Fast Recipes Feature: Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François

Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë FrançoisPhysician/home baker Jeff Hertzberg and professional pastry chef Zoë François teamed up to revolutionize the art of bread baking.  Their first two books presented a method that makes artisan bread baking a 5 minute-a-day, 50 cent affair.  With a third book in the making, we interviewed Jeff and Zoë about the phenomenal success of their bread-making method and their upcoming cookbook.

 
For more information, Jeff and Zoë's blog, and upcoming events and book signings, visit www.artisanbreadinfive.com   

Jeff and Zoe, could you tell us about yourselves?

Zoë:  I am a pastry chef and baker trained at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA).  I have been the pastry chef at several of the Twin Cities’ top restaurants.   In addition to teaching baking and pastry classes nationally and consulting to restaurants, I creates artful desserts and shares my experience at www.zoebakes.com .  I live in Minneapolis with my husband and two sons.

Jeff:   I'm an accidental cookbook author.  I was trained as a physician and was in my second career, as a medical director for my own software consulting company, when I met Zoe and we figured out a way to turn a chance opportunity into a fully realized cookbook.

What inspired you to write Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day (2007)?

Jeff:  I'd lamented the disappearance of corner bakeries from my hometown of New York City, and things were at least that bad in Minneapolis when I moved here in 1987.  My wife taught me the traditional method, but as a medical resident, I didn't quite have the time to do it (but I did it anyway).  So I started experimenting with shortcuts that didn't subtract from the flavor.

Zoë:  After meeting Jeff and working with his crazy method of baking bread, I realized that everyone could be baking delicious fresh bread daily. It is that easy, fast and strips away all the intimidation people have about baking with yeast.

How does the method work?

Zoë:  We always joke that the book could have just said..."Dump, stir, shape, rest and bake!" We dump the ingredients in a large food container/bowl, stir it together without kneading, let the dough sit  for 2 hours and then it can be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks. As you want bread, take the dough out, cut off a ball of dough, form the loaf, let it rest and then bake it. There are 200 recipes in our 2 books that are all that easy.

Jeff:  The shortcut that makes the difference is dough storage.  If you make it wet enough, but not so wet that it won't hold a shape without a pan, lean doughs can be stored for up to two weeks, without replenishment.  They'll retain adequate rising power over that period.  Some of the reviews that missed the point of our book thought we get our speed advantage by using lots of yeast, and that's not true--yeast can be radically decreased in our recipes.  What saves the time is that the dough is pre-mixed and ready to go every day, right there in your refrigerator.  So the active time truly is five minutes a day.  

How does your second book, Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day (2009) differ from the first?

Zoë:  After our first book came out we received requests on our website for healthy, whole grain breads made with our fast method. It quickly became clear that we had so much to say about it that we should write a second book.

Jeff: The recipes are based mostly on whole grains, and there's even a chapter on gluten-free breads and pizza, which we're very proud of.  Another chapter takes vegetables and fruit and grinds them right into the dough.  People were asking for even healthier alternatives to typical bread ingredients, so this book was our answer to them.

One needs only to do a simple search on the internet to see the popularity and rave reviews your method and concept have received.  How do you explain the great success of your books?

Zoë:  Our first book came out at a time when people were getting back in their kitchens to do all kinds of cooking and baking. It was also when people realized that carbs belong in a healthy diet.

Jeff:  It really met a need.  People are tired of over-preserved, flavorless commercial bread, but they don't want to spend the big bucks for bread from artisan bakeries.  The ingredients for a one-pound loaf of our bread cost about 40 or 50 cents.  We knew people would bake every day if the dough was ready to go--that's all it took.  Without that, I think people are too busy to bake that often, and it wouldn't have caught on.

Is there a third book in store?

Zoë:  We are busy tossing pizzas and rolling out flatbreads for our next book. Pizzas and Flatbreads in Five Minutes a Day (not sure of title) will be out in the fall of 2011.

Jeff:  Pizzas and flatbreads are the fastest things we do, because you don't need to rest the dough after shaping before it goes into the oven.  So there's even less passive time in the third book-- you can come home and have fresh bread on the table with dinner, on a weeknight.

Where can one purchase your books?

Jeff:  Our books are available in all the national book chains plus all the online sellers (Amazon, Powells, etc.).  If a bricks-and-mortar store is out of the book, they can all order it.

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