Our farmer’s market season is coming up in a few weeks, and I’ll soon be forced to dust off my skills in organic vegetable growing and artisan bread baking. My mom, my daughters and I make enough baked goods to fill several tables at our weekly market, and I get asked quite often how we manage to make so much. “Do you make this stuff all week?” a person will invariably ask, “How old is all this stuff?” suspiciously poking and prodding, to judge how fresh the breads and pies are.
My daughters take such offense to this! “No, we made it all this morning,” Amalia will reply archly. “It’s all very fresh. Some of it is still warm.”
That always gets them. “Fresh? Still warm? Oh my!” What is about fresh warm bread that is so appealing? Is it the wondrous scent or the steamy promise of goodness, or the fact that it’s just not easy to get warm bread these days? Even if you go to a bakery (here in Nebraska) the bread generally is allowed to cool before it’s wrapped up and put out for sale.
Perhaps the only way to get fresh warm bread at your house, Gentle Reader, is to make it yourself. And that can be done.
Did you know that there have actually been studies done that suggest that the scent of baking bread will make people kinder toward each other? (It’s a little hard to believe that people take time to study such things, but oh well.) I wrote about it in this blog post. I included an easy recipe for Chicago Wheat Bread in that post, too, if you’re so inclined.
But back to the “fresh warm bread” you can make yourself idea. I almost feel guilty (almost!!) when people go into such raptures over my bread, because I use a method that is incredibly easy. I call it my “bucket bread” method. I got the idea from Jeff Hertzberg, M.D., and Zoe Francois, who wrote a book a few years ago entitled “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day.” There’s an excellent website where you can buy this book, watch a video about how to make this artisan bread, and lots more. You can see a recipe and pictures of the cute little bunny rolls that my sister made for Easter dinner there, too.
In fact it was my sister Mollie who turned me on to the bucket bread method years ago. I was making 60 to 70 loaves of bread for market every week, and it was killing me. Well, not exactly killing me . . . but it was tiring me out, baby. My hands hurt from all that kneading. It was exhausting. My sister was also making bread for farmer’s market that summer, many more loaves than I was, and yet she seemed always fresh as the proverbial daisy about it all. I asked her how she was doing it. She was using this method to churn out nearly 100 loaves of bread every week, with no kneading, and her bread was absolutely beautiful.
I was a convert. I bought the book, I studied the website, I purchased a few pieces of essential equipment, and I soon was making more bread in less time . . . and without kneading.
Are you ready to try this? If you’ve never made bread before and are intimidated by the whole process, this is for you. If you’re a seasoned bread maker and want to try something new and fun, this is for you. You really CAN make artisan bread in 5 minutes a day. Let’s get started, okay?
Now all these instructions are for making a loaf or two for your (lucky) family and friends. If you ever desire to make bread in quantity (as in for farmer’s market situation) contact me, and I’ll give you a few more tips that I’ve learned. But for personal use, you will need a few pieces of equipment before you get started:
- a one-gallon ice cream bucket or two, with a lid (you can buy special food-grade buckets, too, but I favor the free-with-the-neopolitan-ice-cream option)
- a wooden spoon (I like this one here)
- a pizza stone
- a pizza peel
If you want to make more than one loaf at a time, you’ll also need:
5. a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper
That’s it, chickies! Are you impressed yet with this simplicity? Now before I type up the recipe, just to impress you further with how easy this process it, I’ll list the ingredients for a light whole wheat bread. Ahem. Prepare to be amazed. (You’d better sit down.)
- lukewarm water
- granulated yeast
- Kosher salt
- whole wheat flour
- unbleached flour
- just a bit of cornmeal
There! (cymbal crash!) Are you not amazed? Are you not ready to do this thing? So little equipment + so few ingredients = bread that anybody can make. Even me. Even you!
The basic method is to stir together in your bucket the above ingredients and then to let it sit for about 2 hours to rise. Here’s what it will look like:
After the dough has reached the top of the bucket (it takes two hours or less) and begins to collapse, you cover it loosely with a lid or plastic wrap, and sock it into your ‘fridge for an hour or two. (You can use it right away after the initial rise, but it’ll be soft and kind of temperamental at that point.) You may go take a nap now.
When you get up, you dump your dough out onto a floured board and cut it into four equal portions. Don’t you dare knead it! Save those lovely hands for soothing fevered brows, or playing a Mozart sonata on your grand piano in the next room. Don’t knead. Decide how many loaves you want: if you just want one loaf, shape it quickly and set it on a cornmeal-dusted pizza peal. If you want four loaves (and I always do) shape them and place them on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet. Now you’ll go sit down and play checkers with your son who has been begging you to do this, while your lovely loaves rise.
You’ll need to preheat your oven during this time (excusing yourself just momentarily from your chummy checkers game) and though it’s a bit of trouble, you’ll also place a pan full of hot water on the bottom rack of your oven. This is going to create, along with a very hot temperature, a steamy sauna for your bread dough that will make the nicest, crackliest crust that you can imagine. So do it, chickie. It’s worth it.
When the loaves are ready, you’ll sprinkle them with flour and slash them with a sharp knife (don’t be afraid!) and then sprinkle them with shredded cheese, that is, if you’re making cheese bread which today–I am.
This is what they’ll look like at this point:
Now (prepare yourselves!) you’re going to have to do something rather frightening. But I know you can do it. You’re going to take your pizza peel, or your cookie sheet, whichever, and open the oven door (be careful! It will be full of hot steam and can burn you!) and quickly slide the bread loaf (or loaves) onto the pizza stone that is waiting inside, nice and hot. It takes a bit of a jerk of your hands to do this, and you may think that you’re going to ruin your lovely loaves, but don’t worry, you won’t.
You’ve done it! Now you can clean up you mess while your bread bakes, or you can go work on that Mozart Sonata for a half hour, and then you’re going to pull your artisan bread out of the oven and you’re going to just get out of the way. Cos there’s gonna be a stampede, and you can just modestly stand aside and wipe the flour off your brow and bask in the happiness and the glory that will be yours.
You’ve done it. You’ve made artisan bread in just a few minutes of effort. If you do decide to make this bread, I highly recommend that you go to the website I mentioned above and enjoy a bit of time familiarizing yourself with the “bucket bread” method. That’s a great website, with links and hints for buying equipment, lots and lots of recipe variations, and even a video of how to make the bread.
Here’s my recipe for cheddar cheese bread, in printable format.
- 3 cups lukewarm water
- 1½ Tb granulated yeast
- 1½ Tb Kosher salt
- 1½ Tb sugar
- 6½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 cup grated cheddar cheese
- Mix the water with the yeast, salt, and sugar in a lidded food container.
- Mix the flour and the cheese without kneading. The dough will be wet.
- Cover (not airtight) and allow to rest at room temp until the dough rises and collapses, approximately 2 hours.
- Shape into loaves right away, or refrigerate and use within 7 days.
- Allow loaves to rest for 1 hour for refrigerated dough, or just 40 minutes if you're using fresh, unrefrigerated dough.
- minutes before baking time, preheat oven to 450, baking stone on a low rack, empty boiler tray or shallow pan on a lower rack or the bottom of the oven.
- Sprinkle loaves with flour and slash with a sharp knife.
- Slide loaves directly onto the hot stone.
- Pour 1 cup of hot tap water into the broiler pan.
- Bake for about 25 minutes or until deeply browned and firm. Allow to cool on racks before slicing or eating--if you can get away with that!
Now go have fun and bake some bread! If you enjoy this whole process, I would certainly recommend your buying the book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. There are lots more recipes in that book, as well as lots of handy tips and gorgeous photos. You’ll love it!
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