Afraid of Baking Bread? “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day” to the Rescue

Caramelized Onion and Herb Dinner Rolls

Caramelized Onion and Herb Dinner Rolls

The time has come to be brutally honest with you, my dear readers. The fact remains that even though I’m a chef, there are still recipes or cooking methods that intimidate me. The obvious is anything that has to do with molecular gastronomy. I’m completely befuzzled by those techniques. Another is less obvious: baking bread.

Shocking but true. And this is after I spent half a session in culinary school baking bread in a very controlled environment, which I think gave me a false sense of bread security so that when I attempted it on my own I failed miserably. I’ve been to embarrassed to share most of these sobs stories with you.

European Peasant Bread01 European Peasant Bread02 European Peasant Bread03 European Peasant Bread04

It took a while, but I finally mustered the courage to try again. The saga started at BlogHer Food in September when during a photography session the woman sitting next to me stood up to ask a question. She said her name and the whole room gasped; I felt like I’d been sitting next to a celebrity for the past 45 minutes and had no idea.

It turned out this “celebrity” was Zoë Francois, and I quickly learned that she had co-authored an amazing book titled Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. Throughout the weekend people kept telling me I just had to check out this book and that it could cure my Achilles heel.

European Peasant Bread before rise European Peasant Bread after rise European Peasant Bread09 European Peasant Bread11

Back at home I purchased the book but was still afraid to cook from it. If this book couldn’t cure me then I would be a seriously hopeless case. It was a lot of pressure to put on one book, and on me. And then, when I finally did decide to cook from it, I realized that nearly every recipe required a steam tray set on a lower oven rack.

PROBLEM! Sadly, I only have one oven rack in an oven that is probably older than me, thus impossible to find a replacement part. Aside from this one major flaw, it’s actually a pretty good oven: heats quickly, keeps accurate temperature, and has an old-school rotating clock that kept my young cousins entertained for a good five minutes. But, there was nowhere for me to place that essential steaming tray.

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Luckily, Zoë is an active tweeter and sent me a link with tips on baking without steam. Now, there was nothing stopping me.

I chose a recipe – Caramelized Onion and Herb Dinner Rolls – which required the dough from a different recipe – European Peasant Bread. And I have to say the bread turned out great! I made six dinner rolls and one loaf of bread from half a recipe of dough. And it was easy.

European Peasant Bread

European Peasant Bread

Turns out word on the street – or blogosphere – was right, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day simplified bread baking so that even I was successful. If you’re in any way inclined to bake your own bread, this book is a must-have!

European Peasant Bread

European Peasant Bread

Here are the recipes, which have not been adapted:

European Peasant Bread, from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë Francois, makes 4 1-pound loaves (I made half the recipe, half of which was used for the rolls and the rest for a loaf of bread)

3 cups lukewarm water

1 1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast (2 packets)

1 1/2 tablespoons Kosher salt

1/2 cup rye flour

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

5 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

Cornmeal for the pizza peel

Mix the yeast, salt and water in a 5-quart bowl. Add the rye, whole wheat and all-purpose flours and mix without kneading using a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook attachment. (ABin5: can also use a 14-cup food processor with dough attachment or a spoon/hands combo.)

Lightly cover the dough and rest it at room temperature until the dough rises and collapses, about 2 hours. Refrigerate the dough and use over the next 14 days (ABin5: can use the dough immediately but it’s easier to work with when cold).

When ready to bake, dust the surface of the dough with flour and cut off a 1-pound piece. Dust with more flour and shape it into a ball by stretching the outer layers to the bottom, rotating the dough until smooth on all sides. Rest the dough on a cornmeal covered pizza peel for 40 minutes (I don’t have a pizza peel so I used a thin wooden cutting board).

Set a baking or pizza stone in the center of the oven and preheat it to 450°F 20 minutes before baking. Also, place an empty broiler tray on a different oven rack. If you don’t have an extra oven rack, follow the steps here.

Sprinkle the dough with flour and use a serrated knife to cut slits or “scallops” across the top. Slide the dough onto the baking stone and pour 1 cup of hot water into the broiler tray. Bake until the crust is browned and firm, about 35 minutes.

Caramelized Onion and Herb Dinner Rolls, from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë Francois, makes 6 rolls

NOTE: You only need half the caramelized onions for the rolls but make the full recipe because if you’re anything like me you won’t be able to stop snacking on them.

1 pound European peasant bread dough, chilled* (about a quarter of the full recipe)

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 large onions, chopped

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon vermouth or white wine

1 teaspoon white wine vinegar

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1/4 cup water

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Cornmeal for pizza peel

Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium-low heat. Add the onions, salt, vermouth, vinegar, brown sugar, thyme and water and cook, stirring every few minutes, until caramelized, about 25 minutes total.

Dust the surface of the dough with flour and shape it into a ball by stretching the outer layers to the bottom, rotating the dough by quarter turns until it is smooth and round.

Divide the dough evenly into six pieces and form into balls using the method above. Rest the balls on a cornmeal covered surface for 40 minutes (ABin5 advises using a pizza peel but I used a thin wooden cutting board).

Set a baking or pizza stone in the center of the oven and preheat it to 450°F 20 minutes before baking. Also, place an empty broiler tray on a different oven rack. If you don’t have an extra oven rack, follow the steps here.

Just before baking, sprinkle the rolls with flour and cut a 1/2-inch “x” into the tops of each roll using a serrated bread knife. Fill the “x” with 1 tablespoon of the caramelized onions.

Slide the rolls onto the baking stone and pour 1 cup of hot water into the broiler tray. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the outside is brown and firm.

*Choice of three doughs

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  • maris posted: 15 Dec at 1:11 am

    These look fantastic! My hearth baked breads never look this good!

  • Maria posted: 15 Dec at 9:42 am

    The bread looks perfect nice work. I love AB in 5!

  • Cristie posted: 15 Dec at 1:26 pm

    I love your variation on the basic artisan loaf- the rolls sound delicious! I’ve fallen in love with this book and the second one as well- Healthy Bread in Five Minutes A Day. I’ll have to give your rolls a try!

  • Jeff Hertzberg posted: 16 Dec at 10:28 am

    I’m Jeff Hertzberg, one of the co-authors of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. Thanks for trying our stuff… come visit anytime, with questions, we’re still answering ourselves– you get a live person if you post a question into a “Comments” field on our website.

    Jeff Hertzberg (co-author)
    http://www.healthybreadinfive.com
    http://twitter.com/ArtisanBreadIn5

    Our video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HSOoH686_b8

  • wine server posted: 17 Dec at 3:54 am

    I like your variation on the artisan loaf. It made the loaf more delicious! I am going to try this! Definitely.

  • Zoë François posted: 17 Dec at 5:28 am

    Your loaves look gorgeous, I love those onion buns. I’m glad the inverted pan worked out for you. I’d never thought to use a big loaf pan. Thanks for the idea!

    Cheers, Zoë

  • [...] was caramelizing the onions, which were done using the technique I learned from this recipe for Caramelized Onion & Herb Dinner Rolls. But organization and planning save a lot of time, meaning you do most of the other work while the [...]


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