and it really did require minimum effort. In addition to loaves, I also made buns and garlic knots, delicious as well. The longer the dough sits in your fridge, the more of a sour tang it will acquire. I made 2 batches of this one, as the first did not last long enough to see how the dough lasted. The last bread I made with dough that had sat for 14 days had a great taste but hardly rose at all, in contrast to other loaves from that batch. But dough is so tempermental who knows what the cause may have been.

I also tried the Pumpkin Pie Brioche. The ingredient list was longer but the dough was still easy and smelled incredible. Sadly though we didn't think that much of it once baked. The texture and rise of the dough were fantastic, but the flavor fell way flat. Another piece of the dough was turned into crescents filled with sugar and more spice, which were fine, but the last piece was tossed as this dough was only good in the fridge for 5 days.

The 100% Whole Wheat Bread with Olive Oil was also delicious, but with enough dough to make 4 one pound loaves but only with a fridge life of 7 days, we also lost a piece of this one.

I loved this book and would recommend it to anyone of any bread baking ability. While the equipment list in the book is a little long and perhaps intimidating, the only 2 "special" pieces of equipment you really need are vital wheat gluten (available at natural food stores) for the dough, and a container large enough to hold the dough in your fridge. The recipes are very well written with delicious introductions and all instructions are clear.

If you're a single or small family and feel intimidated by the large amounts of dough these recipes produce, fear not; most recipes can be halved for smaller more manageable amounts of dough.

Next up for me: the Avocado Guacamole Bread!

Visit Zoe and Jeff's website at Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.