Five minutes to healthy bread

Zoë François and Jeff Hertzberg revisit their 2009 book on baking with whole grains

Zoë François and Jeff Hertzberg. Submitted photo

It wasn’t long after Zoë François and Jeff Hertzberg released their groundbreaking 2007 cookbook, “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day,” that the reader questions started rolling in to their website,

“We were basically among the first cookbook authors who would answer questions about the recipes (online). If people couldn’t get them to work, we’d tell them what they got wrong,” Hertzberg explained. “One of the things that came up over and over again in the first book feedback was (the question), Hey, can I use whole wheat flour instead of white?”

The short answer is, yes, it is possible to produce delicious whole-grain loaves using François and Hertzberg’s laborsaving bread-making techniques. The much longer answer filled their 2009 bestseller, “Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day,” which was just released in an updated and revised second edition Nov. 1.

“The genesis of this book was people asked for it. They wanted whole wheat,” Hertzberg said during a phone conversation in early November. He and François (who both live in Southwest Minneapolis) were just returned from a book tour for “The New Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day” that serendipitously had brought them to Chicago on the day of the Cubs’ curse-crushing World Series win.

Hertzberg is not much of a sports fan (although he described that night in Chicago as “probably the most fun sports experience” of his life). But he knows baking and, after selling approximately 715,000 cookbooks, has a bit of insight into the mind of the home baker. One lesson: “People talk about whole grains, but they tend to eat white.”

(As evidence, Hertzberg points out that “Artisan Bread,” with its mostly white-flour recipes, has outsold “Healthy Bread” by something like a three-to-one margin.)

“Our idea, from a health standpoint, in writing this book, was to give people total control of the ingredients,” he said. “Once they have control of the ingredients, they have a shot at eating more whole grain.”

Baking with whole grains requires a couple of adjustments, Hertzberg explained. One is that whole grains tend to absorb more water, so the recipes require additional moisture. Just how much moisture varies — not just between different types of whole grain flours, but from brand to brand, so “The New Healthy Bread” includes detailed tables that cover some of the common supermarket flours.

Whole grains also tend to produce a denser loaf, Hertzberg added, “because the bran and the germ interrupt the gluten structure, which is what gives you that very light rise.”

Hertzberg and François counteracted that effect by adding vital wheat gluten to many of their whole-grain recipes for “Healthy Bread.” Gluten’s reputation has taken a beating — fairly or not — since that book was published in 2009, so “The New Healthy Bread” includes instructions for working either with or without it.

Other updates in “The New Healthy Bread” include weight equivalents for every recipe so home bakers can use a digital scale instead of fussing with measurements. There are also instructions for using homemade sourdough starter as a leavening agent.

In the new edition, François and Hertzberg take stock of the new ingredients home cooks are encountering in their grocery stores and co-ops: so-called “ancient grains” such as khorasan wheat (sold under the brand name Kamut) and an ever-expanding variety of cooking oils. Butter and vegetable oil were traditionally used to add moisture to whole-grain loaves, but flaxseed, avocado and coconut oils work great, too, Hertzberg said.

Hertzberg said his day-to-day loaf is 100-percent whole grain with some rye flour added for flavor. He opts not to use the vital wheat gluten most of the time.

“I like it dense,” he said.

So far, he and François have applied their five-minutes-a-day technique to artisan breads, healthy whole grain loaves, gluten-free breads and pizzas and flatbreads. Up next, Hertzberg said, is a book on richer, sweeter breads like brioche, a specialty of François’, who has worked as a pastry chef at several Twin Cities restaurants, including Steven Brown’s Tilia in Linden Hills.

After that?

Hertzberg said he wasn’t sure there was any more territory left for the pair to cover in the world of five-minutes-a-day breads. Then again, he quickly added: “That’s what I said two books ago.”


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Master Recipe: A Whole Grain Artisan Free-Form Loaf


From New Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day

By Jeff Hertzberg M.D. and Zoë François

Thomas Dunn Books, 2016


Prep time: 15 minutes to prepare enough dough for 4 loaves, to be baked on 4 different days. Loaves average 5 minutes of active preparation time (can double or halve recipe).


5 ¾ cups (750g) whole wheat flour

2 cups (300g) unbleached all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon (10g) granulated yeast (or 2 packets)

1 tablespoon (15g) coarse kosher salt

¼ cup (40g) vital wheat gluten

4 cups (910g) lukewarm water (about 100 degrees F)

Cornmeal or parchment paper for the pizza peel

1 to 2 tablespoons of whole seed mixture for sprinkling: sesame, flaxseed, caraway, raw sunflower, poppy, and anise

  1. Measure in dry ingredients: In a 5-quart bowl or lidded plastic food-grade bucket, whisk together the flours, yeast, salt, and vital wheat gluten.
  2. Add the water all at once and mix without kneading using a wooden spoon, until all ingredients are uniformly moist, producing a loose and very wet dough.
  3. Rising: Cover with a lid (not airtight). Allow the mixture to rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse, about 2 hours. DO NOT PUNCH DOWN! After rising, the dough can be baked immediately, or covered (not 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 with cornmeal. Sprinkle the dough with flour and cut off a 1-pound (grapefruit-size) piece of dough. Gently stretch the surface of the dough around to the bottom to form a ball.
  5. Elongate the ball, stretch gently, and taper the ends by rolling between your palms.
  6. Allow to rest, loosely covered with plastic wrap, on the prepared pizza peel for 90 minutes (40 minutes if you’re using fresh, un-refrigerated dough).
  7. Preheat oven to 450°F, with baking stone on middle rack. Place empty broiler tray for holding water on any other shelf.
  8. Using a pastry brush, paint the top crust with water. Sprinkle with seed mixture and slash with ½ -inch deep parallel cuts across the loaf, using a serrated bread knife.
  9. Bake it: Slide the loaf off the peel and onto the baking stone (if you used parchment, it slides right along with the loaf into the oven). Quickly and carefully pour 1 cup of hot water into the broiler tray and close the oven door. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the crust is richly browned and firm to the touch.

Recipe copyright Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François, 2016, and used by permission.