There has been a lot of chatter on the internet (and blog) regarding this bread book, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. I am consistently behind when it comes to cookbooks and new things, something I like to attribute to the avoidance of buyer’s remorse. I mean, I don’t want to buy a book just because everyone’s raving about it. I already have stacks of cookbooks that rarely get used (but look so pretty!). But then, the more people rave about it and the recipes and the food, the more I want to try my hand at it. I want to know what I’m missing. It’s kind of a vicious cycle. I was specifically resisting this one because I honestly didn’t think I needed a whole book on variations of the No-Knead bread (which I’ve only made once). But then I thought about it, read some of the recipes being used and adapted and I really wanted to see what the fuss is about. So I bought it. And then found out you can buy it at Costco (where books are almost always cheaper).
The first recipe I made was the brioche master dough. I was going to try the challah, but figured if I’m going to try one, it might as well be the butter-laden recipe, right? I used a 3-quart Rubbermaid container to hold the dough, so I only made a half recipe (each dough recipe calls for a 5-quart container) and I totally made the right decision. After a night in the fridge, the dough had practically risen to the top! Of course, after I dropped the container on the floor, it all collapsed back down.
I used half the dough (the recipe is good for 4 loaves) to make the caramel pecan rolls, which were pretty awesome, and the other half for a regular brioche loaf to eat with the rillette in the fridge. I’ve never made traditional brioche, so I don’t know how this compares, but the bread is soft, airy, and not chewy. It makes beautiful toast and also a nice PB&J sandwich. The caramel rolls were rich and soft and very easy to eat. The caramel sauce on the bottom didn’t turn out very gooey and caramel-like, but the part that stuck to the rolls was delicious.
After those were done, I turned right back around and whipped up the original master recipe. Half recipe. It sat in the fridge, silenty creeping T out with its bubbles and oozeyness. I baked up a piece of it tonight with dinner (meatballs in that grape jelly/chili sauce). Instead of a baking stone and pan of water, I’m used a preheated Dutch oven, a la the No-Knead bread method. It worked really well. I’m starting to think I don’t need a pizza stone. Pizzas go on the bbq grill and breads now go into the Dutch oven.
I pulled the dough out and formed the little smooth ball. It seems like the brioche dough was way stickier than this one, so that makes me happy. I set the ball on some parchment paper (yay Reynolds!) and let it sit for about half an hour (the book says 40 minutes; I am impatient). Meanwhile, the Dutch oven was in the oven-oven, preheating to 450ºF. Had dinner been ready and if I had been hungry, I’m not sure I would have waited for this bread. But, I wasn’t terribly hungry and T was on the elliptical anyway, so I waited. 30 minutes later (I forgot to take the lid off, so the the top wasn’t very brown), I had a little round loaf of bread! The top was crackly, the insides were soft, the bread was warm and had a nice chew, and we basically went through half that loaf with dinner. I could have eaten the whole thing, but I managed to show some restraint. Good job, bread book!
Now, I am all for raving about good books. You all know that when I find something I totally love, I tell you all about it. Having said that, I have some misgivings regarding this cookbook. First, it’s a little misleading in the title. It takes about 5 minutes to mix up the dough. It takes about 5 minutes to grab the “grapefruit size” hunk of dough, “cloak” it and shape it, and put it down. But there’s the rise time, which is longer if it’s cold out of the fridge. And there’s a fairly long bake time, depending on the type of bread you’re baking. Since most breads require maybe 6-10 minutes of kneading, this is the only step you’re cutting out. Now, I do like that you can make a big batch of dough and keep it for a week, baking small loaves as you feel like it. But this method will not save you huge amounts of time if you have an instant craving for fresh bread.
The organization of the recipes are a little wonky. There’s a master recipe section, a peasant loaf section, flatbreads, and an enriched bread section. I thought that meant there were 3 or 4 master doughs and then dozens of variations within the section, meaning you only had to learn 3 or 4 dough recipes. Nope. Each section could have multiple dough recipes. Some recipes use a master dough, others you need to make from scratch. This means that if you’ve whipped up a batch of challah dough, but you want to make another type of pastry, it’s very likely you’ll need to mix up new dough. Some recipes call for an add-in, recipes for which are often provided. However, I’d rather have a separate section for these add-ins, instead of having them inserted directly after the bread recipe. I know, I know. It’s kind of nitpicky, since it is also convenient to have the add-in recipe right after the bread recipe. But I’m nitpicking!
You’ll see pictures of the cloaked dough (it’s just turning and smoothing the ball of dough – it replaces kneading) and it all looks beautiful and sounds easy. It’s totally not. You’ll end up with dough-covered hands and flour everywhere. Don’t get me wrong, your cloaked ball of dough will definitely look smooth, but it’s a sticky, messy process. For this method, I’ve been flouring a piece of Reynold’s parchment paper (they come precut and folded, not in a roll) and I set the cloaked dough on top of that. It makes it much easier to move the dough around, and I plan to just plop the parchment into my Dutch oven for baking from here on out. I’ve heard people do this with the No-Knead bread, too, so it’s not like I’m a complete baking genius. I just have some kitchen common sense!
I do like the book and I think the more I work with the different recipes the more I’ll start tweaking it to where I’m happy. I don’t think it’s a revolutionary book that is a must-have on every baker’s bookshelf. I also hope it doesn’t discourage people from breadbaking due to the sticky, messy cloaking step. I can tell you that with traditional breads, the kneading step is typically much cleaner for me. These recipes will probably be good for having dough at the ready, but I’m sure I will still want to make bread from scratch that involves kneading.