I have been trying to bake bread for years, sometimes with good results, other times edible but not pretty, and more often than I care to admit I was too ashamed to even feed it to the birds. I have willingly spent hours tied to the kitchen looking after rising doughs, though not as often as I would like, but now that I've gone back to work I can't devote a lot of time to my bread baking projects anymore. While a part of me is in mourning for my hours playing in flour, I am happy to have found a viable alternative that provides good, artisan-quality fresh bread for my family without a huge time commitment. It's a variant on the famous (infamous) no-knead bread, and after a couple months of baking using the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day method, I can say I'm hooked and so is my family.
The method uses steam to make a crispy, crackly crust with a chewy crumb, and my boys can eat their way through an entire batard or couronne in one meal if I don't set limits. The concept is like no-knead bread crossed with grocery store refrigerator dough, only much better than the grocery store stuff. This isn't airy, squishy bread, this is substantial and well worth the short amount of work time required. You spend just a few minutes hand mixing the dough in a bucket, no kneading required, refrigerate for up to 14 days depending on which type of dough you make, then shape, rise, and bake. The title refers to the hands-on work time for making a basic loaf of bread, which is what most people want on any given day. You want a baguette or a batard to have with soup or appetizers, or you want a nice pizza dough, or you get a phone call saying someone is coming over for dinner and you want a nice couronne for the meal, and you can have any of those with just a few minutes of active work. You still have to plan for rising time and preheating the oven, which are not factored in to the equation, but overall this method is one of the easiest I've ever tried. We have buckets of the master recipe and the olive oil dough in the refrigerator all the time now so I can bring some out on short notice and bake bread, and I've tried some of the other doughs with success.
One major difference between the five minute doughs and the no-knead bread is the amount of yeast. The no-knead bread uses a very small amount, and this five minute recipe calls for 1-½ tablespoons for a four-loaf batch of dough. The first time I made the master recipe I used the full amount with instant yeast rather than active dry yeast, and the baked bread had what I felt was a strong yeasty flavor, a little too much for me, so I reduced the yeast to 1 tablespoon and we've been very happy with the results. I usually let the dough sit in the refrigerator for a few days before making bread, and that gives plenty of time for the gluten and flavor to develop.
With this master recipe you can make several different kinds of loaves: baguette, batard, couronne, ciabatta, epi (use bread flour instead of all-purpose flour), or even a crusty white sandwich loaf.
As always I put my own spin on whatever I'm making, and I've changed a few things here, too. I use a small water spray bottle for spritzing the dough before slashing, and I use ice instead of water for the steam. The recipe calls for sprinkling whole wheat flour on the peel while rising, but I rise and bake breads on parchment because my doughs always seem to stick to the peel no matter how much cornmeal or whole wheat flour I throw on it, and then the breads turn into misshapen lumps when attempting to transfer into the oven. (I made a calzone a couple weeks ago that stuck to the peel while transferring and looked like a wriggly snake when it finished baking.) I can usually bake with a piece of parchment twice before the corners get overly burned.
My 14 x 16-inch baking stone holds one or two small batards, and if I want to make more than that, I have to work in batches, baking a few loaves while preparing the others. The courounne fills the stone all by itself.
The authors Jeff and Zoe have some YouTube videos demonstrating the technique, which are very helpful for bread baking novices.
Easy Daily Batard and Couronne
- 5 to 6 quart bucket with a lid or similar
- large wooden spoon
- masking tape
- permanent marker
- baking stone
- cast iron pan or broiler pan
- pizza peel or baking sheet (for rising and transferring dough)
- parchment paper or whole wheat flour (for the pizza peel)
- dough slasher or serrated knife
- wire rack
- 3 cups lukewarm spring water
- 1½ tablespoons granulated yeast (or 1 tablespoon instant yeast)
- 1½ tablespoons kosher salt (or other coarse salt)
- 6½ cups unsifted unbleached all-purpose white flour (measured with the scoop-and-sweep method)
- ice (for baking)
- water in a small spray bottle
- MIX: Warm the water slightly, around 100° F. You can also use room temperature or cold tap water, but rising will take longer.
- Pour the water into the bucket and add the yeast and salt.
- Stir in the flour, but do not knead. Just stir with a large wooden spoon. When you measure the flour, just pour it into the cup and sweep the top level with a knife or spatula. Don't press down on the flour, otherwise it will compact and then you'll end up with too much flour and the wrong texture in your bread. You want the dough to have a loose, wet texture, and it should spread out in the bucket.
- RISE: Cover with the lid (not airtight) and allow to rise at room temperature until doubled and the top starts to collapse, about 2 hours. You can use a piece of masking tape to mark the point at which the dough will have doubled on the bucket.
- REFRIGERATE: Use masking tape to label the bucket Master Recipe (or Daily Bread or whatever you want to call it) and write an expiration date of up to 14 days ahead. Even if you plan to make bread the same day, the dough will handle better if it's cold, so go ahead and stick it in the refrigerator for a couple hours. Even better, mix it in the morning before you go to work, then take it out and prepare when you get home.
- PREHEAT: Place the baking stone on the middle rack. Place the iron skillet or broiler pan on a rack below. Preheat the oven to 450º F/232º C. Place a sheet of parchment on the pizza peel (or sprinkle liberally with cornmeal).
- BATARD: Sprinkle the surface of the dough with all-purpose flour and cut off a one-pound piece of the dough, about the size of a large grapefruit. Sprinkle on more flour, and work the dough into a ball, stretching the dough from palm to fingers, tucking the dough under as you go until the surface is very smooth and taught, forming a gluten cloak, a web of gluten molecules that holds the shape. Start elongating and stretching the dough until it has a diameter of about 3 inches. Roll the dough into a shape that tapers at the ends. Place on the flour-dusted parchment and allow to rest for 20 minutes. Lightly spritz the risen loaf with water and make three diagonal slashes using the dough slasher or serrated knife.
- COURONNE: Sprinkle the surface of the dough with all-purpose flour and cut off a one-pound piece of the dough, about the size of a large grapefruit. Sprinkle on more flour, and work the dough into a ball as above. When you have a good dough ball, poke your thumbs through the center and start stretching the hole. Work it gradually. You want the hole to be about three times as wide as the wall of the ring. Place the shaped dough on the flour-dusted parchment and allow to rest for 40 minutes. Lightly spritz the risen loaf with water and make four radial slashes using the dough slasher or serrated knife.
- BAKE: Open the oven and slide the dough onto the hot baking stone. Immediately pour the ice into the hot iron skillet/broiler pan and shut the oven door. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the loaves are deep brown and firm to the touch. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack before serving.