Friday, January 25, 2013

Average Joe - Artisan Bread Kit

As you may have noticed, I don't bake much. But, when I met Joe Bellavance at the Fancy Food Show last summer, he convinced me that I, a mere mortal, could bake artisan bread in my home. I cited his new Average Joe Artisan Bread Kit as one of my favorite products at the show and he kindly sent me a sample. Heck, if this kit is for the average Joe, then surely I could do it, right?!  The answer is yes, but because of my funky oven, it took me a few tries.

The Cook's Edition kit (there are several others) comes with everything you need to make 3 loaves of bread and then some, that is, assuming that you have basic kitchen tools at home.  It includes an instruction booklet, King Arthur bread flour, bread dust, finishing salts, yeast, baker's blade, scraper, and bread pot. I will admit that it was quite the intimidating package when I opened it up, considering that I've never tried making my own bread.

I started reading through the instruction booklet to prepare. Joe starts off with his own story, which is comforting as he calls himself "a hack baker who loves good bread." Joe is not a trained baker or chef, but he does love bread. So, he figured out how to make it without using expensive bread pots. The bread pot included in the kit is lightweight and durable and works well while still being inexpensive.

So I gave it a go. For my first attempt, on Day 1, I mixed the water, yeast, and bread flour, then added some salt. I covered it and set it aside to allow it to rise for 18-24 hours. Okay, simple enough.

On Day 2, I was ready to make bread. I started by sprinkling bread dust into the bread pot. This is the crumbly stuff on the bottom of a loaf of bread. Next, I used the dough scraper to remove the risen dough from the mixing bowl to put it onto a floured surface. I shaped the dough into a ball, then placed the ball into the bread pot. I let it rise again for another 60 minutes. It looked perfect.

I spritzed it with a little water, topped it with coarse red sea salt, then scored it with a baker's blade so it would open up nicely in the oven.

I baked it covered for 35 minutes at 425-degrees, then removed the cover and baked it for another 25 minutes. Everything was going great until that final uncovered baking session. After about 20 minutes, I smelled burning. The bottom of my bread had burned to the pot. I was so sad. I pulled out what I could salvage and let it cool on a cooling rack. the top of the bread was light, airy, and crusty - just as it should be. It was almost perfect, but I had no idea what had gone wrong.

So, I wrote to Joe and he sent me some suggestions. I needed to add more bread dust this time. He also said the bread shouldn't have burned and may have done so because (a) my oven runs hot or (b) the air circulates like a convection oven. I have a GE Profile oven and I can hear the air circulating so that is true. That seems to be a pretty big issue when making bread. He advised me to only bake it for 10 minutes with the cover off next time.

Second attempt: This one was worse than the first and I suspect it was my fault. I think I didn't measure the ingredients carefully. The dough was too runny and never formed a nice ball so it ran into the sides of the pot and burned to the pot. Ugh. Joe wanted a conference call. We walked through the steps and he made a few more suggestions.

Third attempt: I changed a few things.
  1. I removed 1 Tbsp of water from the recipe to make sure it wouldn't be too runny.
  2. I spent a little time kneading the dough on the first day.
  3. I used lots of bread dust in the pot.
  4. I used a new packet of yeast.
  5. When shaping the dough on the second day, I repeated the shaping exercise 10 times to form a tighter crumb.
  6. I only cooked it for 10 minutes with the cover off.
  7. I watched it closely while it was baking to ensure it didn't burn.
The result -- an absolutely delicious hot, steamy, crusty bread -- a perfect artisan loaf. And now I have so much more respect for bread bakers! But, actually, through this process, I realized how easy it is, once you get the technique down, to make bread. The main problem was that my oven circulates the air. I think if this weren't the case, the first loaf would have been perfect. And Joe is absolutely wonderful. He responded to my emails so quickly, ready to help, and encouraged me not to give up.

This bread kit would make a fantastic gift for an aspiring bread baker. The Cook's Edition, which is the one that I used sells for $39 here. The gift edition that comes with everything you could ever need including measuring spoons retails for $99, but you can purchase it on Amazon for $79 here. Once you have the bread pot, you can just order more refills for $15. Not bad considering how much a fresh loaf can cost these days. And, it is a really fun project. Thanks, Joe, for putting this together!


  1. try using parchment paper instead of bread dust

  2. None of my links are working. I wonder if he went out of business already.