A few years back I was doing a lot of bread baking. I worked my way through a good portion of The Italian Baker by Carol Field and the Italian bread recipes from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread by Peter Reinhart. I made a mean Pane Pugliese. As much as I enjoyed the process and especially the results, baking bread at home is something you have to make time for and 2 children later that time is harder to find.
When I saw Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois in the bookstore I was intrigued but skeptical. The thought of being able to make good bread without setting aside an entire morning was pretty exciting so I decide to pick the book up. I had it sitting on my shelf for a couple of months before trying the master recipe, but I am really impressed by the results of my first attempt. 
The concept behind the book is making a large batch of high moisture dough (enough to make four 1-pound loaves), mixing it just enough to form the dough, no kneading.  The dough is then covered and left to rise for two hours before being stored in the refrigerator for up to 14 days. When you want to bake a loaf you cut off a piece of dough, shaping it quickly, again no kneading, and let it rest for 40 minutes. Then you pop it into the oven and bake for 30 minutes and you have hot fresh-baked bread.
While five minutes a day is a Barnum-esque claim (it actually refers to active time spent shaping the bread), the technique is still quite a time saver. Being able to have really good Artisan bread made in less than two hours of deciding to make it is pretty amazing. Many of the concepts used in the book are techniques that I have used before, the high moisture dough is necessary for getting that airy open crumb that is prized in breads like ciabatta. I have also retarded loaves in the refrigerator overnight before.

The four loaves of bread I made with my first batch were all very good, especially the last one which I made a week after initially making the dough. Sitting in the fridge for 7 days gave it a bit of a sourdough flavor, which was nice. I also feel my dough could have been wetter, so I made a new batch of dough for this week adding some water, the dough came out more like my ciabatta so I think this is going to make some good loaves. The authors encourage this kind of experimentation. If the bread comes out like I hope I will post some pictures.

Update – We have been given permission to reprint the master recipe:

The Master Recipe: Boule (Artisan Free-Form Loaf)


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