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Master Class: Easy Homemade Bread

Behold! We have found the holy grail of homemade bread. It’s an appealingly soft, barely sweet, mostly whole wheat sandwich loaf. And the recipe is flexible and fuss-free—no kneading required!

Friends Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François built an empire on one hopeful idea: There’s gotta be an easier way to make bread. The Minneapolis duo—he is a doctor, she is a pastry chef—unveiled the answer in their 2007 bestseller, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, now in its second edition. Quickly mix a few ingredients to yield a wet and yeasty dough. Let it rise, then stash it in the fridge. Shape, rest and bake on your schedule. Master that core method, and you’re on your way to pizza dough, sweet rolls, boules, braids and buns, all requiring minimal hands-on time.

Their newest project, The New Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day (Thomas Dunne Books, $33), is an updated edition of a 2009 title. Available November 1, it features whole-grain, ancient-grain, sprouted-wheat and gluten-free breads, plus the duo’s first sourdough starter—and this family-friendly winner (recipe below as well as here).

1. Whisk together 5 cups whole wheat flour, 2½ cups all-purpose flour, 1½ tablespoons (2 envelopes) active dry yeast, 1 tablespoon kosher salt and ¼ cup vital wheat gluten in a 5-quart bowl or lidded (not airtight) food container.

Tip: Vital wheat gluten is a protein naturally found in wheat. Adding extra improves the texture of whole-grain breads. Look for it at health food stores or large supermarkets; Bob’s Red Mill is one common brand.

2. Combine 2½ cups lukewarm water, ½ cup honey, 5 large eggs, and ⅔ cup flavorless oil (such as canola) or melted unsalted butter. Add to dry ingredients. Mix with a spoon, in a 14-cup food processor (with dough attachment) or in a stand mixer (with paddle attachment). You might need to use wet hands to incorporate the last bit of flour if you use a spoon, but you won’t have to knead.

Tip: Enriched doughs like this one contain oil or butter and eggs for flavor, but that does add fat and calories. Zoë and Jeff’s books also include many bread recipes without those ingredients.

3. Loosely cover the bowl. Leave at room temperature until the dough rises then collapses or flattens on top, about 2 hours. (Trust visual cues over the clock; room temperature varies a lot by season.) The dough is now ready to bake, or you can chill it in a lidded (not airtight) container for up to 5 days.

Tip: Dough is alive. It will look, smell and taste different on the first day than the fifth. We find this dough easiest to work with and best flavored when it proofs for 24 to 48 hours in the refrigerator.

4. Lightly grease an 8½x4½-inch nonstick loaf pan. Dust the dough with flour and cut it in half. (Each should be cantaloupe size.) Dust one piece with more flour and quickly shape into a ball by gently stretching the sides and tucking them under the bottom, rotating as you go. Elongate the ball into an oval and place it in the pan; the pan should be about three-quarters full. Repeat with the other piece to bake a second loaf or return the unused dough to the refrigerator to bake later. Cover the pan loosely with plastic wrap. Let rest for 90 minutes (40 if you’re using fresh, unrefrigerated dough).

Tip: Stretching the dough to make a ball (rather than just molding it with your hands) creates tension in the dough’s structure, which helps it rise.

5. Preheat the oven to 350°. Bake on the center rack for 45 to 50 minutes or until the top is golden brown. (Tent pan with foil if necessary to prevent overbrowning.) To confirm doneness, tip the bread out of the pan. An instant-read thermometer inserted in the bottom should read 200°, and the loaf should sound hollow when tapped. Cool completely, out of the pan, on a wire rack before slicing. If you baked two loaves, you can freeze one tightly wrapped in plastic wrap for up to 1 month.

Tip: An internal temp reading is only as reliable as your thermometer. The best tools for knowing when bread is done are scent, sight, sound—and practice.

Buns in the oven

Zoë and Jeff’s easy recipe can morph into hot dog or hamburger buns, too. A full batch of dough makes 12 buns or a single sandwich loaf and six buns.

In step 4 Divide the ball of dough into eight pieces. Shape each into a plum-size ball using the same stretch-and-tuck technique. For hamburger buns, press the balls to flatten. For hot dog buns, stretch them into 6-inch ropes. Place 2 inches apart on greased baking sheets. Let rest, loosely covered, for 40 minutes (20 minutes if you are using fresh, unrefrigerated dough).

In step 5 Before baking, brush the bun tops with melted butter or egg wash (an egg lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon water). Bake at 350° for about 20 minutes or until richly browned and firm to the touch.

 

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