Baking artisan bread at home

How many of us would love to bake top-quality bread regularly, but just can’t seem to find the time?

LIONEL VATINET’S walnut and Gruyère focaccia (photo credit: GORDON MUNRO)
LIONEL VATINET’S walnut and Gruyère focaccia
(photo credit: GORDON MUNRO)
How many of us would love to bake top-quality bread regularly, but just can’t seem to find the time? Jeff Hertzberg, MD, and Zoë François came up with a solution. The key to having freshly baked bread daily without spending much time, they wrote in The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, is to mix enough dough for several loaves and store it in the refrigerator.
First, you mix all the ingredients in a container and let this mixture sit for two hours. Then you can bake bread, or refrigerate the dough for up to two weeks.
When you want fresh bread, you take a piece of dough, shape it, let it stand for 20 minutes or more and bake it.
According to their calculation, measuring and mixing the dough takes less than 15 minutes, not counting the resting or baking time. To maximize efficiency, they make large batches of dough – enough for seven to 14 days of bread baking.
Hertzberg and François came up with their formula thanks to “one fortuitous discovery: Pre-mixed-pre-risen, high-moisture dough keeps well in the refrigerator.” They call this “the linchpin” of their method. They mix their dough without kneading it, and then they store it; the only things left to do are shaping and baking.
Their technique, they wrote, “makes most of the difficult, time-consuming and demanding steps in traditional bread baking... superfluous.” You don’t need to proof the yeast or prepare a starter. It doesn’t matter how you mix the ingredients together as long as the mixture is uniform. You can mix and store the dough in the same container. You don’t have to let the loaves rise or worry about the dough doubling, as it does most of its rising during baking.
Another advantage, wrote Hertzberg and François, is that in the refrigerator, “as our high-moisture dough ages, it takes on sourdough notes reminiscent of the great European and American natural starters.” Besides, “your house will smell like a bakery and your family and friends will love you for it.”
Lionel Vatinet, author of A Passion for Bread, takes the classic approach to bread baking. “From my early lessons with master bakers,” he wrote, “I would say that the summation of centuries of baking knowledge comes down to this: The essence of great bread baking is in proper fermentation.”
Fermentation, explained Vatinet, is a baker’s term for what is commonly called rising. Bread has two fermentation periods: the first “develops the flavor, and the second and final ‘proofing’ stage develops the volume.”
Vatinet recommends being precise about the length of fermentation, which depends on the dough’s temperature, and this requires using water at the proper temperature.
To accurately determine the length of the first fermentation period, which averages three hours, Vatinet recommends taking the dough’s temperature using an instant-read thermometer. It should read between 22ºC and 27ºC (72ºF and 80ºF). If the temperature is too low, increase the fermentation time by 10 minutes for every 1ºC (2ºF) below 22ºC (72ºF). If the temperature is too high, refrigerate the dough for 15 minutes, check its temperature again and deduct the 15 minutes from the fermentation time.
Vatinet’s tips:
• Always weigh dry ingredients instead of measuring by volume; with measuring cups, you’ll get “extremely inconsistent results.”
• A closed oven is a preferred place for fermentation, but if it has a pilot light, it could be too hot. Generally any enclosed space in your kitchen – a closet, pantry or cupboard – will serve as a warm, draft-free spot.
• When shaping a loaf, if the dough is very sticky, lightly flour your hands, but do not add flour to the dough... If the dough sticks to the work surface, loosen it with a bench scraper and if needed, dust the work surface lightly with flour. ■
Faye Levy is the author of the Fresh from France cookbook series.
Olive Oil Dough
“This versatile, rich dough is terrific in pizza, focaccia and olive bread,” wrote Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François.
“The fruitier the olive oil, the better the flavor.” The recipe is easily doubled or halved.
Makes 4 loaves, slightly less than 454 grams (1 pound) each
■ 10 gr. (0.35 oz. or 1 Tbsp.) granulated yeast
■ 17 to 25 gr. (0.6 to 0.9 oz. or 1 to 1½ Tbsp.) kosher salt (coarse salt) \
■ 15 gr. (½ oz. or 1 Tbsp.) sugar
■ 55 gr. (2 oz. or ¼ cup) olive oil
■ 625 gr. (1 lb. 6 oz. or 2¾ cups) lukewarm water (37.7ºC or 100ºF or below)
■ 920 gr. (2 lb., ½ oz. or 6½ cups) all-purpose flour
Mix the yeast, salt, sugar, and olive oil with the water in a 6-liter (6-quart) container bowl or lidded food container.
Mix in flour without kneading, using a spoon or heavy-duty stand mixer (with paddle). If not using a machine, you may need to use wet hands to incorporate last bit of flour.
Cover (not airtight), and allow to rest at room temperature until dough rises and collapses (or flattens on top), about 2 hours.
Dough can be used immediately, but is easier to handle when cold. Refrigerate and use over the next 12 days.
Olive Fougasse
“Fougasse distinguishes itself with artful cutouts that resemble a leaf or ladder,” wrote Hertzberg and François.
“This delivers a crustier flatbread, with lots more surface exposed to the oven heat.”
Instead of cutting slits in the dough that’s on the work surface and lifting it onto the baking sheet, some people line the baking sheet with parchment paper, set the round of dough on it and then cut the slits.
Makes 6 appetizer portions
■ 454 gr. (1 lb. or a grapefruit-size portion) olive oil dough (see recipe above)
■ ½ cup high-quality black olives, preferably Niçoise or Kalamata, pitted and halved or quartered if large
■ Olive oil for greasing baking sheet and brushing fougasse
Preheat oven to 205ºC (400ºF) with an empty metal broiler tray on any shelf that won’t interfere with rising bread. Grease a baking sheet lightly with olive oil.
Dust surface of refrigerated dough with flour and cut off a grapefruit-size piece. Dust piece with more flour and quickly shape it into a ball by stretching surface of dough around to bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go.
Flatten mass of dough to thickness of about 1.25 cm. (½ inch) on a work surface dusted with flour and sprinkle it with olives. Roll up dough, jelly-roll style, then shape it into a ball. Form a flat round about 1.25 cm. (½ inch) thick. This dough should be drier than most so you can cut slits that don’t immediately close up, so use flour accordingly.
Cut angled slits into circle of dough.
You may need to add more flour to be able to cut the slits and keep them spread adequately during baking so they don’t close up. Gently pull the holes to open them.
Gently lift the slitted dough round onto prepared baking sheet and brush with additional olive oil. Let it rest for 20 minutes.
Place baking sheet with fougasse near middle of oven. To create steam, pour 1 cup of hot water into the broiler tray and quickly close the oven door. Check bread for doneness at about 20 minutes and continue baking, as needed, until golden brown, which may be 5 minutes longer. Serve warm.
Lionel Vatinet’s Ciabatta Dough
Vatinet uses this dough for both ciabatta (slipper bread) and focaccia (recipe below).
Makes 2 small or 1 large loaf
■ 454 gr. (16 ounces or 3½ cups) unbleached, unbromated white bread flour
■ 9 gr. (0.31 ounce or 1½ tsp.) fine sea salt
■ 3 gr. (0.12 oz. or 1 tsp.) instant dry yeast
■ 390 gr. (13.76 oz. or 1½ cups plus 2 tsp.) water (18º to 21ºC or 65º to 70ºF)
■ 10 gr. (0.32 oz. or 1 Tbsp.) extra-virgin olive oil, plus about 2 Tbsp. to coat the bowl
Place flour in a large bowl. Add salt and yeast without letting them touch each other.
Pour half of the warm water into bowl of mixer; then add the dry ingredients.
Attach bowl and dough hook to mixer.
Begin mixing on low speed and quickly add enough of remaining water in a slow, steady stream to make a soft, moist dough that slightly sticks to sides of bowl. Add remaining water immediately; if water is added too late, dough will become too firm to mix easily. Stop mixer often and use a rubber spatula to scrape down hook and sides of bowl.
When all of water has been added, mix for 5 minutes. Dough should be soft and pliable.
Increase speed to medium-low and mix for 4 minutes, gradually adding 1 tablespoon olive oil. Mix until oil is thoroughly incorporated, about 1 more minute. Dough should be soft and smooth, with a moist, tacky surface.
Using your fingertips, coat inside of a large bowl with remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Scrape dough into oil-coated bowl. Pull one edge of dough, and fold it into center and press down slightly. Give bowl a quarter turn and repeat folding for 4 additional turns. Dough should begin to form a ball. Roll ball in bowl to coat all sides with oil, turning it so smooth side is up. Dough does not need to be covered; the oil prevents dryness.
Set dough in warm (24ºC to 27ºC or 75ºF to 80ºF) draft-free place for 3 hours, folding as above after first hour and again after second hour.
Lionel Vatinet’s Walnut and Gruyère Focaccia
This bread is easy to shape and doesn’t need a pizza peel or baking stone. It is baked in a cake pan.
Makes 1 loaf
■ 1 recipe Ciabatta Dough that has risen for 3 hours (see above)
■ 3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil for oiling pan and seasoning dough
■ 90 gr. (3.15 oz. or ¾ cup) coarsely chopped walnuts
■ 150 gr. (5.3 oz. or 1½ cups) shredded Comte or Gruyere cheese, at room temperature
Lightly coat a 23- by 33-cm. (9- by 13- inch) baking pan with 2 tablespoons of the additional olive oil.
Generously flour a clean work surface.
Generously flour top of dough and, using a bowl scraper, scrape dough onto floured work surface. Lightly dust exterior of dough with flour and let rest for 30 seconds. Sprinkle with additional flour to lightly cover all of dough.
If dough is very sticky, lightly flour your hands and add more flour to work surface. If dough sticks to table, use a bench scraper to lift it up; do not pull and stretch the dough.
Lightly press down on dough with a flat hand, forming dough into a large rectangle. Keeping your hands absolutely flat, continue to gently press dough into a larger rectangle, approximately the same size and shape as the oiled baking pan. Dough should be an even 1.25 cm. (½ inch) thick. Working from edge nearest to you, loosely fold dough into thirds, brushing away any excess flour with a soft pastry brush.
Gently lift dough onto oiled baking pan and unfold dough, using flat hands to carefully fit dough into pan so that pan is evenly covered.
Using a pastry brush or your hands, lightly coat top of dough with remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil.
Using your fingertips, randomly poke dough to create “dimples” all over the top. Evenly sprinkle the walnuts over top. Scatter the shredded cheese over top of nuts to coat completely.
Place the baking pan in a warm (24ºC to 27ºC or 75°F to 80°F), draft-free place. Cover loosely with plastic wrap.
Let stand for 45 minutes to 1 hour for final proofing; do not overproof it, or bread will have unpleasant texture and flavor.
About 30 minutes before you are ready to bake, move oven rack to one rung below center. Preheat oven to 230ºC (450°F.) Bake until dough rises slightly, cheese melts and colors slightly, and edges of bread are golden brown and crisp, about 30 minutes.
Remove from oven and carefully lift focaccia from pan. Immediately place on a cooling rack to cool; bread will quickly become soggy if left in pan.
Let cool slightly and then cut into pieces and serve. Cool for at least 1 hour before wrapping for storage.