I waited in the van with baby Rowan while my mom ran the rest of my kids through the food line one last time at a party. One by one I watched them scoot carefully through the door and come take their seat in the vehicle. In one hand, Liam carefully carried his plate that had been piled high with chicken salad on a croissant, pickles, deviled eggs, three kinds of chips, fruit salad, cheese and crackers and a napkin. In the other hand, he carried a tall glass of iced tea. Aidan bounced to the van with a bottle of water and a plate that simply had a chicken salad on a kaiser roll, one pickle and a pile of chips. Ty sauntered with a plate that had chips, a plain roll and some marshmallows that had gone for a bath in the chocolate fountain.
Time passed and I started to wonder whether Mom needed help with Leif. The door opened a crack and Leif walked out very deliberately without taking his eyes off his plate. I saw immediately what had taken him so long.
Leif had obviously been hitting the chocolate fondue pretty hard. With eyes still firmly fixed on his plate, the contents of which I could not make out from 50 feet away, he walked as if he had a pile of books on his head. I called out and asked him what he had on his sandwich. He stopped moving, looked up at me with his chocolate covered visage and happily but quietly -- so as not to unseat his precious food from the plate -- proclaimed, "I made a moe-tay-to chip sandwich!"
He looked back at his plate and eventually made it to his seat in the van. Sure enough, that Kaiser roll had nothing but corn and potato chips on it. Mom informed me that he had lovingly and exactingly placed each chip on the bun much to the amusement of the other guests.
My whole family loves bread. Since I also enjoy baking, most of our bread is homemade. Our daily bread is a whole-wheat sourdough. On special occasions, the family really enjoys artisan breads: baguettes, boules, Tuscan breads, and others like them. Until recently, having artisan crusty bread meant a real production. Most of the time, I had to start the bread one, two or more days in advance of when we wanted to eat it. It was always delicious, but it didn't lend itself to my usual on-a-whim baked good cravings.
A few weeks ago, I discovered a book, "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day," by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois. I was a little skeptical about whether the book could deliver on the promise implicit in the title and the contents of the book. Hertzberg and Francois promised artisan breads on demand in exchange for just five minutes of hands-on time by employing a new method "using a pre-mixed, pre-risen, high moisture dough" that was stored in the refrigerator. After several weeks of testing, one thing is very clear; they delivered on the promise.
Every bread recipe I have tried from the book has been fantastic. But equally valuable to the recipes in the book is the technique itself. Using the Master Recipe from the book, which the authors are kindly allowing me to share with you, I have made two variations, "Bread: Fully Loaded!" and "Speed of Light English Muffins." Both of these became instant family favorites.
Printed with permission from Zoe Francois. The recipe, as it appears here, has been condensed by cutting out the author's commentary. To read all of their instructions and comments, see "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day." This version will make the variations I've given below.
6 c. lukewarm water
3 T. instant yeast
3 T. kosher salt
13 c. all-purpose flour
Mix water, yeast and salt together in the bowl of a large stand mixer or in a 10 quart food-safe container. Add flour and stir until the mixture is uniform. You don't have to knead, but you want everything uniformly moist, without dry patches. The dough will be wet and will conform to the shape of its container.
Cover with a lid that fits well, but is not airtight and allow to rise at room temperature for about 2 hours or until the dough collapses back in on itself. You can now refrigerate the dough for up to two weeks, using the dough whenever you need it or you may use it immediately.
Bread: Fully Loaded!
2 lbs of high-moisture dough (roughly 1/4 of a Master Recipe dough is perfect here)
2 T. + 4 T. extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 T. finely ground semolina flour or cornmeal
all purpose flour, for sprinkling on counter and working with dough
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
10 strips bacon, sliced into 1/2" strips
2 medium or 1 large yellow onion, peeled, cut in half and sliced thinly
1/2 t. kosher salt
1/2- 3/4 t. coarse freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup dry white or red wine
4 ounces garlic and herb or plain goat cheese, crumbled
2 T. Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
a handful of coarsely chopped fresh parsley
Drizzle 2 T. of extra virgin olive oil all over a 15" x 11" rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle the semolina flour or cornmeal evenly on top of the oil. Toss a small amount of flour over clean countertop. Wet your hands thoroughly and use them to spread and stretch the dough out until it is roughly the size and shape of your baking sheet. Transfer dough to baking sheet. Don't worry if it doesn't fit perfectly, do your best and cooking will do the rest. Allow the dough to sit at room temperature, undisturbed, while you prepare your toppings.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Add bacon to a large, heavy bottomed skillet over medium high heat. Stir bacon and cook until it is cooked, but slightly underdone (about 5 minutes.) Remove bacon to a paper towel to drain and pour off all but 1 t. of the drippings. Add the onions, salt, and pepper to the pan and toss to coat. Return to burner, but drop the heat to medium low. Add the wine and scrape the tasty brown bits off the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon or spatula. Continue cooking until the onions are mostly translucent and the liquid has cooked off. Remove from heat.
Drizzle remaining 4 T. of olive oil evenly over the dough. Scatter minced garlic on the dough and then, using tongs or a fork so you don't get burned, spread the cooked onions on top. Follow with the Gorgonzola, goat cheese and bacon.
Bake for 30-40 minutes on the bottom rack of the oven, or until cheese is bubbly and the bottom of the crust is browned to your liking. Remove from oven and allow to sit for 5 minutes before transferring to a cutting board. Top with chopped parsley, cut into large squares and enjoy!
Speed of Light English Muffins
For this recipe you will need English muffin or egg rings. If you do not have either of these, you can cut the bottom and top off of tuna cans and wash them thoroughly or use round, metal cookie or biscuit cutters. They'll stand in admirably. These are best prepared a couple hours or a day in advance so they can cool.
Master Recipe Dough
Semolina Flour or cornmeal for sprinkling
Oil as many muffin rings as you plan on using. Preheat a griddle or frying pan to approximately 325 degrees. Place rings on hot surface and sprinkle about a t. of semolina flour in the bottom of each ring. Pull of scant 1/2 c. pieces of the dough with wet hands. If you're having trouble determining what 1/2 a c. of wet dough is, use water to rinse a 1/2 c. measure and put the dough in the still wet measuring cup. It will slide right out! Gently stretch the dough to approximately the size and shape of your ring and carefully put it down on the semolina. Don't fret if it's not the exact size or shape. As it cooks, it will expand. Sprinkle the tops of the muffins with another teaspoon of semolina flour and allow to cook until the bottom crust is a lovely brown color and is crisp. Remove rings using an oven mitt or tongs and flip the muffins over. Continue cooking until second side is also golden brown and delicious and crisp. Remove to a rack to cool.
You can read more of Rebecca's recipes, kitchen tips and parenting adventures at www.foodiewithfamily.com .