All of the rave reviews I read about Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking assured me that I could bake high-quality bread with little effort. Since my previous bread baking attempts have resulted in less than optimal results, it was time to try this “revolutionary” method. My first test was to bake a simple boule loaf with the master recipe.
I began with six and a quarter cups of all-purpose flour, three cups of 100 °F water, one and a half tablespoons of yeast, and one and a half tablespoons of salt.
I dissolved the yeast and salt in the water, which I poured into a six-quart bucket.
I unceremoniously dumped the flour into the water and stirred with a rubber spatula until the flour was completely moistened with no dry spots, resulting in about a quart of wet dough.
The dough needs to rise at room temperature. It’s pretty cold in my kitchen during the day, so I set the bucket (covered with a lid) in my turned-off oven where it would be warmer. After a two hour rise, the dough had quadrupled in volume.
The top was level and full of bubbles.
I moved the covered bucket to the fridge, which helped the dough develop and become easier to handle. After three hours, I sprinkled some flour over the top, pulled up a one-pound chunk of dough, and shaped it into a ball by folding the edges under and rotating a quarter turn after each fold. I set the dough ball on a pizza peel dusted with coarse cornmeal.
I let the dough rise at room temperature for forty minutes while I prepared the oven. I moved my pizza stone from the oven floor to the middle rack, set a broiler pan on a rack underneath the stone, and preheated to 450 °F. At the end of the rise I dusted the top of the dough with flour and slashed a quarter-inch deep cross in the top with a serrated knife.
I let the loaf bake for thirty five minutes until the crust was golden brown.
I cut the loaf only after it had cooled to room temperature.
It was very good bread for the amount of effort I put into baking it. It wasn’t too dense, it had a nice structure, it cut easily, and tasted like the “peasant” loaves I’ve purchased at bakeries. It was a bit chewier than I expected, but not unpleasantly so.
As I prepared the dough, I was bothered by the lack of precision in the recipe. Years of reading Cook’s Illustrated and watching Alton Brown have ingrained in me the principle that baking quantities should always be measured out by weight, not by volume. Yet here I was, measuring flour with the old dip-and-sweep method, knowing that the actual weight of flour could vary from cup to cup by as much at ten percent. In addition, I was using King Arthur all-purpose flour, which has a higher protein content (11.7 percent) than most supermarket AP flour brands (averaging ten percent). The book’s solution — “use a quarter cup less per six cups ” — also seemed too vague.
Was that extra chewiness due to the variability of the flour weight, or is it a property of the dough? I’ve consulted with a baker friend, who provided me with the weight equivalent for a “cup” of flour, so my next test will substitute weights of flour in the master recipe.
But that won’t be for another week. I have a tub of dough in the fridge I have to work through first.