This weekend's The Splendid Table featured Zoe Francois and Jeff Hertzberg, who explained how everyone can enjoy homemade artisan bread in just five minutes a day. Really.
I'm still trying to find five free minutes. Make it "artisan bread in just three minutes a day," and you might have me.
While I wait for their three minute update, I've been playing around with fake bread. Beer bread, that is.
There really is nothing easier. Mix up the flour, pour in a beer. Bake. Eat.
"Ahhh, but you're missing the point. There is nothing easier than bread," you say. Au contraire, my friends. Baking in general and bread in particular can be easy, if you're the type to follow directions. But you're talking to the guy who put Old Bay Seasoning in his chicken noodle soup the other day, just to see what would happen.
Baking is all about precision and attention to detail and following directions. And if I could do that... well, let's just say my military career would have turned out a bit differently.
Cooking is like jazz or mountain biking. You go with the flow, improvise, pick a line and see what happens. Baking is like surgery or carpentry. You need to know the steps, do everything according to the directions, and the results are dictated by science, chemistry, math and engineering.
Beer bread gives you a chance to put a wee bit of jazz into the chemistry mix. The ingredients remain the same: 3 cups flour, 3 teaspoons baking powder, 3 Tablespoons sugar (or honey, agave nectar, or other sweetener), 1.5 teaspoons of salt, and one beer. Mix the dry, add the beer, pour into a greased loaf pan, and bake for an hour at 375º.
But there's room for improvising by picking the beer. Go with a wiessen or wheat beer and you can get clove or banana flavors from the German yeast strains. Lb Brewer's American Wheat, American Hefeweizen, or Flying Bison Rye are all good choices, but only available in western Kansas; so is Breckenridge's Agave Wheat, which is available all over the Front Range and High Prairie. Or go with a heavier beer for a bread with more body. My favorite so far has been Left Hand Brewing Company's Milk Stout, which gave the bread a malty, coffee flavor.
Yeah, I know... beer bread is cheating. Three minutes to mix, an hour to bake, and you're done. You're getting the flavor out of a bottle, not from the chemistry or artisanry. Okay, guilty as charged. So maybe if someone will send me ARTISAN BREAD IN FIVE MINUTES A DAY for my birthday, I'll come around to the other side.