Have you seen this book yet? The authors Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois are good Minnesota folk and have gotten a bit of publicity around the Twin Cities. I had read about them when the book was first released, considered buying the book, but then found a copy of the original recipe in a magazine somewhere, figuring I could make do with that. (Here's a YouTube clip of the authors.) That magazine clipping sat in a pile in my kitchen collecting dust and we continued to buy The New French Bakery's take-n-bake loaves for $3.00 or $4.00 every week.
Two weeks ago my mom left for her two week water color class in France and I asked to borrow the book, figuring that now that I'm making cheese regularly, I ought to have some better options for bread on which to eat it. After paging through the book a little bit every night before I crashed into bed, I decided it was time to stop the take-n-bake mania. Time to get out the bucket. The bucket of dough, that is.
The premise behind this book is that with a few good pieces of equipment and a bucket with a lid, any of us can create artisan bread in our homes. No, not just the stay-at-home crafty types, but everyone, even those who work full time jobs. If you have five minutes a day, plus about 40 minutes to let the bread rise when you get home from work (while you read the mail, talk to your kids, walk the dog...), then you can do it.
You start with warm water and yeast, adding kosher salt and unbleached flour and mixing it well, until it becomes a wet mess. My Kitchen Aid mixer's dough hook was in mixing heaven. My hands stayed clean and my counter didn't have to be scraped of excess flour from needless kneading. From there, you let the dough rise in the bucket a few hours, then sneak it away into a corner of your fridge until you feel the urge to pull out the take-n-bake gourmet bread that you paid too much for. Oh yes, pull out the bucket from the fridge, chop off a hunk the size of a grapefruit, make it into a ball, and voila, you're almost done! It rises on a pile of cornmeal to prevent sticking but 40 minutes later, you place the ball into a pre-heated oven with a pizza stone at 400 degrees, and 30 minutes later, you're ready to kiss the authors.
The secret lies in the wet dough, the hot stone and oven in addition to the hot water you place in the oven, creating a steam bath of sorts. These are the secrets that pastry chefs and bakers around the world have been keeping from the home bakers. The curtain has been yanked. We can do it!
And I did. Two nights in a row. I've baked three loaves and each one was amazing! Here's proof:
They say that you're supposed to let it cool 'til you slice into it, to preserve the "crumb" and the delicate custard-like texture of your artisan masterpiece, but who can resist? I wanted to do cartwheels down the street and shout to my neighbors... "The bread is here, bring your butter!" I didn't, of course. Instead, we happily dunked it into Ron's Crab and Corn bisque with his parents. A toast to bread, indeed!