Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Artisan Free-Form Loaf (Boule)

I've heard a lot of good things about the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes’ technique from other bread bakers on Twitter and I couldn't wait to try it for myself.  I decided to start with the master artisan free-form loaf.
So far this method lives up to its name. Basically, you make the master dough, let it rise for a couple of hours, then store it in the refrigerator for up to 14 days. When you want to bake bread, just take out the amount of dough needed for a particular recipe, shape it, let it rise and bake it. How easy is that? There are a couple of other steps but you get the gist. 


Edited 8/4/2013: I made this loaf again and adapted the ingredients a little. Basically, I cut the formula in third, used less water and yeast and a little more flour.  I also changed the order of the ingredients. 

I prefer to mix the dry ingredients first, then add in the wet ingredients.  However, if you are using active dry yeast instead of instant yeast, add it to the lukewarm water and then mix it with the flour and salt.

The original version makes four 1-pound loaves.  If you want to make that version, refer to the list of ingredients here.

To make one 1 1/2-pound round freeform loaf, use the following formula.  The directions are basically the same for both versions, but you use all of the dough in my version instead of cutting off part of it and putting the rest back in the refrigerator.
Artisan Free-Form Loaf
Adapted from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois
Makes: One 1 1/2-pound Round Boule


  • 2 1/4 cups (315 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 1/2 tablespoon Kosher salt
  • 1 – 1 1/4 cups (281.25 grams) lukewarm water
  • Cornmeal for dusting pizza peel or parchment paper


First Step: Mixing and Storing the Dough

Measure the flour (with dry-ingredient measuring cups), using the scoop and sweep method. Basically, you just scoop up the flour, then sweep off the top with a knife.
Mix together the flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl.  Add the lukewarm water (about 100 degrees F.)  Use a wooden spoon or a Danish dough whisk to thoroughly mix the ingredients.

I mixed the dough with a wooden spoon, and it worked just fine. However, if the dough becomes to stiff to handle with the spoon, you can reach into your mixing bowl with wet hands and finish mixing the dough, but there’s no need to knead it. Do this until everything is moist and you have a dough that is wet and loose. I mixed everything right in the container which makes it really easy to clean up.

Cover the container with a lid that is not airtight. Allow the dough to rise at room temperature for approximately 2 hours or until it begins to collapse. It may take longer depending on the temperature of the room and the temperature of the water used. You can use a portion of the dough at any time after the rising period. However, it is recommended that you refrigerate the dough overnight or at least 3 hours before shaping a loaf because fully refrigerated wet dough is less sticky and easier to work with that dough at room temperature.

I let the dough rest on the counter for a couple of hours, then placed it in the refrigerator until the next day when I was ready to bake. Then, I took it out and let it warm up to room temperature.

Baking Day: 1st Try

Shaping the Dough

First, you prepare a pizza peel (or the back of a baking sheet) by sprinkling it with cornmeal to prevent your loaf from sticking to it when you slide it into the oven.

At this point, I thought to myself, "I should use parchment paper to make sure the dough doesn't stick." However, I decided to do it the way the recipe suggested so I didn't use parchment paper. That was my first mistake. You'll see why in a minute.

Then, you sprinkle the refrigerated dough with flour and pull up and cut off a grapefruit-sized piece.  Hold the dough in your hands and sprinkle with more flour so it doesn't stick to your hands. Stretch the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating it as you go. When it's correctly shaped, the ball will be smooth and cohesive. This shouldn't take very long.

Place the ball on the pizza peel and allow the loaf to rise for about 40 minutes. No covering is necessary.

Baking the Boule

Twenty minutes before you're ready to bake, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F, with a baking stone placed on the middle rack. Place an empty pan for holding water on the shelf underneath the baking stone.

This is the risen Boule

Dust the top of the loaf and make a 1/4-inch slash using a serrated knife. The book offers a few different patterns to choose from.  I chose the scallop pattern.

Now, this was the tricky part. The instructions say to give a quick forward jerking motion of the wrist, and slide the loaf off the pizza peel and onto the preheated baking stone. Well, all I can say is that I should've gone with my first thought of using parchment paper because this part didn't work too well. The dough just stuck to the pizza peel. Phooey!

Instead of trying to bake a blob and not be happy with it, I decided to just start over again. I put the dough back in the refrigerator to try again the next night. That's the good thing about this method. You can always put the dough back in the refrigerator and try it another day.

Baking Day: 2nd Try

Okay. Let's try this again...

Sprinkle a little flour over the top of the dough and pull off a grapefruit-size ball. Then tightly shape the ball by stretching the surface around to the bottom on all sides.

I placed it on the parchment this time to make sure it would come off in the shape I want it to and not stick to the peel.

Here is the shaped boule doubled in size. It held it's shape pretty well during the proofing.

Now we'll make the slashes. The slashes worked better this time.

It’s ready to bake!

Just slide the shaped and scored loaf (on the parchment paper) onto the preheated baking stone.  Then quickly pour hot water into your steam pan.  Close the oven door immediately to trap the steam.  Bake the bread for about 30 minutes, or until the crust is browned and firm to the touch.

Remove the loaf to a wire rack to cool completely before slicing and serving.



Then slice and enjoy!  Look at those holes. I’m very pleased with this version. It tastes so good!  It’s great warm with butter. You can also make crostini with it.


Happy Baking!

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