Monday, January 21, 2008

Five Minute Semolina Bread

Saturday, January 19, 2008 and Sunday, January 20, 2008

The biggest-selling cookbook around these parts is Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois. Both authors are from Minneapolis, and the book got a lot of press, not just locally, but also in the NYTimes. But it sold out locally--Jim tried to get it for me for Christmas, but he couldn't find it.
The idea is that you make a basic dough, enough for four, one-pound loaves of bread. You let it rise for a few hours, and then put it in the refrigerator. Then, whenever you feel like it, you take the dough out of the refrigerator, pull out about a one-pound hunk, let it rest for a while, turn it into a free-form loaf, and stick it in the oven. Well, you can see right off that five minutes a day is not exactly accurate, because of the resting and baking. It's more like an hour and a half to two hours. But still.
I love the concept of having bread dough at the ready, so I borrowed my friend Mary's copy, which she borrowed from another friend. I told you--these books are like gold around here.
There are a number of basic bread recipes: the regular "artisan," the brioche, the semolina, the American white, the rye, and probably some others. I had a new bag of semolina flour, so I made the semolina variation. I took only some brief notes, and gave the book back to Mary, so I don't have the recipe, but, as I recall, it was about 3 cups semolina flour, 3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, 3 cups water, 1 1/2 T. salt and 1 1/2 T. yeast. It's unlike the no-knead bread, which had a minimal amount of yeast and rises very slowly. This dough, with its large amount of yeast, rises quickly, and, by the end of two hours, is ready to put in the refrigerator.
The first day, I made red pepper fougasse for dinner. You take a piece of refrigerated dough, roll it a circle and make slashes in half the dough. On the other half, place about one roasted red pepper, and sprinkle on sea salt and thyme. Then fold the dough in half, covering the peppers with the slashed side, and pinch the moistened edges together. Brush olive oil all over the top, and bake for about a half hour. Slice and serve.

The book says it makes six appetizer servings, but one slice would be a very hearty appetizer. We had it for dinner, so we didn't feel guilty about eating two slices, but neither of us could manage any more than that. I sauteed some zucchini and spinach, so it felt like a fairly healthy dinner, even if it was mostly bread.

The fougasse was good, but not really a test of the bread's quality, since it was rolled thin, and just turned out crispy. Not a bad thing at all, but not a loaf of bread.
So on Sunday, I took another pound of dough out of the refrigerator and worked it into a torpedo-shaped loaf. A very small torpedo-shaped loaf. It was supposed to rise for 40 minutes, but in the space of an hour, it had barely risen, and it looked like a very solid, very petite loaf of bread. I had my doubts about it, but there was enough oven spring to turn it into a respectable-sized loaf of bread.

We had it for dinner, along with roast chicken stuffed with cherry tomatoes and rosemary and a salad. Jim tasted it first. He said, "Well, it's good, but it's not the best bread you've ever made." If you knew Jim, you'd know that's dire. "It's not the best bread you've ever made" is Minnesota-speak for "I can barely choke this down." I looked so alarmed he had to assure me that he was not speaking Minnesotan, and he just meant that it was good, but not the best. After I tasted it, I thought that was pretty accurate.
First, 1 1/2 tablespoons of salt is too much salt, and I don't have an aversion to salty food. I have a vague idea that the recipe specified kosher salt, and that might make a difference, but I would definitely not use that much salt again. Second, the texture was a good basic bread texture, but not like Italian semolina bread.

If you compare this with the October 14, 2007 pictures of Tom Cat's Semolina Filone, from Maggie Glezer's cookbook, you'll see the difference between five-minute and two-day bread. The five-minute bread is good--better than most bread you can buy in a grocery store and even better than most bread you can buy in bakeries, but it's not really artisan bread.
With those provisos, though, I think it's a book worth having. I ordered it myself (it's still in short supply locally, but seems to have an unlimited supply). I like the idea of being able to come home from work, shape the bread, have a glass of wine while it's rising, and then make a quick dinner while the bread is baking. The book also has some non-bread recipes that look good. But I don't think that this is a book that will replace more traditional cookbooks like The Bread Bible. I do think that books like this, as well as the recipe for no-knead bread, have introduced more people to the wonders of taking a homemade loaf of bread out of their own oven, and that's good.


Amy said...

I didn't use kosher either, and in hindsight that was a big mistake on my part. Like you, I thought it was too salty. I think the "master" recipe in the book does call for kosher (which would be less salty) but I didn't know that at the time.

Fun to try though. And sort of like you said, whether it's this or it's NYT/Lahey No Knead Bread, if it gets people playing with home-made bread then it's a good thing.

Boaz said...

I agree with you about the salt. I made their deli rye, which turned out nicely, but very, very salty. I believe I used kosher salt, too.
Next time I make their bread I am going to use a standard 2% salt (and probably less yeast, too).

Anonymous said...

Zoe - co-author of this book has a blog. It's You might be interested to look at it. She's already listed some corrections to the book. Anna

Melinda said...

I heard so much about this book already. I will have to buy it when the hype is down.
Jaden from has made two things from it already. The sticky buns looked nice she did, and she did a Challah.
It is really true that fermenting the dough/poolish really does improve the flavour and texture of the bread. Making things quicker can't replace that, but it is convenient to have a ready loaf on the same day!
Did you use your steam gismo on this loaf? I must say, it looks good enough...which is Oregonian, for,'I'd eat it!'

marty said...

I made half the basic with kosher salt and found it OK. I hope you will try again with kosher salt. Bread is pretty good but it won't replace my usual methods. Your last line says it all, new bakers making decent bread at home, and with only 4 ingredients.

Anonymous said...

That's how I feel about the NYT No Knead bread. I make it, knowing full well that there are better breads I make. I taught my neighbor who has never made bread in her life how to make that bread. So, that says it all. Beats eating all of those perservatives from the store by many a mile... Anna

jhertz10 said...

I'm Jeff Hertzberg, one of the book's co-authors. About the salt, if you use a fine salt like table salt, you do need to decrease it by 25% (use only three-quarters as much salt as called for). Kosher salt is coarse and easy to measure so that's why we specify it. And if you have other questions, please post them to our bread blog at

Jeff Hertzberg

breadbasketcase said...

Zoe and Jeff,
Thanks for checking in and for clarifying the salt issue. You must both be really pleased at how your book has taken off!

For all the no-carb fervor of the last few years, it does seem like people really want to learn to bake their own bread, doesn't it?

As soon as I get my own copy, I'm going to write in the corrections. I'm also going to translate the measurements into grams because now that I've started measuring by weight, it seems so much easier to me.
Let me know how it works out if you use less yeast--I had my doubts about the large amount of yeast, but I wanted to do it by the book the first time (although I neglected to use kosher salt, so I didn't entirely do it by the book).

It would be a great bread to use the steam gizmo with, and I almost did, but I wanted to try the authors' steam method, which is to pour a cup of hot water into a broiling pan that's on another rack in the oven. I'm looking forward to trying some more bread after the dough has been in the refrigerator for a week or so--apparently there's a noticeable difference in taste after the dough has developed for a while.

I'm definitely going to try it again, and I will use kosher salt. I may try the brioche variation next.

You are so right about the preservatives--the list of ingredients in most store-bought breads is daunting. When I make bread, I know exactly what goes into it.

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

It's interesting how a slower time changes things! Sounds like an interesting book, I'll look for it in the library!

June said...

The Minnesota-speak is so funny and so true! One of my coworkers said that his BIL's annual comment at Thanksgiving is "It's not bad" when everyone else at the table is swearing up and down that something is the best XYZ they've ever eaten.

I've got some of that 5-min dough in the fridge. I'll probably give it longer than the 40 minutes of rise time and see what happens.

breadbasketcase said...

Yes, it's definitely worth a try. I've still got two loaves worth in my refrigerator, and am getting a hankering for another loaf of semolina bread.

Yes, I've learned that "not too bad" can either be a deadly insult or powerful praise. It all depends on the intonation, which is subtle. My dough in the refrigerator keeps rising a little more every day--does yours?

jhertz10 said...

Hi again, it's Jeff Hertzberg, one of the authors.

First off, you can adjust the salt to your taste. We've had people tell us we used too little... and too much!

And as for the yeast, our fairly highly yeasted approach was a compromise so that people could use it the same day (it rises faster so you can shape in two hours). But you can half the yeast and get a great result; rising and resting times will be longer.


Greenie Gardens said...

thanks for the book tip. I tried the bread and really liked it. I used the baking technique from Cook's Illustraited though and it worked fine.

breadbasketcase said...

Greenie Gardens,
I'm glad you liked it--good idea to combine the recipes with the CI technique.

rpse said...

i've been meaning to try this bread technique simple bc i'm curious how the dough will be after 5 days in the frig from the point of view of flavor and riseability!
re the salt, to save yourself disappointment in future i recommend calculating your preferred salt level instead of taking anyone else's! for ex, i like 2 to 2.1% salt in relation to the flour.
thanks for the really interesting and as usual beautifully thorough report!

breadbasketcase said...

I have to admit that I've never paid much attention to the bakers' percentages, although I can see that knowing your preferred salt percentage would be a big help in trying a new recipe (assuming the measurements were in grams, of course--even I could do it then).
But you're a scientist by nature (only a scientist would take her toe's temperature).
The flavor of the bread improves after a week in the refrigerator. It doesn't rise much, but there is a lot of oven spring. I'd love to see your take on this technique.

Anonymous said...

I am on my second batch of dough. Each loaf has come out so well. I have 2 concerns, tho. When you are storing leftover dough to use later, the directions say to put it in a lidded (not airtight) container. I am confused. If I put the lid on the large plastic ice-cream container that I am using, it is airtight. Should I make a few holes in the lid to let the gases escape?
Also, the beginning recipes specify Kosher salt and the rest of the recipes just say salt. Should I assume that the salt to be used is always Kosher.
Anyway, love this new hobby.....

breadbasketcase said...

I just put the dough in plastic containers, and try to make sure I don't let all the air out, but I agree that the directions could be a little clearer than they are. I don't like keeping the dough for more than a week, personally, because I think it loses a lot of oomph, and it's harder to predict the taste.
I think the recipes are all based on kosher salt--otherwise, you'll end up with very salty bread.
Glad you're having fun with this!