There is nothing in my life that I have tried and failed at more than bread. .It’s not a surprise that I’m bad with bread. Like I’ve mentioned before, I don’t bake often, partially because sweet baked goods don’t appeal to me so much, and partially because I’m not very good at it. In fact, I think most of the things that make me a good cook make me a bad baker. My lack of precision helps me balance flavors when cooking, but completely throws off the chemistry in baking. I enjoy standing over the stove, tasting the dish as the flavors develop, and just popping something in the oven and waiting for it to magically cook feels very unnatural to me.
Regardless of that, I have this deeply seated ambition for bread. It’s not even really about the bread anymore. I just want to be the kind of person that makes bread. But over the years I have tried countless times, with different recipes, and have never succeeded. I’m not particularly sensitive to failure, but you can imagine that things got a little disheartening after a while.
Not that all of the loaves over the years were utter failures. There were, of course, the breads that emerged from the oven as solid as a rock, only fit to be thrown away. Still, some were edible, just slightly denser than I wanted, or with a gummy crust. Some even got favorable reviews from my faithful taste-testers. But I live in France, the spiritual home of bread. There are four different bakeries in a four block radius, all of which produce much better bread than my at-home attempts. I never made a loaf worthy of the trouble, until I found this recipe.
Part of that is because this bread is very little trouble. The name 5 minute bread is a little deceiving, you don’t actually get a loaf of bread in 5 minutes (that would involve wizardry), it’s more 5 minutes of work per loaf of bread. All you have to do is mix all of the ingredients (flour, water, yeast, and salt), let it rise for 2 hours, then store it in the fridge. You can store it for about two weeks (the longer it’s in the fridge, the more sourdoughy it becomes). Whenever you’re ready to make a loaf, just slice some of the dough off, shape it into a boule (which takes 30-60 seconds), let it stand for 40 minutes, then bake. It seriously couldn’t be easier.
I first encountered the recipe on alexandra cooks (because, of course), but have since looked into it elsewhere (including the official Artisan Bread in 5 site), and the science behind it is quite interesting. With traditional bread the kneading serves to whip all of the proteins of the dough into shape, forming gluten which is the latticework of the bread, or in regular terms: making it nice and fluffy. With this bread, as well as other no-knead breads, you replace the mechanical force of the kneading with two things: time and water. The extra water allows the proteins to move more freely, while the extra time lets them arrange themselves into neat and orderly gluten.
The no-knead method particularly appeals to me because kneading always makes me nervous. It strikes me as just one more step for my bread-impaired self to mess up. And the results are really good as well, we always end up eating the whole boule within the day. I can assure you that being the kind of person who makes bread is just as rewarding as I suspected it would be for so long. For anyone who has felt like homemade bread was out of the question, let me assure you that this recipe will open the bread-making gates. Please try it soon.
5 Minute Artisan Bread
Makes 4 boules, can be easily halved or doubled
3 cups warm water (be careful, water that’s too hot will kill your yeast!)
1.5 tablespoons of yeast
6.5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, measured by scoop-and-sweep method
1.5 tablespoons kosher salt
Mix the water, yeast, and salt together in a large bowl or container. Add all of the flour at once and stir with a wooden spoon until it forms a cohesive dough. Cover it, being sure to leave a hole somewhere (if you make it airtight, there won’t be a place for the yeast gases to escape and so your dough won’t rise), and let it rise in a warm place for 2 hours.
After two hours the dough should have doubled in size and flattened out on the top. From this point it’s ready to bake, but as it’s so wet the dough is easier to work with when it’s cold, so it’s a good idea to refrigerate the dough, covered, for at least an hour before forming a boule.
When you’re ready to make the bread, sprinkle a pizza peel (or cutting board) with cornmeal, or parchment paper. To form a boule, sprinkle the dough with a little flour and pull out a grapefruit sized chunk from the dough. It should stretch, and you’ll need a serrated knife to slice it off of the rest of the dough. In your hands, tuck the dough under itself and rotate to form the boule (this video demonstrates the process really well). Place the boule on the pizza peel (or cutting board) and allow to rest for 40 minutes (or up to an hour and a half).
Twenty minutes before baking, preheat your oven to 230°C (450°F). Place a baking stone (or a buttered, oven-safe glass dish) on the center rack. Optional (I don’t do this because my oven is the size of a shoe box. It’s supposed to make your crust crispier) place a metal (not glass) tray on a shelf at least 5 inches away from your baking stone.
After 40 minutes, lightly flour the top of your bread and make 1/4 inch slashes in the bread with a sharp knife. Slide the loaf onto the stone or dish with a quick flick of the wrist (honestly, I haven’t mastered this part and usually use a large spatula to help me along. Don’t tell anyone). Pour a cup of hot water into the metal tray (if using).
Bake the bread for 30-35 minutes, until the crust is a light golden brown color. Let it cool completely on an oven rack before cutting into it, to avoid it becoming gummy. Enjoy your bread!