Zoe Francois

Posted in Culinary Arts on May 07, 2010


With 5 spare minutes, you can:
- De-hair your brush
- Take a really quick, but useless, nap

artisan bread book

my boule liked like the one on the cover!

I found it hard to believe that I could successfully make the boule from Zoe Francois and Jeff Hertzberg’s Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day, but successful (and fast!) it was. Actually, the fast part is the mixing of the dough…you still need to let it rise for a few hours, but you could be half-way across town while it’s doing its business – no punching down or kneading required.

By the way, you’ll see in the short video below that Zoe and Jeff use a pizza peel and baking stone to bake the bread, but I used what I had at home – a thick cookie sheet – and my bread still had a nice crust. And do put that pre-heated empty pan in the oven so it gets hot when you dump the water into it…it steams the bread properly.

When I pulled my crusty, artisanal boule out of the oven I felt like a world-class baker. Seriously, it looked like the one on the book cover. It was delicious, never mind the incredible smell in the house. With Jeff’s science background and Zoe’s culinary background (a pastry chef and baker trained at the Culinary Institute of America), the two have developed a nearly fool-proof, simple way to bake your own bread.

Read in the q&a their “once-in-a-lifetime” story about how they got their first book published. The popularity of that book led to their 2nd book, Healthy Bread in 5 Minutes a Day, and now a third book is in the works (Zoe reveals the topic below.)

I thanked Zoe for making bread-making such a rewarding process. Honestly, the next time you’re feeling down, bake a bread…it will remind that you are excellent at something! Truly, if you have salt, flour, yeast and water you can do this boule and so many more gorgeous breads. You can delve into more videos and recipes at Zoe/Jeff’s website or at Zoe’s own website,


like food? check out Top Chef’s Stephanie Izard’s q&a.

I know you and your Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day co-author Jeff met at your children’s music class, but your book mentions something about a phone call into Lynn Rosetto Kasper’s radio show (“The Splendid Table”) that really helped you two on the road to success. Can you explain more about that?


zoe francois and jeff hertzberg

Jeff called into “The Splendid Table” to ask advice on how to get a cookbook published. Lynn gave him fabulous suggestions about getting an agent, establishing a career as a food writer in local papers, writing a proposal and much more. Jeff may have given the impression that the book was mostly written, despite only having a couple of recipes worked out. But the concept was so intriguing that an editor from NYC, who happened to be listening to the show, called Lynn and asked to get in touch with Jeff. She wanted to publish the book! That woman was Ruth Cavin from St. Martin’s Press and she continues to be our editor all these years later for book #3. (Zoe and Jeff’s 3rd book will be about pizza and flatbreads, due out in September 2011. Zoe will be traveling to Turkey, Greece and Italy to do research…Zoe has a good job.)

The method in your books seems to be a no-kneading method. Is kneading bread a myth or are there times when we should knead dough?

We don’t knead our dough, but we didn’t make that part up. People have been doing that for a long time. What is different about our method is we mix up a big batch of dough, enough for 4-5 loaves and then store it in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. As you want a loaf, just pull a piece off, form it and bake it. Kneading helps to create the gluten in the dough, which gives the loaf a nice stretch, chew and rise. It turns out that you can get the gluten to form all on its own if you have a wet dough. Our dough is wetter than traditional dough so you don’t have to knead it and it stores in the refrigerator for two weeks. As the dough sits it develops more character and gets better and better!

healthybreadI like that chocolate espresso whole wheat “cupcakes” are part of Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day – what was the criteria for making the cut into the Healthy book?

All of the doughs in the book have a significant portion of whole grain flours and other healthy ingredients. There are many that are 100% whole grain. I eat a very healthy diet, but I’m also a pastry chef and need to indulge in a bit of pleasure once in a while (daily). I felt strongly that the book should include healthy versions of decadent breads and pastries. Even folks who want or need to eat whole grains can satisfy their sweet tooth. The chocolate espresso bread is also full of antioxidants and beneficial phytochemicals present in the chocolate and coffee.  It may be good for you, but we still recommend that you eat the breads in moderation.

What are the most common mistakes we amateur bread-bakers make (and what are the remedies?)

It is actually the experienced bread-bakers who make the mistake of working too hard. Our dough requires no kneading and handling it as little as possible. People who have been baking the traditional way tend to want to add kneading and punching the dough back into the process and they will end up with denser loaves. The remedy is to work less and have fun.  Jeff and I are available on our website ( to answer any questions if people are having any difficulties at all.

I’m still not clear on sourdough — is there a 5 minute way to make it?

A true sourdough starter takes more than 5 minutes to prepare and then requires some care in keeping it alive. Instead we allow our dough to go through a long fermentation stage (just by storing it in the refrigerator, which requires no additional work), this results in similar sourdough characteristics. People who have sourdough starters can use them in our dough and we talk about doing that on our website. The breads are lovely, but require significantly longer resting times.

I read in your book that the best way to store fresh bread is cut-side down on a plate. If we shouldn’t be covering our bread in plastic or paper, what’s the best way to present bread as a gift and keep the crust nice and crunchy?

I wrap the loaves loosely in parchment paper and then tie it with a ribbon. This allows the crust to stay crisp and yet it has a rustic bakery feel. You can also parbake the loaves and deliver them frozen as gifts for people to crisp up at their convenience.

What has been the most rewarding thing for you about the success of the books?

I am absolutely lucky to be doing what I love. I spend my time baking, writing about baking or teaching people how to bake. For a pastry chef it doesn’t get much better than this!  When Jeff and I set out to write our first book I did it to have a great experience. We never dreamed we would be writing a 3rd book.

Is there anything you learned at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) that you would never have been able to pick up without that training?

I had worked in a catering kitchen/restaurant for years before heading off to culinary school. I really got my practical training before going to school. What I learned at the CIA was the food science, how to prevent things from blowing up or collapsing. I believe you can learn the same things through an apprenticeship and reading everything you can get your hands on, but culinary school is more concentrated. I was also exposed to some of the best bakers in the world at the CIA and that was worth the tuition.

With all your success, how are you managing the work/parenting balance?

My husband is a computer programmer/web designer and he has the flexibility to work from home. When I am on book tour and traveling he stays home with our boys. It is wonderful for all of us. He not only works full time, but also designed my websites and is my business manager. I could not have done this without his support. When I am not traveling I work from home, so I can arrange my schedule around the boys’ soccer games, homework and trumpet lessons.

Who got you interested in baking? Was baking something that was present in your house growing up? Did you naturally gravitate towards it or did someone help cultivate your interest in baking?

No, baking was certainly not part of my childhood. In fact, I don’t think my mom ever turned on her oven until I wrote the first book and asked her to test the recipes for me. I knew if she could do it anyone could. Now she bakes beautiful bread almost every day and has been creating her own recipes from the dough she has on hand.

The person who sparked the interest in baking and food in general was my aunt Melissa, whose granola recipe is in Artisan Bread in Five Minutes. She used to do all of the baking for our commune in Vermont when I was very little and I remember the smell of her kitchen. Later when I was in junior high she moved to NYC, I used to visit her and she would take me to great restaurants. It was my first exposure to exquisite food.

Proust Questionnaire:

My favorite snack is:  Chocolate ~ I have stashes of it all over the house.

Don’t ask me to:  give up carbs.

I would put into a time capsule my:  Brioche recipe. (get the recipe here)

My favorite place is:  Not sure I’ve been there yet?

When I have a creative block I:  travel to fabulous bakeries.

My favorite mantra is:  eat dessert first!