Getting Started with Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Master Recipe

Book Cover for Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a DayOne of my 2010 culinary resolutions is to learn how to bake bread. While I’m lucky enough to have access to some great local bakeries, there’s just something extra-special about homemade bread that is comforting to the soul of both the maker and the diner. And of course, anytime I make something at home I know exactly what’s going into it, so baking my own bread furthers my general desire to cook more with whole foods. However, I haven’t found a magic time turner to create more hours in my day for baking bread. If I had, well, I’d probably be blogging about something else entirely right now. So, where to find the time?

Enter the five minutes a day method developed by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois. They first shared this approach in their book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day which was well received by the cooking and blogging community. Because my family has been very focused on transitioning to whole grains, I was very excited to hear that Jeff and Zoe were following their first book with a second, Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day. Then, when Michelle from the Big Black Dogs blog started a baking group for the new book, I knew this was the year I would learn to make my own bread. For the next year or so, I’ll be posting a couple of times a month about my baking adventures and linking back to the posts of my fellow bakers. My hope is I’ll have some fun insight to share, and if you’re thinking about learning to bake your own bread too, you’ll find some tidbits in my posts to help you on your own journey.

The Master Recipe*

At the heart of the five minutes a day method of making bread is a quick mix of dough that hangs out in your fridge for a week or two. You pull of pieces of the dough to shape, rise, and bake when you’re ready for some fresh bread. And indeed, it really is that easy. The initial dough recipe in the book and the one our baking group started with is the Master Recipe, which combines whole wheat and unbleached all purpose flour for an easy foray into whole grain bread. The assignment was to then turn this dough into three different baked goodies:

  • A free-form loaf
  • An epi (baguette that looks like a stalk of wheat) or a bread wreath
  • Crackers

I didn’t quite get to the crackers but I did get the loaf and epi done. I learned so much along the way – including how much more I have to learn about shaping and working with dough. And while no one would confuse my initial loaves with anything from a professional bake shop, they tasted good and were fun to make, which is all that really matters.

*All of the recipes our baking group follows can be found in the Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day book. Because I want Jeff and Zoe to keep writing, and because it’s the right thing to do, I won’t be republishing them in my posts. If you’re intrigued by this method and don’t have the book yet, I’d consider getting a copy. It’s less than $20 on Amazon.com, which you’ll make back after your first few loaves of bread.

Making the Dough

Fresh whole wheat bread dough in a stainless steal bowl

In my initial forays into bread baking, I’ve discovered that the brand of ingredients is very important, particularly when it comes to the flours. To avoid any unexpected variables, I made my bread with ingredients from two trusted brands:

  • King Arthur Whole Wheat and unbleached AP Flour
  • Hodgeson Mill vital wheat gluten

Whole Wheat Flour on Foodista Learn more about whole wheat flour

Another thing I’ve discovered is that there’s more than one way to mix up a batch of dough even by the five minute method. I chose to:

  • Measure the ingredients by weight according to the chart on page 54. I’ve become a big devote of the Ratio approach to cooking, particularly with baking, and I prefer to weigh ingredients when it’s practical.
  • Mix the dough by hand, largely because I didn’t feel like washing my Kitchen Aid bowl and paddle in addition to my bread dough container. Yup – this is laziness at its best.

During the dough process I learned the following:

  • Initially I was concerned there wasn’t enough water in the dough when it became difficult to mix, but with a little perseverance the water was evenly distributed and dough was manageable. It’s important to be patient.
  • My extra-large metal mixing bowl worked just fine for mixing and storing. Thanks to a typo on my grocery list I had a 5 gallon bucket instead of a 5 quart, so until I get a new 5 qt. bucket I used the bowl. I think I round containers make the dough easier to mix, particularly in the middle stages when water isn’t evenly distributed.

Jeff and Zoe promise that this process is easy and that making the dough is the most time-consuming part of the process. For fun, I’ve been timing how long different steps are taking. The time to mix the dough, including retrieving ingredients from pantry was 10 minutes and 51 seconds. I bet once I’ve done it a couple of times it will go even faster.

Bread #1: Free-Form Loaf

Once I had my batch of dough made and it rested over night, I made my first loaf of bread. I baked my loaf on a silpat to make it easy to move into the hot oven. I don’t really have storage space for a baker’s paddle but the silpat worked just fine. I did buy a pizza stone for my oven as the book recommends, but I didn’t invest a ton into it (yet). Once I’ve baked more bread and can find a good deal on a bigger, thicker stone, I’ll upgrade.

The total time to shape my first loaf and set it to rest was 3 minutes and 51 seconds. Yup – you read that right. I put together my first loaf in less than 5 minutes. It did have to sit for 90 minutes and cook for another 30, but that was all inactive time on my part. Thus far the method was living up to its name. Along the way, I learned the following about shaping a free-form loaf:

  • Shaping was easy – dough was easy to handle with a minimal amount of flour.
  • As mentioned in the book, the dough doesn’t rise while it’s resting but spreads instead. My final bread was a little flatter than I would have liked. Next time I will be sure to create a thicker loaf when I shape the bread.
  • I wasn’t as aggressive with my slashing as I should have been so the final bread wasn’t as pretty as it should have been. This may have contributed to the flatter bread as well.
  • I was very happy with the texture and crumb. While the crumb wasn’t totally uniform, it was fairly open and the bread was not dense at all (as whole wheat bread goes).
  • Next time I will increase the salt a bit. The flavor was just a little bit flat and I think a bit more salt will help.

Bread #2: Epi

The next bread to tackle was another free-form loaf, a shaped baguette cut to look like a stalk of wheat, or an epi. As a disclaimer, I didn’t know about this wonderful step-by-step photo guide that Zoe put together, and this was my first pass at forming and cutting the bread into this shape. Shaping the baguette was fairly easy, although I’m still working on creating a smooth loaf without compressing the air out of the loaf. Once I started to cut the loaf I realized I wasn’t cutting quiet deep enough and I was spacing my cuts to far apart. Happily, I’m all about making lemonade out of lemons, so I just started cutting away and created more of a root loaf than a sheaf of wheat. It was fun, and tasted great, which is all that matters.

I do have some dough left and I will most likely try the epi again to put what I’ve learned to good use. Beyond the many little details I learned about in my first work with the bread dough, my biggest realization is that it’s important to practice and practice some more. Given how easy it is to whip up batches of bread, I don’t think practicing will be difficult; it’s the not eating all of the practice loaves that will be the real challenge.

What’s Next

Our next assignment is to make dough for soft whole wheat bread that will become a sandwich bread loaf, hamburger or hotdog buns, and an apple bread. I’m looking forward to working with this new dough, and am particularly excited about being able to make my own bread for daily uses like PB&Js and burger night. More to come at the end of the month.

16 Comments

  1. karine /

    have you read of Ratio by Michael Ruhlman? My husband used his ratio and instructions for bread and came out with a fantastic loaf as his first attempt, every one after that has just gotten better.

    • Natanya Anderson /

      I’m a huge fan of Ruhlman and because of him I’m sure to measure everything in my bread by weight – I think it’s critical to baking. I haven’t tried his bread recipe though. I may just for a comparison. Thank you for the recommendation.

  2. Your loaves look wonderful! The process of shaping really does take some practice as you suggest. I’ve had the first book for sometime now and it made this Healthy Bread much easier to work with. Congratulations!

  3. So happy that you joined HBinFive. Baking bread has to be one of my favorite things to do and it smells so good too!

    I bought a slashing tool but find that my 6″ utility knife works better for me. Could be that I’m more comfortable with the 6″ knife.

    I usually always add a bit more salt to bread then the recipe calls for!

  4. I think this is a great informational post. Good job on the epi. I was too scared to try it and figure I’ll get to it when I feel more comfortable. We learn from doing and I bet your next epi will be right on :D

    • Natanya Anderson /

      Having confidence with the dough has been my biggest hurdle thus far. I think the more we work with the more comfortable we’ll feel. Good luck with your epi!

  5. What a wonderful and thorough post with all of the work-in-progress pictures! I found I had to sprinkle my epi shape with much more dough in order to make the cuts – as suggested in the Ain5 book. That’s some pretty nice lemonade ;)

  6. Good for you for trying the Epi! I love the “ginger” shape you turned out…very interesting. Isn’t it fun to play with dough! Great job!

  7. Great post. I felt like I was right there in the kitchen with you.
    Your bread and epi look wonderful!

  8. great demo pics with lovely results. I haven’t gotten to the epi yet but plan on it this weekend.

    • Natanya Anderson /

      I can’t wait to hear how yours comes out. I’d be sure to review the photos on Zoe and Jeff’s site first :-)

      • Natanya Anderson /

        Thank you. I was hoping diving into the process will be useful – glad to know it is.

  9. your crumb looks wonderful, very airy.

  10. I’ve been measuring by weight and really do like the results.

  11. Are the instructions for the crackers in the book, too? (I always check cookbooks out from the library before buying, to make sure I’m actually going to use them, and this one is still on hold.) I have been making my own bread for a while, but crackers and pitas are the two things I’ve never yet been successful at.

    • Natanya /

      They do have instructions for the crackers in the book. The general idea is to roll the dough very thin and then bake it at a high heat for just a few minutes. The biggest issue folks had was rolling the dough thin enough for crackers without tearing it. I’ve had success rolling on my silpats though.

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