I'm a big fan of Nancy Silverton's Breads from the La Brea Bakery: Recipes for the Connoisseur. That subtitle is totally accurate, because baking almost all of the breads in the cookbook take 2-3 days--and that's after you've gone out to the garden, cut down a bunch of grapes, and spent two weeks developing your own, personal sourdough starter. The results are totally worth the effort, but I no longer have the time to feed Audrey Two like clockwork or the money to keep myself in enough flour to keep her healthy. It is much easier to go to Costco and buy two loaves of the wonderful rosemary and olive oil bread for less than $5 and bank the time.
A couple of months ago, I was perusing food blogs and came across references to Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. It sounded intriguing. I called my friend Karen, who, aging hippie as we both are, has gone back to school to study baking because she wants to open a bakery when she and her husband finally move up to their land near Sequoia National Park. (Karen was a second career trademark attorney and spends some of her spare time weaving. Her husband is a litigator who relaxes by turning wood into beautiful pieces of art.) She was familiar with the technique discussed, but hadn't heard of the book.
Len bought me a copy for my birthday, but I didn't get a chance to try it out until 2 weeks ago. That's part of the charm: you make up the dough, let it raise once, and throw it into the refrigerator. Then you can pull off parts of it and quickly make fresh bread over the course of the two weeks the dough lasts. And yes, it works.
You can find links to Jeff Hertzberg's and Zoe Francois' blogs in the list on the right side of this page. Below are the before and after baking photographs of the loaf of bread I made while doing laundry for our vacation. I got a slice, but my son gets to eat the rest while we are gone. The technique is so simple, even my husband could do it if he wanted to. Except for a baking stone--and what kitchen should be without one?--there's no specialized equipment. The basic recipe is good for four one-pound loaves. I'll be mixing up another batch as soon as I get home. It will be really good with the artisan olive oils from the Central Coast of California.
The dough after it comes out of the refrigerator and has been shaped in about 30 seconds before a 40 minute raising time:
The dough after a 30 minute bake in my 450 degree oven on a baking stone:
I'm going to try some of the variations next, because this is just the basic white sourdough. The book has all kinds of wonderful goodies, including pecan sticky buns. Yum.
Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day is available in hardback from Amazon.com.