Sunday Baking: A Tale of Two Loaves

I like to bake and I bake a lot. I mostly do sweet things but I have made bread, crackers, and Gougères, but mostly only on an occasion. This year I hope to get more into a routine. A goal: not to want to purchase bread or crackers unless there’s a specific reason (e.g. there’s a flat bread from a nearby Iranian bakery that I would buy any day of my life; also German rye is a staple that I just don’t even want to try to make).

Bread is a bit of a PITA because it has multiple phases and you thus have to plan for it. I’m more impulsive with my baking. So, I’m really interested in recipes that either have short end-to-end times or are robust to indifference and neglect.

I’ve had great success with no-knead recipes (except you really do need to plan…8-12 hours lead time minimum up to 24). However you can extend the time by chilling the dough after a bit. This allows for very long, slow rises which produce a more complex and interesting flavor. A book popped up on Scribd, Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day, which systematized this so you basically mix up dough every two weeks and make loaves whenever you feel like it in “5 minutes” (the “master recipe” is available on their website). It requires a bit of set up but I’ve finally gotten around to getting a container suitable for the dough. Time to try it out.

I’ve also been dorking with super short flour to finish recipes. One used your microwave as a proofing box (which was ok but a bit involved) but I tried one for French bread with a bit of kneading, a 20 minute rise and a 20 minute bake which was…alright.

Today, I’m doing a head to head bake off.

One big difference is the 5 minute/day bread is whole wheat while the 1 hour French bread is white. I’ve done it with some whole wheat mixed in, but I really wanted to compare base recipes. The 5 min one also asks you to put a cup of water into the oven to give an initial steaming so I did it for both loaves.

The 5min has some vital wheat gluten to help it out but since its mostly whole wheat that seems fair. I also put some seeds on it, but they were a bit annoying in the oven so I omitted them from the French bread.

The big bit is that after you shape a 5 min loaf you need to rest it for 90(!) minutes! 5 or so minutes of effort but 2hr time to complete, in addition to the prep. The French bread really does take an hour from flour and water.

Results

First things first: They both worked pretty easily. I used the given baking times and had no trouble. I didn’t use a baking stone though I did take each loaf off the lined cookie sheet and finish off on the wire rack.

I baked them one right after the other, using the baking time for the 5 min loaf roughly as the rise time for the French bread. Here’s the loaves all cooled on the spiffy PA cutting board Zoe’s uncle Claude made for us (which I love love love).

They came out really pretty! Now the French bread loaf is way bigger, but that’s just what it is. I may have torn off a slightly smaller hunk than the master recipe called for (1 pound), but the final loaf is .82 pounds so it wasn’t so far off. I didn’t measure the oven spring, but it was dramatic for the French loaf. They both thump well.

I let them both cool fully, though usually I’m burning my fingers and mangling the loaf to get at hot bread with butter which is one of the best things ever. But the 5 min folks want you to let it cool, so I did for this round. Let’s check out the crumb!

Both are quite good the 5min has a much more open crumb (i.e., bigger holes). This is almost certainly due to the long processing time allowing the gluten to fully unravel and align, plus the added gluten.

With regard to flavor, well, the French bread is just at a huge disadvantage…all white and fast rise. But it’s not bad by any means and has a nice springy texture that makes it a good platform for spreads. I think adding flavoring (e.g., onion powder like the recipe suggests) could be smart.

The 5 min bread is just delicious and has the softest crumb of any wheat bread I’ve ever made.

Both breads have reasonable crusts though the 5 min on has a bit more crisp. The steam didn’t do much, so I’ll have to try the dutch oven method at some point.

Both when well with labneh and some olive paste (which I could have dialed down).

Verdict

Both are actually pretty good. Each recipe is easy and results in an at least decent loaf. If you have a stand mixer, the French bread one is pretty trivial to do even while doing other cooking. You could start everything at 6 and be eating by 7. That’s no small thing! You could probably make rolls with this pretty easily.

I’ll have to push on adding whole wheat flour and maybe gluten and maybe letting my mixer run longer on the kneading. I could mix seeds easily into the dough which would be nice and help with the flavor.

I’ll be making the 5 min bread over the next two weeks as I’ve got a mess of it in the fridge. There will be no complaints.

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