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 amazon.com 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.