Easy Bread

I am rewriting my old post about bread, to make it simpler and better organized. I’ll leave the old one up there for reference though.

Here’s the simplest possible version of the bread recipe from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day (book, video, article, blog) (bold indicates minimally required equipment, I’ll discuss alternatives later):

  • Using a dry 1 cup measuring cup, measure out 6.5 cups of all purpose or bread or baker’s flour into a temporary/staging vessel. Scoop heaping cups and scrape them level with the back of a knife. For the last 1/2 cup you can just eyeball it.
  • In a 5 quart bucket, add (in order):
    • 3 brimming cups of hot tap water
    • 1.5 Tbsp kosher salt
    • 1.5 Tbsp yeast
    • 6.5c Flour
  • Mix just until all flour is wet (make sure you get into the corners of the bucket)
  • Cover loosely and rest unrefrigerated for at least 2 hours, or up to overnight
  • Refrigerate for at least 5 hours, or up to 2 weeks
  • Prepare a cornmealed or floured surface
  • Cut/pull out 1/4 of the bucket of dough, drop into flour and liberally coat
  • Shape into a round loaf by rotating in your hand and stretching the top around to the bottom (easier to show than tell; you can see it at about 3:30 in the video). (If it gets sticky while shaping, drop into flour again.)
  • Repeat for other 3/4 of dough to shape 4 rounds, place on cornmeal to minimize sticking
  • Rest shaped loaves uncovered for 40 min
  • 20 min into rest, put baking stone into oven, also an oven-proof container with a few cups of water, and preheat to 450.
  • After 40 min rest is done, slash an X in the tops with a bread knife, and slide or place loaves onto hot baking stone
  • Bake for 30 min
  • Rest on a rack for at least 10 min
  • Eat within 1 day, or slice, bag, and freeze.

Here are specifics of my implementation of the method, which I’ve worked out after making this bread for a few years now.

Equipment:

  • When you’re just getting started, instead of a lidded bucket you can use a big mixing bowl covered with a dinner plate, but it’s messy, and if you start making bread regularly, a bucket is a lot easier.
  • For my money, the best mixing buckets are 5-quart ice cream buckets. Don’t buy just any bucket of ice cream though, because 4 quarts is not big enough (for this amount of bread dough, nor is it enough ice cream!). If you read the reviews, you can see that a lot of people buy these 6qt buckets to make this kind of bread.
  • Amazon sells a really nice 1.5 Tbsp measuring spoon, probably just for this book’s fan base. Otherwise, 2 Tbsp coffee scoops are easy to find anywhere. Carefully measure 1.5 Tbsp of salt into the scoop and mark the level with a sharpie for future reference.
  • You can use a sturdy wooden spoon, but the best tool for mixing is a Danish Dough Whisk. Seriously, it works SOOO much better (and it’s also great for pancake batter). Just a few flicks to spread the salt and yeast through the water, then dump in all the flour at once, and stir it up.
  • For “cover loosely”, I drill 5 quarter-inch holes in the plastic bucket lid. It is important to keep these vent holes clear, or the yeast exhaust gets trapped and makes the bread taste beery and bitter. Sometimes a fresh batch will rise so much it plugs the holes, in which case you give the bucket a slam onto the counter to knock air out, and then clear the holes.
  • The recommended surface for cornmeal and pre-bake rest is a pizza peel, but a cutting board or baking sheet would work just as well. We never slide bread off our peel anyways; we just gently pick the loaves up and place them on the stone.
  • You can recapture extra cornmeal with a flexible cutting board and then pour it back into whatever you keep cornmeal in (I buy bulk cornmeal from Henry’s and keep it in mason jars).
  • There are lots of baking/pizza stones out there, the ABin5 website warns against Pampered Chef baking stones, apparently they break a lot.
  • For a water/steam vessel, I use an old bread pan (rusty, and getting rustier). Best way to dry it out afterwards is to take it out with the bread and dump it, then its heat will dry it completely. Using pyrex is possible, but DO NOT add water to heated pyrex, it will explode.
  • For post-baking rest, if you have a non-flat-top stove you can put it on a burner like a pan, it will get plenty of air that way.
  • Make a habit of saving old bags and twisties from bread or hamburger buns etc, they can be reused many times.

Process:

  • If you can’t get all the flour wet, it’s OK. Different flours in different climates accept water slightly differently. Just mix in more water a small splash at a time, and next time consider 6.25 cups of flour, or maybe even just 6 cups.
  • You can vary the amount of salt or yeast.
  • Leave your bread knife in the middle of your resting loaves so you don’t forget to slash before baking; without a slash they will burst into irregular shapes.
  • If you schedule carefully, you can make bread all in the same day: for example, mix at 9, refrigerate at 11, shape at 4:20, bake from 5:00-5:30. You can even bake without ever refrigerating (mix at 3, shape at 5, bake from 5:40-6:10), but the loose and sticky dough will be very difficult to work with, and it will make a big mess.
  • You don’t have to bake the entire bucket at once. If you love fresh bread (and who doesn’t!) you can keep dough in the fridge and just bake 1-2 loaves for dinner whenever you want.
  • I maintain a number of buckets:
    • A bucket for storing flour (also for dropping dough into when shaping)
    • A “staging” bucket to measure 6.5 cups into, because I often lose count and can just dump it back out. Also so I can measure flour before my measuring cup gets wet from measuring water.
    • Two mixing buckets. If I am making two buckets for three sandwich loaves (see below), then I measure 6.5 c of flour into both the staging bucket and bucket 2, then bucket 2 gets dumped into 1 and staging into 2.
  • Ice cream buckets are not built to last forever. When the rim starts to break off, it can be demoted to staging. If you need a new bucket, eat some more ice cream!
  • A staging bucket can be stored with the flour bucket nested inside it.
  • DO NOT let used buckets with dough residue nest inside each other. Without air to dry it out, the trapped wet dough will rot and get really, really disgusting.
  • To avoid this, you can obviously wash the mixing buckets completely clean, or you can also let them air-dry. The remaining dough will dry and mostly flake off, and any other residue will be fine to mix into subsequent batches, it’s the same as propagating a favorite yeast strain with sourdough bread.

Variations:

  • 1 tsp of chopped Rosemary mixed in with the dough makes a delicious herbed bread. You can experiment with other herbs as well.
  • 1/4 bucket of dough is exactly the same as a bag of wet pizza dough like you can buy at Trader Joe’s. Flour and roll it out as you would think, lay it on a cornmealed pizza peel, add sauce and toppings, and bake at 450 on a stone until the cheese is melted and the crust is done. Two stones means two pizzas can bake at once. If your BBQ is the right size, you can also put your stone(s) on the grill and cook pizza(s) in the BBQ.
  • Divide a bucket into 5-6 slightly smaller round loaves, and this is perfect for making bread bowls for soup. Go with a thicker type of soup/stew — broccoli cheese is the best, but chicken noodle soup would likely leak.
  • This dough can make great sandwich bread
    • 1 loaf needs 2/3 of a bucket, so you need 2 buckets for 3 loaves; mix, rest, and refrigerate as above.
    • Spray Pam into three 9×5 bread pans
    • As before, cut out the dough (2/3 of one bucket, or 2/3 of the other bucket, combine the remaining one-thirds of both buckets), drop into the flour bucket to coat liberally
    • Shape by stretching the top around the back, but allow gravity to elongate the loaf to approximate the length of the pan
    • Drop three shaped loaves into the three pans
    • Cover loosely and rest for 2-3 hours
      • My usual schedule is to mix the dough on Saturday, refrigerate overnight, shape the loaves before I leave for Sunday evening church, and bake them when I get home
      • The best method I’ve found to cover is to put the pans side-by-side and put a half-sheet baking tray upside down on top of them, but you can also put the pans into bread bags or use saran wrap.
    • Preheat oven to 450: with a water vessel, but no baking stone
    • At the end of the resting, the dough should mostly fill the pans and might slightly stick to the cover, just lift gently.
    • Slash the tops with a line down the center, and bake for 45 minutes. “Oven spring” should cause the loaves to bake above the tops of the pans into a nice rounded-top sandwich-loaf shape.
    • Rest before slicing, 10 min–overnight. Enjoy one loaf within the next day or two, slice, bag, and freeze the rest.
    • When packing a lunch in the morning, frozen slices are OK, they’ll be fine by lunchtime.
    • To eat quickly, microwave 2 frozen slices for 30 sec, or 4 for 1 min, then toast.
  • Batch sizes:
    • Normal: 3c water, 1 1/2T yeast,salt, 6 1/2c flour. Makes 4 round loaves, 4 pizza crusts, 5 bread bowls, or 2/3 of a batch makes one sandwich loaf, and 2 batches makes 3 sandwich loaves.
    • 2/3 batch: 2c water, 1T yeast,salt, 4 1/3c flour. Makes 1 sandwich loaf
    • 4/3 batch: 4c water, 2T yeast,salt, 8 2/3c flour. Makes 2 sandwich loaves, but when it rises it will overflow a 5qt bucket. Maybe it would fit in a 6qt bucket?

Cost:

  • I buy Minnesota Girl Baker’s Flour from Costco, last I checked it was like $13.50 for a 50lb bag. The recipe calls for unbleached, but this hasn’t given me any trouble.
  • I store flour in the garage in this 18 gallon hopper with a hinged lid. If you go through the flour as fast as we do (50lb every couple months), that will work fine. But if your flour sits around for too long, it can develop bugs, because all flour has bug eggs in it. To prevent this, freeze the flour for a few days, in batches if necessary.
  • I buy Red Star yeast in a vacuum-sealed brick from Costco, last I checked it was $4.39 for 1lb?
  • I store the yeast in a jar in the freezer. It stays loose, will keep forever, and I can measure it straight from the freezer into the bucket.
  • At about 4.25 oz/cup, 50lb of flour is about 188 cups, and 188/6.5=29 buckets, so it’s about $13.50/29=$0.46/bucket in flour.
  • I would guesstimate that a brick of yeast lasts through about two bags of flour, so that’s $4.39/2/29=$0.08/bucket
  • Salt and water are even cheaper, we’ll call that another $0.01/bucket for a total of 55c/bucket.
  • At four round loaves or pizza crusts per bucket, that’s 14 cents each.
  • At five bread bowls per bucket, that’s 11 cents each.
  • At three sandwich loaves per two buckets, that’s 37 cents each.
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One Response

  1. Update for perfect bread loaves:

    1 bucket = 2 loaves:
    7c flour
    1c buttermilk
    2.5c hot tap water
    1.5 T salt
    1.5 T sugar
    1.5 T yeast

    50-55min @350

    Grease the top of the bread immediately before and after baking, for a soft crust. Spray is easiest before (butter-flavored PAM works great), spray also works after, or rub a stick of butter on the hot loaves.

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