Kid cook: The proof is in the baking

On her blog, local pastry chef Zoë François wrote a post called “Baking bread with four boys.” I have a hard enough time baking bread myself, much less with my kids (and two of their friends). My bread either doesn’t rise or they don’t turn out like the picture-perfect loaves I see on Martha Stewart’s show.

But François says good bread doesn’t have to be difficult or take hours to prepare. She and her colleague Jeff Hertzberg wrote the book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, to teach others their secrets.

Of course, I was skeptical. I have tried more than 20 bread recipes and had mixed results with each one. But now that I’ve tried François and Hertzberg’s master recipe, I think I’m a convert. My kids and I followed the authors’ simple and detailed instructions and made tasty and good-looking bread (the crazy shapes my son made weren’t so attractive, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder).

My kids really liked watching the dough rise and loved the last phase — shaping the dough. As François writes, “Let them use their fingers, rolling pins, cookie cutters, and let their imaginations go wild.” They can shape it into everything from snowflakes to Pokemon characters. And, when they’re finished, they will have as much fun eating the bread as they did baking it!”

Find more fun and tasty recipes under the “kids” category on François’s blog, and explore the rest of her work as well. You won’t be disappointed, unless, of course, you are dieting.

Bridget O’Boyle teaches kids and adults to cook at Cooks of Crocus Hill.

Master Recipe

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day (used with permission)

Makes four 1-pound loaves

3 cups lukewarm water (about 100º F)
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher or other coarse salt
6 1/2 cups all-purpose white flour
Cornmeal for the pizza peel

1. In a 5-quart bowl, mix the yeast, water, and salt. Add all the flour, then use a wooden spoon to mix until all ingredients are uniformly moist. This will produce a loose and very wet dough.

2. Cover with a lid (not airtight). Allow the mixture to rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse, about 2 hours, but no more than 5 hours.

3. After rising, the dough can be baked immediately, or covered (not completely airtight) and refrigerated up to 14 days. The dough will be easier to work with after at least 3 hours refrigeration.

4. On baking day, prepare a pizza peel by sprinkling it liberally with cornmeal. Uncover the dough and sprinkle the surface with flour. Pull up and cut off a 1-pound (grapefruit-size) piece of dough (serrated knives are best). Refrigerate the remaining dough for another time.

5. Hold the mass of dough in your hands and add a little more flour as needed so it won’t stick. Create a smooth ball of dough by gently pulling the sides down around to the bottom, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go. While shaping, most of the dusting flour will fall off. The bottom of the loaf may appear to be a collection of bunched ends, but it will flatten out during resting and baking. Shaping should take no more than 1 minute.

6. Place the dough on the pizza peel. Allow the loaf to rest about 40 minutes. It does not need to be covered and may not rise much.

7. Twenty minutes before baking, place a pizza stone or another baking sheet on the center rack of the oven. Remove any upper racks. Place a broiler pan on a rack below the pizza stone or on the floor of the oven. Preheat oven to 450 F.

8. When the dough has rested for 40 minutes, dust the top liberally with flour, then use a serrated knife to slash a 1/4-inch-deep cross or tic-tac-toe pattern into the top.

9. Slide the loaf off the peel and onto the baking stone. Quickly but carefully pour 1 cup of hot water into the broiler tray and close the oven door.

10. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the crust is nicely browned and firm to the touch. Allow the bread to cool completely, preferably on a wire cooling rack.

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