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ABi5: Basic Boule with Variations (Herb Bread, Cheddar Cheese Bread, Cranberry Pecan Bread)

So have you been practicing baking bread since my last post about using the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day method? I hope a few of you tried it. I had promised to come back with variations and then got busy with other things. (No wait, I mean...I wanted to give you a chance to practice the basic version first.)

One of the things I love most about this ABi5 method is that it really made me feel free to play with the recipe. The ingredients are relatively inexpensive (compared to paying $3-$6 per loaf at our favorite bakery) and the effort is also low so I don't feel too badly if a batch comes out badly. I can shrug it off and try tweaking the next batch. After getting the hang of the Basic Boule recipe, I started playing a little with it. You can too! They've made it so easy with this method.

slice of rosemary bread

I put the rest behind an LJ-cut because it's long but PLEASE do click through because there are some beautiful loaves at the end and it hurts me to think that you might not see them. Partly because I want to show off. Partly because I think you'll then be inspired to try making this yourself since the steps really aren't difficult! OK...one more sneak peek photo to lure you on to the rest of this post:

tiny photo of boule baked in covered pot

Mix In Other Flavors
First I tried mixing in 1 tsp of herbs and then 1 Tbsp of herbs per loaf. I tried fresh rosemary and dried dill. What other herbs would you try? I also sprinkled shredded cheddar cheese on top of the loaf for the last 10 minutes of baking and that melted nicely.

Herb Bread on the left and Boule topped with Cheddar Cheese on the right
Herb Bread on the left and Boule topped with Cheddar Cheese on the right

Whole Wheat and Light Whole Wheat
I felt a wee bit guilty about eating so much bread that I tried making the Whole Wheat version which turned out into a rather flat loaf. (If you want to use their method for whole wheat bread, get the recipe from their SECOND book, NOT the first!) So I scaled back and just substituted one cup of whole wheat flour for one of the cups of all-purpose flour. Later when I was flipping through their book, I realized I had stumbled upon their recipe for Light Whole Wheat Bread with that 1 cup of whole wheat flour.

Using Less Yeast and Building More Flavor
But I was still also trying recipes for making bread in other ways and felt that those loaves tasted better -- although they also required more time and effort. I stumbled across this post talking about using less yeast and tried that. It takes longer but that extra time is spent just waiting, not actively working with the dough, so it's not too big a deal. Using less yeast means the dough rises more slowly. This slow rise seemed to build better flavor. The less yeast you used, the more time you had to let it rise before you put the dough away in the fridge. You also needed to let the formed loaf sit longer on the counter for its second rise before going into the oven. I tried the original amount of yeast (1 1/2 Tbsp), half as much yeast (3/4 Tbsp), and once with just 1/2 tsp yeast. Decided the middle amount of yeast yielded the best bang for my buck. The really low yeast version meant I had to remember to take the dough out of the fridge at least 2.5 hours before I wanted to eat it! Also note that if the water you use is cold or the room is chillier, you'll also want to let your dough rise longer.
Yeast First Rise Second Rise
Original 1 1/2 Tbsp ~2 hours ~40 minutes
Low Yeast 3/4 Tbsp ~4-5 hours 1 hour
Lowest Yeast 1/2 tsp ~6-12 hours 2 hours

Rolling In Other Ingredients
Originally, for mixing in other flavors, I had just kneaded in the added herbs or sprinkled stuff on top. But then I saw a reference to how to roll in other ingredients to get them more evenly distributed throughout the dough. And I thought, if cheese tastes good on top of the loaf, I bet it tastes even better when it's in every bite! So I stretched and patted the dough out into a sheet, sprinkled some shredded cheese on top, then rolled it up jelly-roll style. Then pulled that into a little ball shape and set it aside to rest. So good! Plus the extra fat from the cheese seemed to help the bread stay fresh a little longer. The cheddar cheese loaves didn't go stale nearly as quickly as the plain boules did. I repeated this technique with other loaves mixing in raisins as well as chopped and toasted nuts. They have a video on their website that shows how to roll in other ingredients.

two photos showing you how to roll ingredients into the loaf
How to roll more ingredients into your loaf
Cheddar Cheese Bread is the current household favorite. Plenty of flavor for not much effort.

Baking In a Covered Pot (or How to Get a Fabulous Crust)
Another point of dissatisfaction had been that the crust was ok but nothing special. The ABi5 forums have lots of great information in them and this post yielded the piece of advice that let me turn out loaves that looked gorgeous. Remember when Bittman wrote in the NY Times about Jim Lahey's No-Knead Bread? Seemed like everyone was baking that bread! I bought my enameled cast-iron Dutch oven just so I could bake that bread (though I didn't actually get around to trying it because I stumbled across ABi5 first). Using this method means you also don't need the baking stone and pizza peel they suggest you use in the original recipe. But the biggest advantage is that placing this relatively high-moisture dough into a covered post means all that moisture stays close to your bread, creating this nice steamy chamber. The result was a beautifully crisp crust. I use a big 6-quart pot because it's the size that I have but the bigger size is also nice since I don't have to worry about my hands touching the hot sides of the pot when I put the dough in. The other change is that the formed dough has its second rise on a piece of parchment paper so you can just pick up the whole thing and drop it into the pot. Picking it up by the parchment paper has the added bonus of the loaf not sticking to the counter such that I deflate a lot of the air bubbles trying to pick it up. And while the parchment paper browns, it doesn't burn. Bake 15 minutes at 500F with the lid on. Then lower the temp to 450F and bake uncovered for another 10-15 minutes while the crust browns. Total time depends on the size of your loaf. Bigger loaves will need more time.

Boule with Variations

This mixes up enough dough for about 4 loaves of bread. (also, you might want to refer to my last post for more details about this method)

3 cups lukewarm water
3/4 Tablespoons granulated yeast (1-1/2 packets)(2 1/4 tsp) (used less yeast)
1-1/2 tablespoons kosher or other coarse salt
5-1/2 cups unsifted, unbleached, all-purpose white flour
1 cup whole wheat flour (If I've run out of WW flour then I just use a total of 6.5 cups all-purpose flour)

Optional Variations Ingredients:
1 tsp to 1 Tbsp fresh or dried herbs
1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese (if just sprinkling on top)
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (if including it inside the bread)
1/2 cup to 1 cup raisins and/or toasted+chopped nuts (pecans are my favorite)

Other Equipment:
enameled cast-iron covered pot (Dutch Oven) [might need to replace knob on lid if it's plastic]
parchment paper


Prep work:
Mix all the ingredients for the dough together in a big 5-quart plastic bowl or a container. Cover loosely with plastic wrap or with a lid and then let rise for 4 to 5 hours. Mine has generally been done by 4 hours. You'll know it's ready when you see that the level of the dough in the container has reached a peak and is now oozing back down. After this first rise, put your dough in its loosely-covered container into the fridge. I find the dough much easier to work with after it has chilled for a day but you could continue right on to the next step if you really wanted.

Baking Day:

  1. Dust your hands and the surface of the dough with flour. Grab a hunk of dough big enough to form a ball about the size of a grapefruit (roughly one-fourth of the original batch). Put the rest of the dough back in the fridge for the next time you want to make bread.

  2. Pick a flavor variation and prep the dough accordingly. Don't forget to sprinkle flour on your work surface too if you're planning to work the dough much. The dough is a bit sticky. So mix in some herbs if you wanted to make herb bread. Stretch it out into a sheet and sprinkle in cheese, raisins, and/or nuts and roll it up jelly-roll style if you want Cheddar Cheese Bread or Raisin Pecan Bread.

  3. Form your dough into a ball and then place it on a piece of parchment paper to rest about an hour.

  4. About half an hour before you bake, turn your oven on to pre-heat to 500F. Put your cast-iron pot in there too.

  5. Just before baking, sprinkle flour on top of shaped dough, slash the dough about 1/4-inch deep with a serrated knife, and then carefully lift the parchment paper and dough to put it into the pot.

  6. Bake covered at 500F for 15 minutes.

  7. Remove lid, bake at 450F and bake another 15-20 minutes. (I've been doing 10-15 minutes since we tend to make slightly smaller loaves for just 2 people) This is also when I sprinkle some more cheddar cheese on top if I wanted to melt some on top.

  8. Once done, remove bread from parchment paper and let cool on a wire rack.

  9. Congratulate yourself on bringing homemade bread into your life.

See how versatile this basic recipe is? See how beautiful this bread is?

Basic Boule Baked in a Covered Pot
Basic Boule Baked in a Covered Pot

Cranberry Pecan Bread Baked in a Covered Pot
Cranberry Pecan Bread Baked in a Covered Pot

a slice of cranberry pecan bread so you can see inside
a slice of cranberry pecan bread so you can see inside

Thread in cooking: http://community.livejournal.com/cooking/8936871.html
Thread in food_porn: http://community.livejournal.com/food_porn/6116736.html
Worked for zoethe!: http://zoethe.livejournal.com/793185.html

tasty lookin! i shall try this!

Cool...let me know what you think of it if you do :)

I still haven't tried this, but I have been thinking about it every time I buy bread at the store, ever since your initial post!

I was able to get to a point of making bread I thought was as good as the stuff I got at the grocery store pretty quickly. Nowhere near as good as at my favorite bakery but I'll be lucky to ever come close to his bread.

That is some tasty looking bread.

I used to bake bread for a living. :D

I'm jealous. I'd love to get some proper guidance on how to make bread.

I've found using a hunk of saved dough from the last batch really helps flavor wise I much prefer Saf-Instant yeast over the stuff in a supermarket http://search.kingarthurflour.com/search.jsp?N=0&rt=p&Ntt=saf+instant&x=0&y=0

That's what I use, and so much cheaper than Fleishmann's or whatever--the local Winco carries a pound of SAF Red for under four dollars.

That looks amazing! I shall try that at the weekend. (I'll also offer odds that mine will look nothing like that. I am a great cook but my baking is cursed)

If you go back to the first post, you'll see a few photos of loaves that did not come out well. But this is such a low investment of time and money that I didn't mind the screwed-up loaves. Let me know what you think of it!


Damn, now I'm dying for bread.

Now you have all the instructions you need for making some!

Actually, there's a flatbread recipe/method you had posted a long time ago that I've been meaning to try but never got around to trying. You could always make some of that :)

This makes me want to make some bread.

Quick question. Step 1 (after the fridge) says you take 1/4 of the dough. I might be having reading comprehention problems here. Do you incorporate the rest of the dough eventually? Or save it for another loaf later?

Yup. So the full batch is enough for about 4 loaves. I'll edit and say that more clearly.

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Thanks! You bake bread too? What haven't you cooked? :)

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The staff of life, indeed.

The ingredients are relatively inexpensive (compared to paying $3-$6 per loaf at our favorite bakery)


I just ran the numbers for our favorite daily loaf (French Short Bastards, pain batarde, a long loaf I slash on the top). One pound flour*: thirty-two cents. Water, pretty much free. Salt: one-half cent's worth (teaspoon and a half if you're counting). SAF Red Instant Yeast: two and a half teaspoons, or about five cents' worth at the price I buy it at. That's thirty-eight cents for TWO batarde loaves.

Later when I was flipping through their book, I realized I had stumbled upon their recipe for Light Whole Wheat Bread with that 1 cup of whole wheat flour.

Indeed. Apparently (from my Big Book of Breads), the sharp bran in whole wheat actually cuts the gluten strands and prevents a high rise when you use it in any quantity. You can, however, sub up to one-third the flour without too disastrous an effect. I've added a cup of rye, too, as I adore the nutty flavor of toasted rye.

The cheddar cheese loaves didn't go bad nearly as quickly as the plain boules did.

Um. "go bad"? please clarify. If you mean stale, yes, the plain flour-and-water French loaf does stale quickly. This just leads us on to such delights as homemade croutons, classic french toast, stratas, etc. And you're right, fat added to a loaf helps it NOT stale quickly. (Why egg bread lasts such a delectably long time.)

*We get flour by the 25-pound sack at eight dollars a sack. So far we are buying flour every other month.

Re: The staff of life, indeed.

Whoa...where do you store that much flour? I only keep about 5-10 pounds on hand at a time. And yes...I meant go stale; I'll fix that. I don't think any of our bread has grown moldy on us yet.

When you add the rye, do you add it in place of some of the flour? Or in addition to the flour?

That explanation of the sharp bran makes sense, thanks.

Have you posted your French Short Bastards recipe before? Is it easy to make if you're making it daily?

That looks awesome! I love bread and I really, really need to try this. I can just imagine how wonderful it smells while it is baking too. Perhaps if I don't go seal hunting on Sunday. :)

Yay! Hope you like it. I prefer mixing up the dough one day and then baking on a different day. Mostly to give the dough time to chill (though the book says 3 hours in the fridge is enough to chill it).

Before I figured out to cook it in the covered pot, I used to pop the bread in the oven, duck out for a quick 2-mile run, and come back to the smell of fresh bread. Very good incentive to run faster so that I could get back in time before the bread burned :)

Must... make... herb/cheese bread... I love herb/cheese bread so , so much but most bakeries charge insanely for it. I'm good at pizza bases, so maybe I'll be okay at bread too!

Sounds like a good bet that you'll be good at bread if you're already making your own pizza dough. Got a favorite recipe for pizza dough?

Those are gorgeous loaves!
When I get a new oven (mine is dying slowly and I'm holding out until we can remodel the kitchen...it may not last that long, though) I'll get back into bread creation. I love the thought of fresh-baked raisin bread right now.

Thank you! I'm loving how often we get to eat fresh-baked bread now. My half-dead kitchen appliance is our microwave. It's driving me a little batty really. Need to replace it.

Hungry enough to try baking some bread? :)

Those loaves look so wonderful! Makes me want to try. Maybe next month when I'll have more time!...In yesterday's paper I found easy sounding recipe for Farmhouse Apple Cake which I may try today, if I don't get hung up again in this business of trying to shave weight off my backpack contents for Snow Camp this weekend.

Thanks. I'm really bummed there's still snow now but I hope that makes
for a good camping trip for you :-)