If I had to choose a favorite food, without hesitation I would say “bread and butter”. For me nothing compares to the goodness of well made, flavorful bread spread with melting butter.

When I was growing up in Manila, there was a variety of bread available to us. Often for breakfast we would have pan de sal, small brown crusty ovals bought hot and freshly baked from the corner bakery. (In later years this pan de sal would devolve into soft sweetish buns that held very little resemblance to the pan de sal of my childhood). Everyday, any-time bread was pan americano also known as “tasty” bread: soft, sliced store-bought white bread packed in plastic. It was bland and (ironically) tasteless but convenient for lunchbox sandwiches as it kept for days and could be stashed in the fridge. In the afternoons we would sometimes buy snack breads from the pot-pot peddler, named after the sound he would make with his horn. He would have two large tins of bread fixed to the back of his bicycle—in it were a low-cost version of ensaimada (a brioche-type bread) topped with margarine and sugar, soft squarish buns called pan de leche, and other breads with names like monay, kabayan, and pan de coco.

I never tried to bake my own bread from scratch as it was too daunting. Although my mother baked simple cakes from scratch, she never made yeasted breads so I didn’t have a chance to learn from her. It wasn’t until I was living in Singapore about twelve years ago and had a lot of time on my hands (at least on weekends) that I attempted to bake bread. I remember the recipe was called “Grandma Van Doren’s white bread” and I copied it off the internet. My first attempt was a huge success! The loaf was fragrant, well-risen and beautifully brown. I don’t think it made it past the first hour out of the oven—we scarfed it down with a ton of butter.

Such beginner’s luck encouraged me, and I began to bake this bread semi-regularly for a few years. Then I started experimenting with variations, including whole wheat, and testing various recipes. These days I regularly make whole wheat and multi-grain loaves that I can store in the freezer and pull out as needed for everyday bread. For a time I was obsessed with sourdough bread and would make it from wild yeast (my primary resource was a very educational website and bread baking forum called The Fresh Loaf). This sourdough period was a very challenging but highly satisfying and yummy period. But I gave it up when I moved and lost the starter I had been using.

A few weeks ago I discovered this recipe for a quick no-knead bread, featured in the book “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day” by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois. Their master recipe is made in 15 minutes and is good for 4 one-pound loaves. You mix the batch using just flour, water, yeast and salt. Then you leave it to rise for a couple of hours, stick in the fridge for at least half a day, and then shape and bake your bread as needed within the next two weeks.

This is the second batch I’ve made with this recipe and I think I’m getting the hang of it. The tricky part for me was shaping the loaf as the dough is very very wet and difficult to handle. But after watching a couple of videos made by the authors, I am starting to make decently shaped loaves.

The bread you get from this recipe is crusty, with a crumb that is light but also slightly chewy. The longer you keep the dough in the fridge, the better the bread will taste as the fermentation creates more complexity in the bread’s flavor. It’s not sourdough, but it’s very good. I think this will be a keeper.

Quick “Artisan” Bread
(adapted from Hertzberg and Francois’ master recipe)

3 cups lukewarm water
1 tablespoon instant yeast
1-1/2 tablespoons salt
6-1/2 cups all-purpose white flour
Ice or water (to create steam while baking)

  1. Pour water into a 5 quart bucket or similar container. Mix in the salt and yeast. Add the flour and mix until well blended. Do not knead. Cover loosely with the lid or a towel and let rise for two hours or until at least doubled. Place the bucket (still loosely covered) in the fridge. This master recipe will produce 4 one-pound loaves, and should be used within the next 14 days.
  2. On the day you want to bake bread, take out the bucket, sprinkle the top generously with flour, and cut out a piece of dough, roughly the size of a large grapefruit for a 1-pound finished loaf. Adjust according to the size of loaf you want to make. (In the photo above, I used roughly two-thirds of the whole bucket).
  3. Using more flour as needed, gently shape the dough into a ball, pulling the edges gently with your fingers and tucking under to create a tight surface or “gluten cloak”.  This will ensure that your bread will rise evenly in the oven. Watch this video to see what I mean. You can shape the dough into round boules or longer batards. Let rest for 50 minutes on a piece of parchment paper on top of a cookie sheet. (I used this in the absence of a pizza peel).
  4. Twenty minutes before you start baking, preheat your oven to 450 degrees F. I used a pizza stone on the second lowest level in the oven. Also place a cast iron pot on the bottom to preheat. When the dough has rested the full 50 minutes, sprinkle the top with flour and slash several times. Open the oven door and quickly slide the parchment paper with the dough onto the baking stone. Carefully pull out the cast iron pot and pour in a cup of ice cubes, then place back in. This will create the steam which will help the dough maintain enough flexibility to rise properly before crusting over. Bake the bread for 30 minutes or until it reaches an internal temperature of 200 degrees F. Wait a half hour before slicing (if you can!)
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