Can you make artisan bread like this? In only 5 minutes?

Loaf 1, almost fit“All sorrows are less with bread.” – Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote

Most of us indulge a daydream or two about leaving our job behind when work is especially frenzied. Between punching out the widgets, making the donuts (ah, pop culture metaphors), or writing about what happens when you click “OK”, I have developed my own little Proustian escape mechanism. In fact, so developed is my fantasy, that I already have the language of the company sign worked out:

Metroknow Artisan Breads – over 1 billion served.

Original, eh?

I will admit it: I am a self-described addict of truly well crafted breads. This addiction to warm, crispy, wheat flour freshness was never clearer to me than when we went to Paris, where we ate anything that smelled good (without gaining a pound, by the way). There is a lot of folklore surrounding why bread made in older European cities tastes the way it does, everything from the water not containing chlorine to the laws surrounding the purity of ingredients. I can’t say either way.

In Paris, when I had the luxury of nibbling on the heel of a freshly baked baguette or batard on the way back to the hotel, the world around me became a silent film where I walked blindly through busy crosswalks, barely missing 12 foot sheets of plate glass being carried across my path, and being followed by a handful of pigeons catching the crumbs before they were able to rest on the cobblestone alleyway. All of this happened repeatedly, magically, while I was engrossed in the warmth and aroma of a sumptuous gluten cloak.

In those moments, I could care less about the shape of another man’s peel.

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Enter Artisan Breads in 5 Minutes a Day

This week has been particularly hectic, but I have managed to do a couple of things on the personal side. While I have not written much on Almost Fit in the last few days, I have accomplished one Real Food task: I have created the loaves you see in the photos in this post.

How is this possible with 16-hour workdays, 7 days a week?

In a recent Thursday’s Real Food Resources post I mentioned this book:

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking

I decided to crack open this book this weekend, and in a nutshell, this method simply WORKS. These photos are the result of following the simple instructions and then baking the bread in our notoriously temperature-inaccurate electric oven.

The time suggestion is more than just a sales-driven headline — it is actually true. There is a small time hit up front (about 20 minutes of preparation for the uninitiated, like me), but that is to make enough for 4 loaves. Each day that you want to have a fresh-baked loaf, it takes literally 5 minutes to prepare the dough and pop it in the oven – that is not an exaggeration. There is no kneading involved. There is no waiting for the yeast to start talking to itself. There is no punching down of dough, or trying to interpret the classic cryptic bread making instructions; there are photos of what each step looks like, and simple, understandable instructions. There is not even any exact timing you have to adhere to in order to achieve excellent results.

Another thing I love about this method? There are 4 simple ingredients for the core recipe: unbleached all-purpose flour, water, salt, and yeast. That is it. It is real food at it’s simplest.

To use this technique, you need four things: a good baking stone (about $25.00), an oven peel (not sure on price, I had one given to me as a gift), a 5-quart non-airtight sealable container ($5.00), and an oven thermometer (about $5.00). The thermometer is critical because actual oven temperatures can vary as much as 75 degrees from what the oven setting shows, and you absolutely have to account for that. In our case, when I have the oven set to 450, the actual temperature is 50 degrees off – it’s only 400. So I had to set the oven at 500 degrees to get the 450 I needed. And it worked. There are two things that depend on the accuracy of those kinds of numbers: the chemistry of baking, and the batting average of your third baseman.

What’s the secret recipe?

I would love to post the recipe here, but honestly, it won’t do you much good without the book. The trick to this bread is not so much in the ingredients as it is in the technique. I highly, highly recommend this book if wheat gluten is not your enemy. The book contains dozens of recipes from breads like these to panetone and pizza dough.

If wheat gluten IS your enemy, I’d love to hear your suggestions.

In the mean time, here is a link to a video of the authors explaining how it works:

So am I quitting my day job?

Well let me put it this way: I did the math, and in order for me to quit my job to pursue a career as an artisan bread-maker, I will need to sell:

327 loaves per week. Not including taxes.

Somehow, I think I am stuck for now punching out the widgets on the big machine in the software sweatshop. I’ll go back to making my second batch of dough – this time a double batch, as I’m hoping to give loaves away as gifts this weekend.

But I’ll be watching Craigslist for that industrial oven.

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