Is there any better smell than freshly baked bread? Truly? It is a smell that both warms and comforts — a smell that makes a house feel like a home. With the smell comes the task of making and baking the bread. The next question most people ask themselves: is there a task more daunting than baking bread? A skill that would seem to most people to have belonged to another generation, it has become something that many home cooks avoid doing because it seems too difficult or easy to “get wrong.” This is where the Bread in 5 books (there are 7 of them!) by Zoe Francois and Jeff Hertzberg, M.D. come in. In their newest one, Holiday and Celebration Bread in 5 Minutes a Day, their no-knead technique has been expanded to include special occasion breads and baked goods.
What is the secret? It’s all in the technique! Out of all the different kinds of bread I tried from this book the one constant is the mixing of the dough. You put the ingredients into a container, mix, let it sit for a couple of hours, and then refrigerate for a few hours before you bake anything. It doesn’t even matter how you mix the ingredients but what I will tell you that if you try the Armstrong Method (using your strong arms to mix) that it will be more work than if you use a stand mixer with a paddle attachment. I can tell you from experience when I mixed my first dough recipe for the Saint Lucia Saffron Buns using a Danish dough whisk, I found it tough to get all the little bits of flour to really mix into the wet ingredients. While they suggest using your hands to press (not knead!) the ingredients together if this is the case, I found that I really wanted less mess and fuss. For the rest of the recipes I tried I used my stand mixer and found that it was more efficient at getting a uniform dough in a short period of time, and no messy hands either!
With this no-knead, moist refrigerated dough anything is possible! Aside from the technique your kitchen equipment becomes very crucial in your success. The whole endeavour is a little like owning a Gremlin — just a couple of unbreakable rules and you’re great! I would say that the unbreakable rule here is precision measuring. Using a scale is extremely important if you want to be an exacting baker (it also aids in the clean up because you have less to wash). All the dough recipes are easy to double or half and
I found that I was halving most of the recipes I tried because I wanted to try several recipes and I didn’t want to end up with too much. Since exact dough amounts needed for any given recipe are provided you know if you make one White Bread Master recipe, you’ll have 4 pounds of dough which could be a Pullman Sandwich Loaf (recipe calls for 2 1/2 lbs of dough) and Simit (1 1/2 lbs dough). Using my digital scale to measure out the dough for each recipe I found there was exactly 4 lbs of dough. This kind of precision is especially reassuring for a novice baker.
To make some of these recipes you may need to invest in some specialty pans. Some of the recipes I tried required very specific items — a Pullman loaf pan, Kugelhopf pan, a brioche pan, and a baking steel (or baking stone). I was fortunate to already own these items, I recommend investing in specialty bakeware because it really enhances the final product. Also, for items like the Pullman pan or the baking steel you’ll use these often. The third chapter is a practical guide to the kinds of equipment you might need. I found that the 6qt container I purchased from a restaurant wholesale store was perfect for dough storage.
The book is divided into 17 chapters: Introduction, Ingredients, Equipment, Tips & Techniques, The Master Recipe, The Basics, Small Loaves, Rolls, & Buns, Flatbreads, Challah & Babka, Gooey, Sticky Goodness, Doughnuts, Christmas Breads, Easter Breads, Celebration & Brunch Breads, Fancy Stale Bread, Flaky Dough, and, finally, Quick Jams & Fillings. They’ve thought of it all (and then some)! While the technique is very, very, very easy you need to also take into account the inactive time. After you mix the dough there is a two-hour rest period followed by some time in the fridge for the dough to chill. Then after you shape the bread, there is another 20 to 90-minute rest period not to mention the time needed to bake the bread. This being said, you’ll need to plan ahead.
While this is not a gluten-free (one of their earlier titles is dedicated to gluten free bread baking) or vegan cookbook they do offer information regarding dairy substitutes. There are a few recipes — the White Bread Master being one — that are vegan-suitable. However, most recipes do require ingredients such as eggs which are used in an irreplaceable way. Meaning I’m not sure I’d recommend experimenting with the recipes and expect the same results.
The fact that there are lots of pictures — both in the book and on their website, Bread in 5, really set the home cook up for success. There’s even the added benefit of YouTube videos. When looking to shape the Brioche a Tete I watched their how-to. I can honestly report that of the 9 recipes I tried I had a 100% success rate and rave reviews from my family. I’ve baked bread before, yes, but I would still consider myself a novice that has a little knowledge. They end the preface with: We want you to have fun baking, too. If you worry about the bread, it won’t taste as good. Happy Holidays, or just Tuesday! The critical takeaway here is that the process is simple, so don’t overthink. At times I found myself fretting about whether I was “doing it right” but kept reminding myself to relax and go with it. It was fun to see all the different breads I baked being enjoyed by my family over the holidays!
With easy-to-source ingredients and their very simple method I believe that anyone can be a baker and achieve astounding results! So simple you can totally include your kids in helping to make the recipes. This is one book that will sit at the top of my “most favourite cookbook” list because it’s so versatile and with such a high rate of success. If you want to keep tabs on what I’m baking from Holiday and Celebration Breads in 5 minutes a Day follow my custom hashtag #eatworthyholidaycelebrationbread or my dedicated Facebook post.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank St. Martin’s Press and Raincoast Books for providing me with a free, review copy of this book. I did not receive monetary compensation for my post, and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.