Good bread takes time. There are lots of techniques and tools that can help take the labor out of making bread, but I have yet to come across a method that lets you speed up making a crusty loaf of artisan style bread. That is because it takes a while for the bacteria and enzymes to do their work and transform the flour and water into a delicious dough. Letting the dough or a pre-ferment rise overnight helps build the flavor and gives time for the yeast to slowly do their work.
The challenge is of course fitting the time good bread requires into your schedule. Just because good bread takes time, it doesn’t mean it needs to take a lot of time. The 5-Minute Artisan Bread technique is a great approach for fitting bread into you schedule. The techniques from the My Bread book also offers a great approach and I like the results a little more. I generally like to cook 2 loaves, since it doesn’t add that much extra work and once you have the oven going, you might as well. Bread freezes really well too.
Of course the challenge is fitting either of these techniques into your schedule. Both offer generally how long each step takes, but you have to do some math and planning to make it fit. This can actually be more of a pain than the actual baking. Fear not! I am going to share how I do it, so you can do it without having to think. Share your approach in the comments.
Night Before Baking
This will take about 15 minutes from start til end, including clean up.
- [ 10:00pm – 10:15pm ] Right before going to bed (which is roughly ~18 hours before you get home from work the following day), mix everything together as directed in the first step of the recipe below.
This will take about 3 hours for a single loaf, 4 hours to cook two loafs.
- [ 6:00 – 6:20pm ] Right when you will get home from work, shape your loaves as directed in the second step (Takes 20 min, including cleanup)
- [ 7:20pm ] Roughly an hour after you have finished shaping the loaves, begin preheating the oven & dutch oven.
- [ 7:50 – 8:50pm ] Bake the bread as directed
- [ 8:50 – 9:00pm ] Return the pot & lid to the oven to get nice and hot again, if you are baking a second loaf
- [ 9:00 – 10:00pm ] Bake the second loaf
- [ 10:00pm – ] Leave both loaves sitting out over night to cool
AFTER WORK ARTISAN BREAD
- 3 cups (400 grams) Bread Flour
- 1 1/4 teaspoons (8 grams) Table Salt
- 1/4 teaspoon (1 gram) instant or other active dry yeast
- 1 1/3 cups (300 grams) cool water (55 to 65 degrees F)
- Wheat bran, cornmeal, or additional flour for dusting
The night before baking
- In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, salt, and yeast. Add the water and, using a wooden spoon or your hand, mix until you have a wet, sticky dough, about 30 seconds. Mae sure it’s really sticky to the touch; if it’s not, mix in another tablespoon or two of water. Cover the bowl with a plate, tea towel, or plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature (about 72 degrees F), out of direct sunlight, until the surface is dotted with bubbles and the dough is more than doubled in size. This will take a minimum of 12 hours and (my preference) up to 18 hours. This slow rise – fermentation – is the key to flavor.
Evening of Baking
- When the first fermentation is complete, generously dust a work surface (a wooden or plastic cutting board is fine) with flour. Use a bowl scraper or rubber spatula to scrape the dough onto the board in one piece. When you begin to pull the dough away from the bowl, it will cling in long, thin strands (this is the developed gluten), and it will be quite loose and sticky – do not add more flour. Use lightly floured hands or a bowl scraper or spatula to lift the edges of the dough in toward the center. Nudge and tuck in the edges of the dough to make it round.
- Place a cotton or linen tea towel (not terry cloth, which tends to stick and may leave lint in the dough) or a large cloth napkin on your work surface and generously dust the cloth with wheat bran, cornmeal, or flour. Use your hands or a bowl scraper or wooden spatula to gently lift the dough onto the towel, so it is seam side down. If the dough is tacky, dust the top lightly with wheat bran, cornmeal, or flour. Fold the ends of the towel loosely over the dough to cover it and place it in a warm, draft-free spot to rise for 1 to 2 hours. The dough is ready when it is almost doubled. If you gently poke it with your finger, making an indentation about 1/4 inch deep, it should hold the impression. If it doesn’t, let it rise for another 15 minutes.
- Half an hour before the end of the second rise, preheat the oven to 475 degrees F, with a rack in the lower third position, and place a covered 4 1/2 to 5 1/2 quart heavy pot in the center of the rack.
- Using pot holders, carefully remove the preheated pot from the oven and uncover it. Unfold the tea towel, lightly dust the dough with flour or bran, lift up the dough, either on the towel or in your hand, and quickly but gently invert it into the pot, seam side up. (Be carefully, the pot will be very hot) Cover the pot and bake for 30 minutes.
- Remove the lid and continue baking until the bread is a deep chestnut color but not burnt, 15 to 30 minutes more. Use a heatproof spatula or pot holders to carefully lift the bread out of the pot and place it on a rack to cool thoroughly. Don’t slice or tar into it until has cooled, which usually takes an hour.