For physician Jeffrey Hertzberg and baker Zoe Francois, the journey to no-knead bread began innocently enough.
Dr. Hertzberg began telling Ms. Francois about his no-knead, 5-minute mix of flour, salt, yeast and water. Made in large batches, the dough can be refrigerated for weeks and baked one loaf at a time by simply cutting off a piece, letting it rise, shaping and baking.
Trained in traditional methods, Ms. Francois was skeptical, but she saw promise in the chemistry Dr. Hertzberg was selling: a wetter-than-average dough that was easier to handle and simple to work with.
They have recently released their second book on no-knead bread. The book has also been joined on cookbook shelves by tomes from two fellow bread pioneers.
Bread has followed a rocky path in American culture of late. Demonized during the low-carb craze of the 1990s, bread resurfaced as the darling of the artisanal movement. The desire to have those fancy and healthy loaves at home spawned interest in low- and no-knead bread baking methods.
"I think there is a real interest lately in do-it-yourself projects, and bread falls in that," says Karen Bornarth, the head of the bread department at The French Culinary Institute in New York. "Supermarket breads or commercial breads ... are filled with preservatives.
"There are not a lot of bakeries out there. Bakeries are dying. So if (people) want good bread, they have to make it themselves."
Trained at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., Ms. Francois embraced Dr. Hertzberg's method after checking it out herself.
"When I tried it, it really was revolutionary, and was mind-boggling because it went against everything I had been taught," she said. "Everybody had to know about this."
The first book from the pair, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day (Thomas Dunne Books, 2007), was well received and has 200,000 copies in print. They released Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day in October.
Two other no- or low-knead bread bakers put out books in October: Jim Lahey with My Bread (W.W. Norton & Co.) and Peter Reinhart (who pledges ease more than outright no-knead) with Artisan Breads Everyday (Ten Speed Press).
To those counting the minutes, no-knead bread doesn't really take just five minutes.
The reference refers to the time it takes to mix ingredients, not taking into account resting time and baking.
The books all preach the same basic principle: Make it simple.
"The books are accessible to people who have never baked bread," Dr. Hertzberg says. "The key to our books is that if you don't teach people how to store it, they are not going to do it often.
"It's giving people the freedom to create a bread that fits in their diet or the way they eat."
WHOLE-GRAIN GARLIC KNOTS WITH PARSLEY AND OLIVE OIL
Start to finish: 4 hours (30 minutes active)
Makes: 5 to 20 rolls
For the master dough:
5 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour
2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated yeast
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/4 cup vital wheat gluten
4 cups lukewarm water
For the rolls:
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup finely minced fresh parsley
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
1 to 2 tablespoons blended seeds (such as sesame, flax, caraway, raw sunflower, poppy and anise)
In a 5-quart bowl or, preferably, resealable, lidded plastic food container, whisk together both flours, the yeast, salt and vital wheat gluten.
Add water all at once and mix without kneading, using a spoon, a 14-cup food processor (with dough attachment), or a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment. You might need to use wet hands to get last bit of flour to incorporate if not using a machine.
Cover dough loosely with plastic wrap or a cover. Let mixture rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse (or at least flattens on top), about 2 hours.
After rising, refrigerate in lidded (not airtight) container and use in next 14 days. Recipe makes 4 pounds of dough. Each pound makes 5 rolls. To prepare rolls, use 1 pound of dough, refrigerating the rest until desired.
To prepare dough as garlic knots with parsley and olive oil, in large skillet over medium, heat olive oil. Add parsley and garlic, then saute for 4 minutes, or until parsley is soft and mixture is aromatic. Add more olive oil if mixture looks too dry.
Break off 1 pound of dough (returning rest to refrigerator). Dust surface of dough with flour, then divide it into 3-ounce pieces (about the size of small peaches).
Dust each piece with more flour and quickly shape into a ball. To do this, gently stretch surface of top of ball down and under to bottom on all sides, rotating ball quarter-turn as you go.
Elongate each ball into a rope about a little less than a 1/2-inch in diameter, and tie a knot in the center of the rope. Allow to rest for 30 minutes on an olive oil-coated baking sheet, or a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat or parchment paper.
Meanwhile, place a baking stone on the oven's center rack. Place an empty broiler tray on the bottom rack. Heat the oven to 450 degrees.
Drizzle the olive oil, garlic and parsley mixture over the knots. You may have some left over for another batch.
Place the baking sheet on the stone, pour 1 cup of hot tap water into the broiler tray, and quickly close the oven door. Bake for about 20 minutes, until browned and firm. Serve slightly warm.
-- Recipe adapted from Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois' Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day, (St. Martin's Press, 2009)