Take Five: The Secret to Lightning-Fast Bread
Posted: Sunday, January 1, 2012
It's somehow fitting that Jeff Hertzberg arrives to our interview carrying a guitar, because it's music that brought him and his cookbook-writing partner, Zoë Francois, together. They met at the local McPhail School for Music where their children were studying (and it's Jeff's daughter's guitar he's protecting from the humid weather outside today). When they met, the idea for their first book had occurred to Jeff, a physician and faculty member at the University of Minnesota Division of Health Informatics, but it wasn't until he learned Zoë was a trained pastry chef that this avid — albeit amateur — bread baker found someone on which to try out the "secret" he'd discovered years before. When he shared it with Zoë, however, she was loathe to try it out. "I was sure it wouldn't work," she says, "and I was terrified to have to tell him." Fortunately for Jeff, and the 434,000 (and counting) readers who have taken to their now-published method, she was wrong. "Not only did it work, it was delicious. I couldn't believe it."
In 2000, Jeff received an initial book offer out of the blue. He'd called in to Lynn Rosetto Kasper's National Public Radio program, The Splendid Tableto explain his "secret" bread-making technique. A book editor, who just happened to be listening, called in and asked him for a proposal on-air.
"It was years before I wrote it," he says. The wet, no-knead dough is an old Italian trick, admits Jeff, and had been written about before (notably by Christopher Kimball and in the popular 1999 book, No Need to Knead by Suzanne Dunaway). "But the idea that this dough could be stored over a long period of time was our unique contribution," Jeff says. It was this leap into a truly modern baking era that has allowed home bakers to create delicious bread in less time than it takes to heat the oven.
That first book, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, became a phenomenon when it was first published in 2007 and gained Jeff and Zoë national notoriety and media bookings from coast to coast. Readers – engaged with the authors through their website, www.artisanbreadin5.com, and on Twitter – were the inspiration for their second book, Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day (2009), and the very, very just published Artisan Pizza and Flatbread in Five Minutes a Day. Excited about the first book, Jeff and Zoë's fans clamored for more whole grains, more pizza and of course, gluten-free options. The gluten-free chapter in Healthy Bread, while incredibly popular, presented a test for Zoë. "It was the most stressful chapter in the book. It needed to be as easy and as quick as the others. Getting there was a challenge." Recognizing that gluten-free dieters often get the short end of the stick when it comes to flavor, the authors knew the recipes also needed to taste good. In the end, unsuspecting testers have even claimed to like some of the gluten-free recipes best.
Aside from their readers, Jeff and Zoë find continued inspiration for new recipes everywhere. Friends, travel, random trips to the market or even childhood memories can spark ideas for new bread recipes. Once, Zoë even created a recipe to meet their photographers need for a specific color for a photograph (the result was Curried Sweet Potato, Lentil and Arugula Pizza, by the way). The two encourage their readers to improvise as well.
"Our bread technique is way more improvisational than people think bread should be. It can actually be more difficult to create 'quick' bread," says Zoë. "People have this idea that baking bread is very time consuming and fussy. If we have changed people’s minds in that way, we’ve succeeded."
Minneapolis residents Jeff and Zoë shop regularly at Kowalski’s Uptown Market. You can find all three Bread in Five books in select Kowalski's Markets.
Photo courtesy of Mark Luinenberg.
Q&A with Jeff and Zoë
Rachael: Aside from one of yours, what is your favorite cookbook?
Jeff: New York Cookbook by Molly O'Neill, followed closely by The Yellow Farmhouse Cookbook by Christopher Kimball.
Zoë: Anything by Dorie Greenspan.
Rachael: What is your favorite thing to eat on bread?
Zoë: Butter. Really good butter.
Jeff: Oh, yeah! Butter! Cheese, then butter.
Rachael: Your favorite thing to eat other than bread?
Rachael: Of course, Zoë! What else do you two like to cook?
Jeff: Anything with fennel, and I mean roasted, raw in salads, or just the seeds. I love regional Mexican, Italian, and French food – so I start with that, and then I enjoy figuring out a way to accommodate vegetarians and meat-eaters with the same basic palette of recipes (my family's a mixed audience). Master a technique and then it's variation, variation, variation.
Zoë: I am a pastry chef, so I am constantly baking everything from cookies to wedding cakes. My website ZoeBakes.com is my sweets playground.
Rachael: What's your favorite thing to do outside the kitchen?
Jeff: Play the cello!
Zoë: I love to do pottery; it is like meditation.
Rachael: If you two weren’t doing this, you'd be doing what?
Jeff: Well, probably more medical director work. But I wouldn't trade this for anything – food is the ultimate pastime for connecting with other people. There's nothing like it.
Zoë: I'd be a travel writer. I'd write about eating all over the world.
Rachael: I love asking about this. Tell me about your worst recipe disaster.
Jeff: First time making pizza for company, I ignored my own rule (finish with toppings quickly after stretching the dough). When I went to slide the pizza off the peel into the oven, the dough stayed put and most of the toppings went to the back of the (very hot) oven. I tried to salvage it by scraping the scorched cheese and mushrooms back on...you can guess how that went.
Zoë: Yeah, that is pretty bad. Not sure I can top Jeff's answer.
Rachael: Who can? Which chef or cook do you most admire?
Jeff: I really love eating whatever Tim McKee is cooking. I love that his food is about as good as anything I've eaten anywhere in the world, and Tim is totally home-grown. Any day I have a table at La Belle Vie or Sea Change, I am happy.
Zoë: Locally my favorite chef is Steven Brown from Tilia. His food is such an expression of who he is; artistic, a touch eccentric and soulful. Eating his delicious food always makes me happy.
Rachael: I have to agree with Jeff on this one. I think of La Belle Vie as a 3-hour vacation. And the chef or cook you’d most like to have dinner with?
Jeff: James Beard, author of Beard on Bread. He got all the recipes to fit on 2 page-sides, which wasn't so standard in 1973.
Zoë: I would have loved to make dinner with Julia Child and finish the meal with oeufs a la neige. I watched her make it on TV when I was a kid and it changed my world; I was completely smitten with dessert at that moment.