When Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois came out last fall, it didn’t even make a bleep on my radar screen. I didn’t read any review or go to a bookstore to browse through it or check it out of the library. Everyone was coming out with a no-knead bread book and I just didn’t have the energy to deal with one more.
Then Joanne from Eats Well With Others mentioned in one of her posts a lovely whole-wheat black-pepper dried cherries foccacia from the book and when I asked her about the recipe, she was kind enough to send it to me.
It so happens that almost at the same time, I received the book as a present. We were about to leave for our little camp by the river and I took it with me.
As I had local maple syrup at hand, the first recipe I tried making from the book was a 100% whole grain maple oatmeal bread. Neither of us liked it (a very rare occurrence when bread is concerned) and I felt even less motivated to read on. Then we had friends from France visiting for a week and I decided I would make the black-pepper cherry foccacia for “apéritif” (happy hour) during their stay.
So I mixed the dough (with a minimum amount of yeast) and let it ferment in the fridge for about 5 days. It looked supremely soupy and I had serious doubts about anything good coming out of it.
However the foccacia (which calls for soaking dried cherries, black pepper and shallots in red wine for 30 minutes) turned out to be particularly delicious. The topping is to die for and the dough was surprisingly light with a beautiful cherry wood color. Maybe because I was under the spell of the margaritas our friend had just mixed and poured, I totally forgot to take pictures but trust me! it was one stunning whole wheat foccacia.
I can’t tell you about other recipes in the book as I haven’t really tried any yet (although several look interesting). I was so surprised by the way the 100% whole wheat dough came out, by the fact that my family, including picky grandkids, was gobbling up the resulting pizzas and foccacias as if they were freshly baked baguettes and by how convenient it was to have them on the table in minutes that I have kept a batch of fermenting 100% whole wheat dough in the refrigerator ever since (it can be kept for as long as 7 days).Variations are endless, depending on what you have available. I thus made:
A fresh fennel-Vidalia onion foccacia with black olives and fennel seeds
A prune-hazelnut foccacia (the pitless prunes I had were a tad too dry so I soaked them in red wine for 24 hours. I toasted and peeled the hazelnuts. A few were caramelized and ground).
A potato-roasted red pepper pizza with onion, black olives, Italian sausage, basil and za’atar
A dry berries-crystallized ginger foccacia topped with poppy and pumpkin seeds (which I didn’t remember to photograph after baking)
And just yesterday for the kids’ breakfast a dark chocolate-marshmallow pizza that even the little ones loved
Here is the recipe for the dough.
100% Whole Wheat Dough with Olive Oil from Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day
(makes enough dough for at least four 450g-foccacias or pizzas)
910 g whole wheat flour (I used flour from Moulin de la Rémy)
5 g instant yeast
15 g sel
35 g vital wheat gluten
788 g lukewarm water
105 g olive oil
Method: (my version)
- Whisk together the flour, yeast, salt and gluten in a 5-quart bowl
- Add the liquid ingredients and mix without kneading using a spoon. You might need to use wet hands to get the last bit of flour to incorporate
- Cover (not airtight) and allow the dough to rest at room temperature until it rises and collapses (or flattens on top), approximately 2 hours
- Refrigerate it in a lidded container and use it over the next 7 days
- On baking day, dust the surface of the refrigerated dough with flour and scoop out a 450g (grapefruit size) piece (despite the olive oil, these foccacias do not have a long shelf-life, so it’s best to make them just the size you need) . Dust the piece with more flour and quickly shape it into a ball
- Elongate the ball into a narrow oval (for a foccacia) or flatten it into a circle (for a pizza) and allow it to rest for 30 minutes on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper and dusted with semolina flour (I don’t cover the dough at this stage as it is extremely wet)
- Preheat the oven to 400 F/204 C
- Add the desired toppings to the dough and bake for 30 minutes or so (checking after 15 minutes and turning the bread around if necessary) (because the dough is so wet, I use no steam but the authors do, so maybe their dough is a bit drier)
- Allow to cool on a rack
Now for the healthy claim. Honestly I don’t know. This dough calls for added gluten, so it is obviously not for people suffering from celiac disease or other forms of gluten intolerance. I wouldn’t want to try it without this gluten boost however as it would probably turn out like shoe leather.
But beyond that, how nutritious are whole grains when fermented with commercial yeast? From what I understand from a long exchange on the Bread Bakers’ Guild of America‘s forum and other sources, notably Hubert Chiron’s Les pains français (a major reference for French master bakers) or Andrew Whitley’s Bread Matters, a long levain fermentation generates phytase, an enzyme which prevents the phytic acid naturally present in whole grains to block the absorption of calcium, magnesium and other nutrients by our bodies. Fermentation of whole grains with commercial yeast doesn’t generate phytase and could conceivably lead to nutritional deficiencies if our bodies do not absorb these nutrients from other foods.
But is it the long duration of the levain process which enables the production of phytase or is it the nature of the micro-organisms involved? In other words, does a long fermentation with a minimal amount of commercial yeast (a condition the above dough undoubtedly satisfies) present the same benefit as a long fermentation with wild yeast?
Since I am neither a scientist nor a nutritionist, I don’t know. So I decided not to take a chance, especially since I am feeding a flock of grandchildren who need all the calcium they can get. I mean, what’s the point of feeding them yogurt, cheese, beans and greens if the bread they eat interferes with nutrient absorption? So, with them in mind, I developed this no-knead 100% whole grain pizza dough recipe which uses levain and no commercial yeast.