As a young girl growing up in Poland, I learned how to bake bread from scratch from my grandmother. I know from experience that it can be a painstaking process, so it was with some eager anticipation that I read a book that claimed to shorten the work to five minutes.
Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg, MD and Zoe Francois makes that claim and I must say the authors did live up to their promise.
Hertzberg, a doctor by training and native New Yorker, found himself missing the ready supply of fresh breads available all over New York when he went away for his medical residency. Being a self-reliant soul, he looked to D.I.Y. and with the aid of Francois discovered a way to bake fresh bread that was both delicious and easy. Unlike other books about making artisan breads with all kinds of stringent requirements, this book is dead simple. The essential idea is to mix everything together at once, smooth out the lumpy flour, and leave it to rest for an hour. Then refrigerate, and strip off pieces of the dough each day to make yourself a new loaf. Leaving the ingredients to sit allows all the work to go on as a function of time with no effort on your part. Leaving the bread will inevitably change the flavor after time and that is explained, with the bread used later in the week becoming sourdough-like in its flavor.
The book breaks down in the following way: an introduction that leads into the Ingredients and then the required equipment (a baking stone, peel, and temperature thermometer). There is a chapter on tips and techniques and then the master recipe that I alluded to earlier.The remaining chapters show you how you can play with the ingredients to create the artisan breads promised in the title. Breads, pizza, pastries, and all kinds of enriched breads are all here.
There is a limited selection of lovely photographs in the center of the book, with the master recipe shown in step-by-step fashion, leaving no room for error, as well as images to accompany a select number of recipes. Not all of the recipes have images and that is the only place where I thought the book lacked. Being a visually-oriented person, a book can never have enough images for my taste. But that is a minor point, really, since the idea is bold and so incredibly helpful. I will also add that it's not necessary to buy all the required equipment, as I tried it without and the flavor and quality of the bread did not suffer from the lack of tools.
Maybe not quite as good as grandmother used to make, but then what is? The book is wonderful and the bread it shows you how to make is delicious and convenient. Who could ask for more?