Raise your hand if you know what a master boule recipe is. Okay, I know this is not what most people think about, but even those who haven’t been to culinary school love and flip for homemade bread. I hadn’t heard about it either, until it completely blew my mind and changed the course of my life about 10 years ago. Well, I might be overstating and/or overselling this recipe quite a bit, but it is a really fun way to make bread and, especially if you keep at it over time, it’s a neat way to create a sourdough starter of your own. After you understand and have been working with the recipe for days or weeks, it takes five minutes a day, but at the beginning it takes quite a bit longer to work out all the kinks and make sure you have all the materials. It might be a good idea to consider this a long-term craft project rather than a regular bread recipe.
Back in 2007, when I had a bunch of spare time even with a full-time job (before I had kids), I read a book published by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois called “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking” (https://www.amazon.com/Artisan-Bread-Five-Minutes-Revolutionizes/dp/0312362919).
To start your initial bread project, you need to make an investment that takes more than five minutes, including in acquiring ingredients and equipment, but it's not too complicated. Mainly, acquire a good plastic container that can hold at least six to eight cups of flour, with room for it to turn into dough, that can fit in the refrigerator, and a pizza or bread-baking stone.
I got the Oneida pizza stone, which was selling in 2007 at Bed, Bath and Beyond for $19.99.
The other things I needed, I already had: flour, water and a broiler pan to create steam during baking. You also need flour, yeast, cornmeal and ideally a pizza peel (a wooden item seen often in pizza stores, to place pizza in and take it out of ovens).
The very basic master boule recipe is as follows: 3 cups of warm water, 1 1/2 packets yeast, 1 tbsp kosher salt and 6 1/2 cups of flour. Dissolve the yeast and salt in the water, then add the flour, mix and let sit for 3-6 hours, then either bake immediately or store in the fridge overnight. The goal is not to wash the container and to immediately place the same amounts of flour, water, salt and yeast in the container again right after you have made the first bread, and place the mixture back in the fridge.
The first time one makes the dough is usually the most “tasteless,” as the idea is that adding to this dough each day is creating a 21st-century, refrigerated version of sourdough. For the first batch (call this your day one batch), the baker is encouraged to add herbs, spices, sugar or salt (pick one, either sugar or salt!), to make either a sweet fall-flavors bread, like with cinnamon, cloves and some sugar, or a savory bread, like with rosemary and sea salt. Make sure you add the spices or add-ins after you remove your dough from the refrigerator, so the general starter will remain a blank canvas for whatever flavors you want to add every time.
The baking instructions are as follows:
- Place the breadstone in the oven and preheat to 450 degrees.
- Place a broiler pan in there too, so it will be ready to take the water to create steam.
- Shape a grapefruit-sized ball of dough out of the refrigerated mixture, and place it, with cornmeal under it, on a cutting board or plate to come to room temperature. This takes about 40 minutes. Not five minutes, 40 minutes.
- Ideally use a pizza peel to place the dough on the breadstone in the oven.
- Add a cup of hot water to the broiler pan and try to very quickly close the oven door to trap the steam.
- Bake at 450 degrees for 30 minutes.
Here’s a full recipe for a savory “day one” loaf:
Master Boule “Day One”
- Using a large container that can fit in the fridge, combine 3 cups warm water mixed with 1 1/2 packages dry yeast, mixed with 1 1/2 tbsp kosher salt.
- Add to that 6 1/2 cups of flour. Mix until incorporated.
- Place mixed but unkneaded contents in a container with a cover, and affix the cover, but not tightly.
- Either leave it in the fridge overnight, or this first time around, just leave it alone for five or six hours.
- Then, take approximately half the mixture and add 2 tsp of chopped dried rosemary, two tsp of chopped dried basil, 2 tsp dried thyme and an additional 1 tsp kosher salt (all flavorings are optional, but this batch especially should have flavors added as there will not be much sourdough development).
- Shape it into a round loaf, by turning the dough underneath itself. No kneading.
- Dust flour all over the top of the loaf, and slash it horizontally with a knife. (It’s best to do this while wearing a beret and speaking with a thick French accent.)
- Brush it with olive oil, sprinkle with kosher salt, some granulated garlic and additional herbs like rosemary, thyme or basil.
- Placed it in a hot 450-degree oven on a breadstone, and bake for approximately 30 minutes.
- If you take it out of the oven and it doesn’t make a hollow knocking noise on the base when you rap it with your knuckles, reduce the temperature to 300 and leave it in the oven an additional 10 minutes.
- Repeat this recipe daily, or whenever you wish, with the dough you have in the fridge, creating as many flavors and varieties as you like. The dough can also be used for focaccia breads, challah and other types of breads just by adding flavorings and shaping the bread differently.
By Elizabeth Kratz