It’s taken me years to realize we cook in a drafty kitchen, 58 degrees this morning, and that’s why ordinary bread baking techniques have failed us. A big hint came by way of Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Artisan Bread, in last year’s NY Times — this recipe produced our first great loaves. Then came the Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois “Five-Minute” method, quotation marks mine. Both skirt the drafty kitchen issue with a long first rise. I’ve now baked plenty with both recipes and made some mistakes along the way, a few of which proved adaptive for our peculiar kitchen. (Other mistakes were just mistakes). I’m happy to report that we’re finally getting killer bread with crispy crust and an excellent crumb.
Several friends have asked for the bread recipe, which is below. I think what’s critical is learning what the dough should feel like and how to shape it, and that’s hard to describe with words alone. These two video clips were helpful: Hertzberg and Francois demonstrating a boule, and Julia Child and Nancy Silverton baking foccacia. Equally helpful was lots of practice; I dragged home a 25-pound bag of flour and had at it. Here’s what I do:
Recipe: Artisan Bread for Drafty Kitchens
*The first loaf takes about 24 hours to make, with 10-15 minutes of active time.*
Wood or plastic mixing bowl (don’t use metal) / 3 cups tap water at 100 degrees / 1½ tsp salt / 2 tsp active dry yeast / 6 cups all-purpose unbleached white flour
Additional flour / wood cutting board / pizza stone
The dough: Start your dough in the evening. Pour water into a mixing bowl and whisk in salt and yeast. Add flour and combine dough gently with a wood spoon. You want dough that is wet and sticky, with an even consistency. You may have to use your hands to make it come together fully. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and leave on the counter overnight. The next morning (or 8-10 hours later), the dough should be doubled in size, with bubbles on the surface. Refrigerate. Use it as early as the second evening and up to a week later.
Shape the loaf: Sprinkle flour generously on a wood cutting board. Remove dough from the fridge and cut a piece that’s about one-third of the total mass. Dust the piece generously with flour and work quickly to shape an ovoid loaf. You want to create a smooth surface for the bread by sequentially rotating the dough and stretching flaps around to form a base – Hertzberg demonstrates this critical technique in the video. Set dough to rest on the cutting board, with the stretched ends on the bottom.
Baking: Place a pizza stone on the low rack of the oven and a broiler tray in the top rack, leaving enough room for the bread to rise. Twenty minutes after shaping the loaf, turn on oven to 450 degrees. Have 1½ cups of water ready. When oven is throughly hot, about 20 minutes later, slash the top of the loaf in a diagonal pattern, to enable rising, and slide off the board and into oven. Quickly pour water into the broiler tray. The loaf is finished when the crust is a deep brown color and hard, about 30 minutes. Remove and cool completely on a rack.
Dough maintenance: Continue to cut off chunks of dough as you want fresh bread — this recipe gives enough for about three medium-sized loaves. The flavor improves as the dough ages. When you’ve finished with your first batch, don’t wash the bowl. Instead, mix the streaks of old dough into a new batch. These old dough streaks act like a sourdough starter to speed flavor development; I’ve found subsequent loaves to be even tastier, with less wait. Adapted from Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois. For more detail and dozens of variations including pizza crust, see their book, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. You’ll want to experiment with the recipe to find what works in your kitchen.