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Book review: Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day

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Healthy Bread in Five
Minutes a Day

100 New Recipes Featuring Whole Grains, Fruits, Vegetables, and Gluten-free Ingredients
by Jeff Hertzberg & Zoe Francois

I was very excited when I first heard about last year’s Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, but I was really disappointed when I brought the book home from the library to find only one whole-grain recipe in the whole book.  I must not have been the only one, because the authors quickly followed it up with this gem of a sequel.  For the first time in a long time, I can say, I am buying this book.

The book is pretty much exactly what you expect: almost 100% whole grain breads, 100% whole grain breads, flatbreads, pizza crusts, rolls, pretzels, etc.  There are options for unusual grains like quinoa and spelt, and many options that include fruits and vegetables (including one for Peppery Pumpkin and Olive Oil Loaf, which looks amazing).

In the short time I had this book out from the library (it’s on a waiting list so renewals were not allowed), we only had time to try one recipe — the Master Recipe.  Like Artisan Bread, this book has one basic recipe that they’d like you to master before moving on to the others.  A nice bonus: there are at least 7  simple variations using the exact same dough, but just baking it in different ways.

If this whole concept is completely new to you, here’s the basic premise: you mix up a large batch of very wet bread dough, very quickly, without kneading.  Let it rise once, then transfer it to the fridge (without punching it down).  Take chunks from this over the next 1-2 weeks and bake it.  Towards the end of the lifecycle of the dough it begins to ferment just a bit, giving your bread a sourdough flavor.

I have to say, I really love this concept.  Especially when you can do so many different things from one bowl of this dough.  You could bake bread, pizza, hamburger buns, you name it.  The dough is right there waiting for you in the refrigerator.

Here’s how it went for us, making the Master Recipe:

It calls for 7 cups of flour (5 wheat, 2 white), so I quickly realized the amount was too great for our mixer to handle.  As it turned out, mixing by hand took about 3 minutes and was no trouble at all.

Here’s what the dough looked like.  Next: cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a nice warm place.  I turned on the oven for a while, so that the surface of the stove would get nice and warm, and set the bowl there.  It rose in roughly one hour (rising times can vary).

Here’s the dough, fully risen (approx. double in size), right as I set it in the refrigerator.

The book says when you’re not used to making bread this way, let it chill a good 24 hours before baking with it.  It’s easier to handle when it’s cold.  When baking time comes, scoop out about a grapefruit-size portion of the dough and quickly shape it into an oblong loaf.

Place on a flour- and/or cornmeal-dusted pizza peel or wooden cutting board, cover with plastic wrap, and let rest for 90 minutes.  This part is the most disheartening, because it means you have to be home 2 hours before mealtime in order to have fresh, hot bread.  It works fine for us, since Adam’s a teacher and gets home at 3:30 p.m., but not everyone has that luxury.  I suppose you could always make it the night before, though.  Or on a weekend.

Thirty minutes before baking time, place a pizza stone in the middle rack of the oven and preheat to 450 degrees (the book recommends a special baking stone but our old pizza stone worked fine).  Put an empty broiler tray on the rack below it.  Paint the top of the loaf with water and sprinkle with a mixture of seeds (we used sunflower, caraway & poppy).  Make some slash marks across the top.

Slide it from the pizza peel onto the hot stone in the oven, pour 1 c. of hot tap water into the broiler tray, and close the oven.  Bake for about 30 minutes.  Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack.  Believe me, it tastes as good as it looks:

I thought the whole pizza peel, stone, and hot water thing sounded like a huge hassle.  I wasn’t home when Adam baked the bread, but he said it wasn’t nearly as complicated as you might think, and that by the second time he did it he actually found it pretty easy.

This is, hands down, the very best-tasting bread we have ever made at home.  No bread machine or even stand mixer is required!  The effort really is minimal, considering the final product.  The only tricky part is needing to plan so that your timing works out.  The book says you’re supposed to let the bread cool completely before slicing into it.  Yeah, right!  Here’s another loaf Adam baked today:

It turned out unintentionally heart-shaped.  Good stuff.

Now, for the Nourishing Traditions aspect of this recipe.  NT says that most grains are not good for you until they’ve been soaked or sprouted for a certain amount of time, to break down phytic acid and make them easier to digest.  I think this recipe could easily be adapted to do just that, and as soon as I buy the book I will begin experimenting.

Any NT fans out there: do you think simply soaking in water (& yeast & salt) in the refrigerator for a good 2-3 days is enough to break it down, or does it need to have an activator in there, such as buttermilk or lemon juice?  Also, does this need to take place at room temp. in order to work?

I’m going to do a little investigating.

Update, 1/4/2010: We tried to make a bigger loaf yesterday and it was harder to work with than the small ones they recommend doing in the book — it ended up a bit flat.  Still tasted great, though!  So, a word of advice: keep the loaves small at first.  Also, the dough might look a little gray when it starts fermenting — this is normal (if you’ve ever attempted to make sourdough bread it will look familiar).

Update, 2/1/2010: I’ve posted a recipe for an adapted version of one of the recipes in this book.  I adapted it so that it would have a much longer initial rise, to make it more “Nourishing Traditions” -friendly.  Check it out here.  I think the basic principle could be applied to just about any of the recipes in that book, and I plan to try exactly that in the coming weeks.

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5 thoughts on “Book review: Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day

  1. I have the same question you do about soaking. I am currently trying to join a Nourishing Traditions chapter in the NYC area to answer some of my questions. If I find out I will certainly share the information I recieve with you. I think Sally Fallon’s concepts are solid and am trying to eat accordingly. The Nourishing Tradition’s book is incredibly informative and interesting to read. I will now try the bread recipe, it sounds like fun to do. My husband and I love learning new quicker ways of making good food such as you have talked about…..thank you. Sincerely, Jackie B.

    • Jackie, I was thinking about this, and I think this is what we’d need to do to modify the “5 minutes a day” recipe: I think you’d want to mix up the dough, minus the yeast, one day in advance. Reduce the water by at least 1/4 c. and use buttermilk in place of the water. (This is where the experimenting comes in.) Soak at room temp for at least 8 hours, then add the yeast, let it rise, and continue with the recipe as directed.

      That’s what I’m going to try as soon as I get the book — I just ordered it online so should only be a few days! I’ll do a post and let everyone know how it goes.

  2. Interesting! I’ll have to try this soon. Thanks for the info, and I’m curious to see what you find out about the NT version… 🙂

  3. Hi — I’ve just started baking from the original book, and have done the whole wheat recipe a few times now. I am also trying to figure out how to improve on their recipes to improve digestibility. I’m sure Sally Fallon would suggest adding whey, but I hadn’t thought about mixing it without the yeast 1 day in advance… I’ll have to try that.
    And I always leave some dough in the bowl to act as a starter for the next batch.
    If your loaf is turning out flat, you can try proofing it for less time [if it is flattening out while proofing], or make sure that you are pitching the bottom of the loaf when you cloak it [if it’s flattening right away]. That can help keep it upright.

  4. Your loaves look wonderful – congratulations! I love the way you’re experimenting with them as well. How is it all going?

    Thanks for the tips and encouragement to get baking!

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