For physician Jeffrey Hertzberg and baker Zoe Francois, the journey to no-knead bread began innocently enough.
While their toddlers learned to play the xylophone in a Minneapolis music class, Hertzberg began telling Francois about his no-knead, 5-minute mix of flour, salt, yeast and water.
Made in large batches, the dough can be refrigerated for weeks and baked one loaf at a time by simply cutting off a piece, letting it rise, shaping and baking. Trained in traditional methods, Francois was skeptical, but she saw promise in the chemistry Hertzberg was selling: a wetter-than-average dough that was easier to handle and simple to work with.
The duo recently released their second book on no-knead bread, joined by tomes from two fellow bread pioneers.
Bread has followed a rocky path in American culture of late. Demonized during the low-carb craze of the 1990s, bread resurfaced as the darling of the artisanal movement. The desire to have those fancy and healthy loaves at home spawned interest in low- and no-knead bread baking methods.
"I think there is a real interest lately in do-it-yourself projects and bread falls in that," says Karen Bornarth, head of the bread department at the French Culinary Institute in New York. "Supermarket breads or commercial breads, if you read the labels they are filled with preservatives. There are not a lot of bakeries out there. Bakeries are dying. So if (people) want good bread, they have to make it themselves."
Trained at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., Francois embraced Hertzberg's method after checking it out herself.
"When I tried it, it really was revolutionary, and was mind- boggling because it went against everything I had been taught," she said. "Everybody had to know about this."
The first book from the two, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day (Thomas Dunne Books, 2007), was well received and has 200,000 copies in print. Late last month, they released Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day. Two other no- or low-knead bread bakers also put out books in October: Jim Lahey with My Bread (W.W. Norton & Co.) and Peter Reinhart (who pledges ease more than outright no-knead) with Artisan Breads Every Day (Ten Speed Press).
To those counting the minutes, no-knead bread doesn't really take just five minutes. The reference refers to the time it takes to mix ingredients, not taking into account resting time and baking. But critics and proponents agree it's a vast improvement over the laborious process of making artisan breads using classic methods — kneading and rising, with starters to consider for sourdough or rye.
"I am fine going on record saying this five-minute thing is silly," says cookbook author Mark Bittman. "It's just marketing, but it doesn't detract from the fact that it is a good technique and a good idea. I think to the extent that you can take kneading out of bread making it's great. Kneading is a mess."
The books all preach the same basic principles: Make it simple.
"The books are accessible to people who have never baked bread," Hertzberg says. "The key to our books is that if you don't teach people how to store it, they are not going to do it often. It's giving people the freedom to create a bread that fits in their diet or the way they eat."
In their new book, Hertzberg and Francois have gone one step further, meeting the needs of people who have approached them about baking breads that use less sugar, healthy grains, fruits and vegetables, and are friendly to those with allergies or food sensitivities.
Figuring out how to simplify healthy breads without compromising quality is exactly how Hertzberg and Francois have spent most of their free time during the last year.
For healthier breads, they agonized over how to incorporate spelt flour, which is lower in gluten. They struggled to figure out how to substitute for the fluffiness of eggs and the right amount of canola oil needed to replace butter.
The way the bread feels in the mouth was of primary importance.
To achieve taste and feel for gluten-free breads, for example, Francois turned to xanthan gum, which "mimics the gluten."
"To try and get those flours to mimic what people want in a mouth feel was a challenge," she says. "It was a lot of sleepless nights and frustration, and then we got it."
Wild Rice and Onion Bread
6 cups unbleached bread flour
2 1/4 teaspoons table salt, or 3 1/2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
2 tablespoons instant yeast
1 cup cooked wild rice or another cooked grain
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 cups lukewarm water (about 95 degrees)
1/2 cup lukewarm buttermilk or any other milk (about 95 degrees)
1/4 cup minced or chopped dried onions, or 2 cups diced fresh yellow onion (about 1 large onion)
1 egg white, for egg wash (optional)
1 tablespoon water, for egg wash (optional)
In a large bowl, combine all ingredients except the egg white and 1 tablespoon water for the egg wash. If using a mixer, use the paddle attachment and mix on the lowest speed for 1 minute. If mixing by hand, use a large spoon and stir for 1 minute. The dough should be sticky, coarse and shaggy. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes.
Switch to the dough hook and mix on medium-low speed, or continue mixing by hand, for 4 minutes, adding flour or water as needed to keep the dough ball together. The dough should be soft, supple and slightly sticky.
Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface. Knead for 2 to 3 minutes, adding more flour as needed to prevent sticking. The dough will still be soft and slightly sticky, but will hold together to form a soft, supple ball.
Place the dough in a clean, lightly oiled bowl, cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and immediately refrigerate overnight or for up to 4 days. If you plan to bake the dough in batches over different days, you can portion it and place it into two or more oiled bowls at this stage.
When ready to bake, remove the dough from the refrigerator about 2 hours before you plan to bake.
Shape the dough into one or more sandwich loaves or into freestanding loaves of any size, which you can shape as batardes, baguettes or boules, or into rolls.
When shaping, use only as much flour as necessary to keep the dough from sticking. For sandwich loaves, let the dough rise in greased loaf pans. For freestanding loaves and rolls, line a sheet pan with parchment paper or a silicone mat and let the dough rise on the pan.
Mist the top of the dough with spray oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise at room temperature for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until increased to about 1 1/2 times its original size. In loaf pans, the dough should dome at least 1 inch above the rim.
To make the rolls shinier, whisk the egg white and water together and brush the tops of the rolls with the egg wash before baking.
About 15 minutes before baking, heat the oven to 350 degrees, or 300 degrees for a convection oven.
Bake the loaves for 10 to 15 minutes, then rotate the pan; rotate rolls after 8 minutes. The total baking time is 45 to 55 minutes for loaves, and 20 to 25 minutes for rolls.
The bread is done when it has a rich golden color, the loaf sounds hollow when thumped on the bottom, and the internal temperature is above 185 degrees at the center. Cool on a wire rack for at least 20 minutes for rolls or 1 hour for loaves before slicing.
Makes 2 large loaves or many rolls.
Source: Artisan Breads Every Day by Peter Reinhart (Ten Speed Press, 2009)
Whole-Grain Garlic Knots
With Parsley and Olive Oil
For the master dough:
5 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/4 cup vital wheat gluten
4 cups lukewarm water
For the rolls:
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup finely minced fresh parsley
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
In a 5-quart bowl or, preferably, a resealable, lidded plastic food container or food-grade bucket (not airtight), whisk together both flours, the yeast, salt and vital wheat gluten.
Add the water all at once and mix without kneading, using a spoon, a 14-cup food processor (with dough attachment) or a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. You might need to use wet hands to get the last bit of flour to incorporate if not using a machine.
Cover the dough loosely with plastic wrap or a cover. Allow the mixture to rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse (or at least flattens on the top), approximately 2 hours.
After rising, refrigerate in the lidded (not airtight) container and use over the next 14 days. This recipe makes 4 pounds of dough. Each pound makes 5 rolls. To prepare the rolls, use 1 pound of dough, refrigerating the remaining dough until desired.
To prepare the dough as garlic knots with parsley and olive oil, in a large skillet over medium, heat the olive oil. Add the parsley and garlic, then saute for 4 minutes, or until the parsley is soft and the mixture is aromatic. Add more olive oil if mixture looks too dry.
Break off 1 pound of the dough (returning the rest to the refrigerator). Dust the surface of the dough with flour, then divide it into 3-ounce pieces (about the size of small peaches).
Dust each piece with more flour and quickly shape into a ball. To do this, gently stretch the surface of the top of the ball down and under to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go.
Elongate each ball into a rope about a little less than 1/2 inch in diameter and tie a knot in the center of the rope. Allow to rest for 30 minutes on an olive oil-coated baking sheet, or a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat or parchment paper.
Meanwhile, place a baking stone on the oven's center rack. Place an empty broiler tray on the bottom rack. Heat the oven to 450 degrees.
Drizzle the olive oil, garlic and parsley mixture over the knots. You may have some left over for another batch.
Place the baking sheet on the stone, pour 1 cup of hot tap water into the broiler tray and quickly close the oven door. Bake for about 20 minutes, until browned and firm. Serve slightly warm.
Makes 5 to 20 rolls.
Source: Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois (St. Martin's Press, 2009)
3 cups bread flour
2 1/2 cups cubed (1/2-inch cubes) pecorino cheese
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon instant or other active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 1/3 cups cool (55 to 65 degrees) water
Wheat bran, cornmeal or additional flour, for dusting
In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, cheese, salt, yeast and pepper. Add the water and, using a wooden spoon or your hand, mix until you have a wet, sticky dough, about 30 seconds.
Cover the bowl and let sit at room temperature until the surface is dotted with bubbles and the dough is more than doubled in size, 12 to 18 hours.
When the first rise is complete, generously dust a work surface with flour. Use a bowl scraper or rubber spatula to scrape the dough out of the bowl in one piece.
Using lightly floured hands or a bowl scraper or spatula, lift the edges of the dough in toward the center. Nudge and tuck in the edges of the dough to make it round.
Place a tea towel on your work surface and generously dust it with wheat bran, cornmeal or flour. Gently place the dough on the towel, seam side down. If the dough is tacky, dust the top lightly with wheat bran, cornmeal or flour.
Fold the ends of the tea towel loosely over the dough to cover it and place it in a warm, draft-free spot to rise for 1 to 2 hours. The dough is ready when it is almost doubled. If you gently poke it with your finger, it should hold the impression. If it springs back, let it rise for another 15 minutes.
Half an hour before the end of the second rise, heat the oven to 475 degrees, with a rack in the lower third. Place a covered 4 1/2- to 5 1/2-quart heavy pot in the center of the rack.
Using pot holders, carefully remove the heated pot from the oven and uncover it. Unfold the tea towel and quickly but gently invert the dough into the pot, seam side up. Use caution; the pot will be very hot. Cover the pot and bake for 30 minutes.
Remove the lid and continue baking until the bread is a deep chestnut color, but not burnt, about 15 to 30 minutes more.
Use a heat-proof spatula or pot holders to gently lift the bread out of the pot and place it on a rack to cool thoroughly.
Makes one 10-inch round loaf.
Source: My Bread: The Revolutionary No-work, No-knead Method by Jim Lahey (Norton, 2009)