Does the thought of making your own homemade bread terrify you? Do you still have a dusty, unused bread machine in your kitchen somewhere with the broken food processor? Fear not—Jeffrey Hertzberg and Zöe François have come up with a bread book containing recipes even the most Neanderthal of bakers can pull off. Filled with instructions for making things like pizza crust, spinach feta bread, and even chocolate-filled brioche, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day uses unique recipes that take the fear out of baking: no kneading, no complicated "starter," simple ingredients. Hertzberg (a physician) and François (a pastry chef and baker at the Culinary Institute of America) took a moment from their busy schedules to chat with City Pages.
City Pages: So, can you tell me a little bit about how you two came about this project, and what made you bread enthusiasts?
Jeffrey Hertzberg: Ive just fooled around with baking as an amateur for about 20 years. But I had no time for it, and so I started to do less and less. I stopped kneading the bread, I stopped making it every day, I stopped freezing it. Then I stumbled into a radio show, and an editor was listening as I described the technique of storing the dough. The editor heard it as a book proposal. Then I met Zöe.
Zöe François: I went to the Culinary Institute of America for pastry, and obviously breads were included in that. And in restaurants I would make the breads. But my real passion was pastry—though I had formal training in breads. Until I met Jeff, most of my passion was the sweet things, which I managed to squeeze into the book.
JH: It really rounded out the book!
CP: Can you talk about what each of you brought to this project of creating a user-friendly bread book? How did you collaborate together?
ZF: Jeff and I met at MacPhail, with our kids, and we started talking about bread and he finally shared his recipe.
JH: I think I made her sign in blood.
ZF: So we started collaborating instantly. We were working on the few recipes that he had, and once we started working on a proposal for the publisher, we started developing new recipes. And it was really a collaboration the whole way through—both in writing and recipes.
JH: It was the most fun project I have ever been involved in.
CP: You both use science in your day-jobs—Jeff obviously as a physician and Zöe as a pastry chef—were you surprised or anticipating that scientific knowledge would help in developing low-maintenance recipes?
JH: Id say yes and no—making bread is sort of an escape from all the numbers and precision. One of the first comical moments was when Zöe saw me doing a recipe without measuring the flour. But once we started getting serious, yeah—keeping records, collecting data, that all sort of fit. But you know, you dont have to be a doctor to do that.
ZF: In fact, the reason we wrote the book—we wanted to strip away all of that. So we really both had to fight against our training and think about whats going to be accessible for the home baker. We didnt want to get into the jargon and making everything precise. When we wrote it, we had to strip away all of what were both inclined to do.
CP: Bread is obviously a staple food, but do either of you ever get a sense that there's an intimidation factor in baking homemade bread?
JH: That's one of the themes of the book—we didn't want anyone to feel like they couldn't do it. A lot of the existing literature on bread makes it sound like you have to be a semi-pro, and this is the opposite of that, we hope.
ZF: I think the traditional methods of making bread are so labor-intensive and so precise. I do think people are intimidated, and if you don't do it right, the bread will be dry, or it won't rise. In traditional bread making, there is a lot to be intimidated about.
CP: What are some common mistakes beginners make? I know that you guys have a Q&A section on your website—do you ever get asked similar questions repeatedly?
JH: No ones emailed disasters yet. We get asked about whole wheat, people want to use whole grains.
ZF: People ask about yeast, and it really doesnt matter—granulated, rapid rise, take yeast. Different grains—people are really into whole grains right now.
CP: Do either of you have a favorite recipe in the book?
ZF: I love the panetonne. I just love all the dried fruits—it has lemon zest and honey, and its really fragrant.
CP: Any breads that make you wax nostalgic?
JH: My favorite is a roasted red pepper fougasse, which is a flatbread from province and it reminds me of a trip I was on with my wife. I cant really tell you that I remember eating it there, but it reminds me of it anyway. Its like the kind of thing we would have eaten there. Also, rye bread it reminds me of my grandmother, who is sort of why I got interested in bread. She thought bread was better than cake.
ZF: I would have to say the bialys. My mothers family comes from Brooklyn and we would go to Brooklyn to visit them and have bialys and knish. My mother is a lunatic for bialys still. That recipe was developed in particular for her. So now she makes them for herself all the time.
CP: Any humorous disaster stories or major revelations you made through trail and error?
JH: Flaxseed! It makes the bread taste like bad salmon.
ZF: The problem wasn't the flaxseed, the problem was that Jeff added like, 98 percent flaxseed.
JH: Unfortunately, I couldn't find a threshold at which anyone could eat it. At 2 percent, it still tasted like fish to me.
ZF: We're going to have to write another book just so we can master that.
CP: Any particularly success youre most proud of?
ZF: Most of the sweet recipes went in that direction. Theyre not necessarily mistakes, but I would just add sugar and butter to everything.
JH: She just started improving.
ZF: Everything in my mind reverts back to pastry. I made sticky buns out of the original recipe.
CP: Jeff, in the book you mention growing up in New York with so many great bread shops in town, yet they began disappearing during the 80s. Any theories as to why this is? Do you think there will ever be a resurgence in small local bread shops?
JH: Theres a resurgence at the high end of the market. The ordinary places--the people that used to shop at those—they started to buy bread from the supermarket. People like my grandmothers generation started to disappear. Inexpensive, great, everyday bread is not available in New York--as far as I can tell. I think the same is kind of true here in Minnesota. Theres the par-baked breads. Depending on how that stores handle it, theyre often not that great.
CP: Bread machine: A waste of an appliance?
ZF: Well, we find that our method is much faster. The bread machine does the kneading, but you have to measure out ingredients each time, and you dont get the crust. You have to work a lot to get a bread Im not completely satisfied with.
JH: The key thing with our method is that you store the dough, not much else is different. The time-saving comes from not having to do the mixing daily. Also, the crust on machines arent that interesting. I have no problems with them, but you dont quite need one.
Come see the authors talk bread, and sample some of their treats this Sunday. Bought the book and have questions? Check out the Q&A section of their interactive website, www.artisanbreadinfive.com.
Sun., Dec. 16, 2 p.m., 2007