Being that I don't consider myself a cook and can only bake cookies, I've never dreamed of baking a loaf of bread to accompany the evening meal. All that kneading and rising, I was pretty sure that bread was something I'd wreck pretty easily.
However, that has all changed, thanks to Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois. Now not only am I baking bread (and "artisan" bread, no less), but I consider it the easiest chore of my day. Before this book and its Master Recipe, I never would have believed you if you had told me that I could mix up a batch of bread or get the day's bread into the oven in less time than it takes to do the dishes.
I first found the Master Recipe online here, but the basic premise is this: you mix 4 ingredients together (in your stand mixer to make it truly easy-peasy) and you let the giant batch of dough rise in a giant container for at least 2 hours before you stash it in the fridge overnight. The next day, you take out a chunk a couple hours before dinner, shape it, let it rise like this:
and then after 30 minutes in the oven, you have this:
The genius of this recipe is that you have enough dough for at least 4 loaves and it will keep in the fridge just fine. In fact, the older it is, the more of a sourdough flavor it develops. Yum!
I also learned that Hertzberg and Francois have a website for the book with a great Q & A section. When I messed up Batch #1 with dead yeast (told you I was no baker!), Zoe responded to my query in less than a day with a way to salvage my batch.
Being the non-baker that I am, I have come up with ways to make this even easier. When baking the basic loaf, I still bake it on a pizza stone, but I bake it right on my silicone mat so that I don't have to mess with sliding the sticky dough onto a hot stone. Or, I just dump the whole thing into a loaf pan and bake it without the stone. Simpler, and just as tasty, according to my family.
We also created a variation, due to a shortage of all-purpose flour in the pantry, that I later discovered was the exact recipe for the Light Whole Wheat Bread in the book. Instead of using a full 6 and 1/2 cups of unbleached all-purpose flour, we substitute in 1 - 2 cups of whole-wheat AP flour. Since we eat mostly whole wheat bread, this was even tastier to us than the master recipe.
It works for me. For more tips, head over to this week's post at We Are THAT Family.