Top critical review
It's easy if you're skilled and have the right equipment, but probably worth the effort and investment
November 20, 2014
I love baking bread. I've loved baking bread since I was a kid and my dad's cousin taught us all the family recipes - onion bread, cheese bread, sourdough, potica, etc. When I went on a gluten-free diet nearly 5 years ago, having freshly baked bread was one of the hardest things to give up (that and good beer, deep dish pizza and ... no, no regrets, I'm healthier now). I mostly make sandwich breads in the bread machine, and occasionally a gluten-free focaccia or coffee cake, but otherwise I don't do much gluten-free bread baking because it's just so different from using gluten dough.
So Hertzberg and Francois' "Gluten-Free Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day" really caught my eye. It's not easy and I'm going to keep trying out their advice and recipes, but I have to say I've not gotten it down yet. I should disclose here that I'm reviewing a copy I received for free through the Amazon Vine program, and I have to review it within a set period of time, so I will post updates as I have more success.
Artisan loaves are the kind you buy at a bakery, a Panera, an Au Bon Pain, or specialty store. You may not use them for sandwiches. The recipes can be complex and often involve kneading, twisting, shaping, things that gluten dough does marvelously (a challah is a beautiful thing) but gluten-free dough just doesn't cooperate enough to do. One of the big differences is that you don't knead gluten-free dough, because it doesn't have the same structure and it doesn't keep the gas as well so it doesn't rise as much. This makes gluten-free dough much harder to work with.
The premise of Hertzberg and Francois is straight-forward and promising:
1) Make a big batch (like 6 pounds) of dough on one day and put it in the fridge. That takes more than five minutes but it concentrates most of the work into one period (maybe 20 minutes).
2) Pull out one pound at a time, let it rise a bit. That takes no time.
3) Shape the dough, preheat the oven, do whatever you need to help it along. That's the five minute part.
4) Let it cool to eat it so it isn't doughy in the middle (a common problem in gluten-free baking).
Here's the difficult part. Their dough recipe is rather stubborn. You have to really really mix it well. You have to let it rise to the right point (I need to be more patient), and you need to use steam to bake it. I haven't found the sweet spot yet of amount of water, dish size (relative to the baking stone), ambient moisture, and rack placement. My first loaves were a struggle to cut but made a nice set of croutons once I let them go stale. I think I'm getting there, though I will say that to do this right you can't shortcut with a jelly roll pan or an airbake flat - it really needs to be a baking stone.
So this book is for rather serious bakers. Total opposite of "throw in the wet, throw in the dry, hit start". You will have to fuss quite a bit, at least at first, to get the recipes right.
Let's talk about the recipes for a minute. If you like having your ingredients on one page, instructions on the next ,you won't navigate this book well. The authors look to the art of bread baking and as such the recipes are a little free-form. You have your ingredients, your instructions, but you also have a few options in many recipes - if you want to skip the refrigeration step, if you want to use a wicker baking basket, if you want to use a dutch oven, etc. This is going to feel less organized though I appreciate that the authors recognize that most readers aren't going to get the first recipe right the first time. So it comes across as more helpful even if it's not laid out neatly as Betty Crocker.
I gave this three stars because, well, it's a lot of work and I am pretty fond of what my bread machine can do (even if it's been five years since I've had a baguette), but I'm also willing to keep working with this and I might revise upwards once I get past the learning curve. Stay tuned.