"Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day," Hertzberg & Francois

Pros: Amazing bread; very detailed instructions; incredibly easy
Cons: Doesn’t work as well with whole grains
Rating: 5 out of 5

Review book courtesy of St. Martin’s Press.
Visit the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day website (includes errata sheets).

 

One of the book blogs I frequent, Books and Cooks, touches on two of my favorite topics—obviously, books and cooking. Not that long ago its author, Tara, mentioned a book that sounded fascinating and delicious: Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois. Sure, the title sounds slightly gimmicky, but I’m always looking for excuses to cook and, in particular, bake bread, and anything that makes it even easier to bake lovely, crusty artisan loaves around my busy schedule is a win. So, I set about acquiring a review copy.

In an odd coincidence of timing, just before the book arrived (along with another that I’ll be reviewing shortly), my husband and I were asked by a friend if we would mind baking bread for about 20 people for a Twelfth Night feast. Mind?! Ha! We were giddy. It seemed the perfect opportunity to put our two new books to the test.

The concept around which Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day revolves is that with the right method, you can make quick, easy bread that mimics the fancy, crusty loaves you find in restaurants and bakeries. There’s no kneading involved—yes, you read that right, but I’ll repeat just in case you think you were hallucinating: no kneading. The fanciest piece of equipment you might need is a baking stone for optimal results, but even that you can do without.* There’s no proofing of yeast, no multiple long rise times on baking day. You use very few dishes, so there isn’t much to clean.

The secret? A wet dough that ages over time in the refrigerator. One batch makes a handful of loaves, and will last happily for more than a week, so you can just lop some off and make bread whenever you want during that time. All you’ll need is a little time for the bread to rest and bake, and you have lovely homemade bread whenever you want it. If that isn’t enough, as the dough ages it takes on a sourdough characteristic, giving it additional flavor. You can even make new batches of dough in the same container without cleaning it out first—this will produce an even stronger sourdough flavor over time.

Our first difficulty lay in finding a container large enough to house the dough in the fridge. Since I didn’t have something convenient and didn’t have time to pick something up, I lopped the top off of a one-gallon jug of water and covered the dough with plastic wrap. The dough threatened to rise over the top once or twice, but it worked remarkably well. The book does recommend sources for good-sized containers, so you shouldn’t need to resort to water jugs!

After that, however, everything was quick and easy. The dough was crusty as advertised. It had a lovely crumb. It had tons of flavor. It went over beautifully at that feast. And most importantly, it really did take only a few minutes of work. Right now we have a cheddar bread dough in our fridge; every day this week I’ve pulled some off to make bread to go with dinner.

My only disappointment is that the method isn’t quite as easy and simple when it comes to making whole grain breads. You definitely have to adjust things a bit, and it’ll take a little time to get the hang of making sure the dough is wet enough. Also, whole grains don’t really lend themselves to those perfect crackling crusts, so you’ll have to live without that. One tip, though, if you want to use this method with whole grains: it works better with King Arthur Flour’s white whole wheat than with regular red whole wheat.

Luckily the book includes a ton of tips that’ll help you adjust the recipes appropriately depending on the flour you use (high-protein bread flour, or KAF’s all-purpose, for example, behaves much differently than regular lower-protein all-purpose)—different amounts of water, different baking temperatures, and so on. It won’t take long before you’re making wonderful bread of whatever type you most enjoy!

There’s a ‘master recipe’ that works beautifully well, as well as ‘peasant loaves’ (including a delicious Limpa bread), flatbreads and pizzas, and even enriched breads and pastries. In addition to the breads themselves the authors include recipes to go with them and on them, and even to use up stale bread (not that I think you’ll find yourself with much stale bread—this bread disappears very quickly!).

This is a delightful baking method that sets tradition on its ear and produces wonderful bread with little effort. Using Hertzberg and Francois’s method, you’ll be able to make fresh, homemade bread even around a busy working schedule.

 

*For best results, it’s true that you do want to use a baking stone; the porous nature of the stone and its ability to retain heat results in the bottom crust of the bread turning out every bit as crunchy as the top and sides. However, there are other alternatives. If you don’t mind missing out on that crunchy bottom crust, you can use a regular cookie sheet. Or, if you have a French bread pan—a thin, dark metal pan with lots of tiny holes in it—that too will produce a nice crusty bottom, without the need to pre-heat it in the oven. A baking stone is more versatile, but if, like me, you’re all thumbs when it comes to sliding loaves around with pizza peels, you might prefer the French bread pan method.

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16 comments on “"Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day," Hertzberg & Francois
  1. zoebakes.com says:

    Hi Heather,

    Thank you so much for this lovely review. I enjoy your site so much and was so curious how the bread came out for your big party???

    Please let people know that we have errata sheets at our websites http://www.zoebakes.com and http://www.artisanbreadinfive.com. As much as we edited we still missed a few things.

    Be well and happy baking! Zoë

  2. heather says:

    Everyone loved the bread! (They also thought we might be a tad crazy for making as much as we did, but when it’s so easy…) I’ve added a note about the errata, thank you—that’s always handy to have! By the way, I noticed in the notes on the cheddar bread recipe that you grew up in Vermont; so did I, and I’ve always had a deep and abiding love of cheese bread made with super-sharp cheddar.

  3. Zoe says:

    Hi Heather,

    I grew up on a commune, well several, in the Northeast Kingdom and in Plainfield, VT. I’ve moved around a LOT but always consider Vermont my home. I stay loyal to their cheeses and they just seem to be getting better.

    It is one of the hazards of this method, I tend to over do it when people ask me to bring bread to a party. No one complains!!!

    Zoe

  4. jervis says:

    We didn’t think you were crazy. We KNOW you are crazy. I mean, an entire moving box full of bags of bread…what did you estimate…ten small loaves per person? 🙂 However, since it was amazingly tasty and you made so many different kinds…we forgive you.

  5. heather says:

    Zoe: Sounds interesting! I grew up more around Shrewsbury and Rutland in the south, and my mother is now in White River Jct. I lived in NH for a while after college, but my husband’s job took us to Maryland. I admit, I still favor Vermont cheddars! Not all that long ago I reviewed a book on Vermont cheeses that had my mouth watering.

    jervis: Weeeellll, we were sitting there going, we have to have a bunch of varieties, and enough of each so most people can try each…

    Okay, so that was probably an excuse… 😀

  6. Zoe says:

    Hi Heather,

    It is interesting the places work will bring us. I settled in the land of orange cheese as a result of career opportunity. Luckily for me the world of midwestern cheese has improved immensely over the course of 15 years.

    Jervis, I think you should return the favor and bring a moving box of bread to Heather. It makes great bread pudding if there is left overs!

    Zoe

  7. heather says:

    Zoe: Bread pudding. Now why didn’t I think of that? *slaps forehead* *starts plotting another occasion to make too much bread*

    “The land of orange cheese”—ha! I love it.

  8. dew says:

    Whoa! No kneading! I love homemade bread, so I will have to get this book. It’ll encourage my husband to try new recipes; he enjoys baking bread.

  9. heather says:

    dew: What still amazes me about this is how well it comes out for being so easy. I thought there was a law against that or something. My first loaf of pumpernickel today (made from dough I tossed in the fridge yesterday) was awesome; I couldn’t stop eating for about four slices. We’ve had fresh bread with dinner every night this week! If you get it for your husband you’ll have to let me know what you think of it!

  10. Zoe says:

    Hi Heather,

    We just happen to make the pumpernickel for an interview we had this morning. Bread loving minds think alike! I must say, albeit my biased opinion, it was tasty!!! I also made the sunny-side-up apricot pastry, which is a great treat. If you have a batch of brioche going you should try them out. Then we should discuss bread pudding, at this rate of baking you must have some stale loaves lying around?

    Dew, I hope you get your husband to bake you lots of bread!

    Thanks, Zoe

  11. heather says:

    Zoe: Oooh, pastry. Thou vile temptress!

    Erm, stale loaves? Leftovers? *looks around* Nope, not yet. The bread disappears as fast as we make it. 😀

  12. tara says:

    Great review! I am still without a baking stone so will admit to not having tried this yet. I just need to do this, baking stone or not. Everything you’ve tried sounds fantastic.

  13. heather says:

    tara: Aye, don’t let the lack of a baking stone stop you! It’s still fantastic stuff without it!

  14. Hey! Does anyone have experience with making larger loaves with this recipe? I use it constantly for our everyday bread now (BTW, I haven’t had any problem substituting a portion of the white unbleached w/ whole wheat or rye. . . just no more than 1/2 of the total, though), but would like a larger loaf for the 8 folks coming to dinner tonight. Obviously, I should have written this sooner, but can I make a 2-grapefruit sized loaf and let it rest and cook it for a little longer? I’m hoping!

    THX for a terrific book. Changed our lives. . .

    Barb

  15. heather says:

    Barbara: I’ve had great luck making smaller and larger loaves. I think you could make a larger one, but my favorite option is to make a bunch of small dinner-roll-sized loaves. As long as you feel comfortable mucking with the baking time and figuring out when they’re done you should be okay. If you go for a larger loaf instead of rolls, I’d recommend making it a little longer instead of entirely round, so the heat can reach the center easily.

  16. Great book, my husband loved it too and is now actually excited about baking bread with me. Thanks!

2 Pings/Trackbacks for ""Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day," Hertzberg & Francois"
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