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Jeff Houck

The Tampa Tribune’s food writer since 2005, Jeff Houck covers the way people live through their food. He also hosts the Table Conversations food podcast and believes that everything crunchy is good.

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Table Conversations: Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois

Posted Feb 25, 2008 by Jeff Houck

Updated Feb 25, 2008 at 11:18 AM

Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois

I’ll admit it; I love to bake but have never really understood what the big deal about making bread was all about.

Oh, sure. I’m as big a fan as anyone when it comes to the smell and texture. I am very pro-bread. Cuban. Pumpernickel. Rye. You name it.

But it just seemed like a massive amount of work for very little payoff. I did the bread machine thing back in the early ‘90s like everyone else, but came off only eh about it. What fun is it to crank up a machine, yanno?

Then in August, I went to the Association of Food Journalists convention in Minneapolis and learned about the city’s rich history as a wheat and flour mill town. And I got to sit in on a quick breadmaking seminar by legendary bread cookbook author Beatrice Ojakangas, who made it seem almost effortless.

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe FrancoisSo when my friend Jaden suggested I chat with Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois about their book, “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day,” I jumped at the chance. (Especially when I saw the No-Knead Nutella and Roasted Hazelnut Challah she made using their recipes.)

It took a while to coordinate our schedules, but we finally got to chance last week to chat for a Table Conversations podcast.

As they explain during the interview, Jeff, a physician, and Zoe, a pastry chef, met while their respective toddlers were taking a music class in Minneapolis. (I’ll take “Hellish Xylophone Sounds” for $100, Alex.) They struck up a friendship and realized that they both shared a love for breadmaking. Jeff had been experimenting with ways to shorten the method of making bread without all the usual time built into the process. They later collaborated and expanded the basic recipe into a cookbook that is now the No. 1 best-selling bread book on

During the interview, I asked them what recipe, hypothetically, should a male food writer from Tampa with only bread machine experience use to start baking. They suggested their master recipe as a good jumping off point.

So I did. I made a batch of dough on Saturday, refrigerated it overnight and threw it in the oven on Sunday.

The result? See for yourself:

First Loaf, resized

People, can we talk here for a moment?

First, there’s nothing like the smell of bread baking in the oven. Nothing. The sensory overload is so elemental, it goes beyond description.

Second, the crust was all, well, crusty and hard. I split the the loaf for expansion and the heat peeled open nicely, exposing the glutens inside to the heat. The interior of the loaf was so delicious and warm and moist, it was enough to make you cry. I felt insanely blessed to have made an auxilliary backup loaf. It sat on the counter like a golden idol.

So, now, like all things I do in the kitchen, I’m letting the OCD run wild. After baking the original two loaves on Sunday, I got up early today to get the process started on the rest of the dough. I just baked them and it smells like it did on Sunday afternoon. Life is good.

Another sign that this was a great recipe?

I had so much fun baking, it made me want to go out and throw a pork shoulder in the smoker.

Pork Shoulder in the smoker

Bread + smoke + pork = good times.

Again, to listen to the podcast, click here. And go buy the book, people. Anyone who figures out a way to make something this good this easy should be rewarded.

One more thing: This is the best bread scene in cinematic history:

Reader Comments

Por (Mal Carne) on February 26, 2008 (Suggest removal)

Bread that causes spontaneous BBQing? I’ve now nominated you for the title of “Most likely to throw a BBQ on a Wednesday”.

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