Mix together flour, water, yeast and salt and what do you get? A really good loaf of bread, if you follow the rest of the instructions from the co-authors of a wildly successful book that has changed how we think about making the staff of life.
S ix years ago, I got my hands on a copy of Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François’ “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day” and started making bread all the time, not just when I was weather-bound or home with a sick kid. That brilliant volume liberated me from the notion of “sponges,” second and third rises, and over-proofing.
Usually, I’d forget the bowl of rising dough until it ballooned over the bowl. But I learned that with the technique promoted by Hertzberg and François, just one batch of the “master recipe” would wait patiently in the refrigerator for me to bake off a baguette, pizza, pita or a sandwich loaf. Liberated from timing and temperature, I became master of my dough.
I’m just one of more than a half-million readers who are now baking bread on a regular basis. To this day, the book’s amazing success continues to surprise even its two authors, who met by chance in their kids’ music class. François, a trained pastry chef, and Hertzberg, a scientist, teamed up to create the quick, no-fail master recipe that laid the foundation for their winning volume, which spurred a blockbuster website, landed on Gold Medal flour packages and led to four books (including “Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day” and “Artisan Pizza and Flatbread in Five Minutes a Day”).
Their website (BreadIn5.com) inspired the recently published revised edition — “The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day” (St. Martin’s Press, 382 pages, $29.99) — with 30 new recipes, updated renditions of original favorites, nine gluten-free creations, plus sandwiches, stuffed loaves and soups. (The book arrived as I was trying to separate pages of my original copy, hopelessly stuck together and beyond repair.)
“We’ve learned a lot from our website followers,” said Hertzberg the afternoon we met in in the sunny kitchen of François’ Minneapolis home, setting for the book’s inviting color photos.
“They asked great questions, suggested recipes, pushed us to use interesting ingredients. We’ve expanded the tips and techniques and information about ingredients. For example, original recipes now offer a wider range of salt so readers can adjust to taste.”
Perhaps the biggest revelation was to provide weight equivalents in the recipes. “The new scales have made it so easy and time-saving, and keep the results consistent,” said Hertzberg.
The two bakers paid attention to comments left for them on the website. “Our readers really pushed us, helped us to be more specific and accurate, and they gave us great ideas,” François added. “Making bread in a Crock-Pot was not something I’d thought of, and I resisted working out a recipe at first. But there were requests from so many people that I finally gave it a try and was delightfully surprised. It’s terrific.”
As their experience and research broadened their website, it also deepened their appreciation of this homey art. On a trip to Turkey, François came to understand that “in other cultures, bread is not an afterthought or a filler; it holds a place of honor.”
A new generation of bakers has grown up with the original book. François’ son, Charlie (that toddler in music class), now in his teens, makes loaves for neighbors and helps test recipes for the website. In our home, pizza is the go-to recipe for our three sons.
“There’s just something about having dough ready to bake off,” François said. “Even if it’s just a focaccia with chopped herbs. Freshly baked bread lifts the most ordinary meal, makes it something special.”
Beth Dooley is the author of “Minnesota’s Bounty” and “The Northern Heartland Kitchen.”