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4. What are some books on bread?

Subject: 4. What are some books on bread?

I happen to be passionate about bread and own approximately 25 books on bread and have closely read numerous others. I will try and give you a tour of some of the books on bread, one introductory/intermediate, two current books focussing on "artisan" type breads and a few in the specialized to advanced category to give you a flavor of some of the books out there.

The Laurel's Kitchen Bread book - A guide to Whole-Grain bread making by Laurel Robertson, Carol Flinders and Bronwen Godfrey is perhaps one of the best introductions to bread making.

The books is aimed at people who want to bake with whole-grains but there is no reason you cannot use the principles with whatever form of flour you choose. She begins with a loaf for learning, thoroughly explains the principles of what you are trying to achieve (for example most books say something vague like "knead till elastic" she give you an objective end point - when dough is sufficiently kneaded you should be able to stretch the dough paper thin (insufficiently kneaded dough will tear or break long before you can stretch it this thin). She covers a wide variety of breads and methods, explains the effects of various ingredients and additives and has some unique material - for example she extols a Flemish "Desem" starter. She has tables to help you find recipes that fit into your schedule and adapt recipes to any baking schedule you choose. Everything she says is accurate (no small feat if you consider some of the stuff below). From the point of view of sourdough she is not a purist & in the context of a general book on bread I have no major quibble with that. The only flaw if you can call it one is there are no glossy pictures to inspire you. This is an issue because unfortunately many modern books have awfully good pictures that illustrate some important points (e.g. what does an "open" crumb vs fine crumb look like etc). It is sparsely referenced but has a few very authoritative references (Pyler "Baking Science and Technology" for example). A must buy for anyone learning to bake.

The next three books focus on artisan type or regional breads:

Joe Ortiz in the Village Baker says that in a trip to France he got a recipe for "pain ordinaire" and thought finally he had the long sought "secret recipe" only to discover that it was identical to the one he was already using! To him the lesson was the process was the important part not merely the ingredients and a good loaf was the result of successful mastery and manipulation of every step from choice of ingredients to mixing to baking. I think this is a good criterion to use to judge the current crop of bread books ( as well as older ones) - does the book give you sufficient information to understand the process so you can manipulate it to suit your own needs and tastes. I think the Ortiz book is very successful in this regard. It is really a condensation of several French masterpieces (cited in his bibliography) and is thus is a valuable resource for someone who is interested in Raymond Calvel or Lionel Poilane opinions on bread but cannot read the French originals. He explains the 3 basic kinds of dough (sponge, straight and sourdough). The importance of a number of variables and their effects like water (how wet the dough is) yeast, mixing conditions, temperature, wheat and how they end up altering the product. There is an incredible amount of information. Some of the info is laid out directly. Other parts will need lots of work on your part - he tells you a certain manipulation will affect say crumb but doesn't tell you why or in what direction - it does serve as a basis for experimentation however. I suspect he is not always clear about explaining the whys because he is an empirical baker. Having read some of the more Technical books by Pyler, Pomeranz, Stear etc I have come to understand the reasons why particular manipulations work. In short this book glorifies the method and is invaluable if this is what you want.

No baker will agree with all his opinions on what a desirable approach to bread is, for example he recommends building sourdough starters relatively firm which is unlikely to pack the maximum flavor one can out of a sourdough (there are several good reasons to have a firm starter if one is only interested in good leavening). The other negative to me is that approximately a third of the book has recipes scaled up for the professional. This is an interesting curiosity but a waste to most home bakers. It has a good bibliography with classic primary sources. One could learn a lot from this over a long time - every rereading should uncover something new which could serve as the basis for experimentation. Not all of his opinions are correct, and there are technical missteps but since I am saving my venom for Daniel Leader I will pass on to him.

Bread Alone - Daniel Leader and Judith Blahnik. I am lukewarm about this book. It is a very slick presentation that will seduce you with the romance of bread baking. It strings together a number of anecdotes in a racy style that is good entertainment. You will come out longing for a brick oven that he very skillfully mystifies and glorifies. It has pictures of very attractive loaves that are highly motivating. It extols the virtues of organic flour (a passion I share). Many of the recipes are on the trendy end - Country style loaf with figs and cognac and hazelnuts. The same with cilantro and cornmeal and coarse pepper etc. By the way he adds an additive like cilantro and cornmeal and considers this a new recipe in my book these should be considered variations. The book is very heavily padded with these variations and in actuality is very lean. I am not particularly impressed because only my imagination limits what concoctions I can come up with i.e. the hip recipes should not motivate you to buy this book. In fact it is the hipness that irks me. For example, he uses french terms for commonly used baking terms. Thus a sponge is a poolish, a sourdough is levain and so on. In no place does he explain the parallels and studiously avoids the common english terms. This is a slick way of packaging old wine in new bottles.

He is factually wrong in a number of places. For example, he says that sourdough fanatics falsely treasure starters and he will demystify the process. He gives directions on starting your own starter and suggest adding yeast " as a magnet to attract the wild yeasts" -pure bull! Similarly he has a recipe for San Francisco Sourdough but uses the homemade starter. San Francisco Sourdough is not a process but requires the presence of a true starter with the characteristic organisms of San Francisco Sourdough - Candida milleri and Lactobacillus sanfrancisco. It is as likely that the ""Hearty Burgundy" of Ernest and Julio Gallo resembles the wines of Burgundy France as a homemade starter will have these particular organisms. (To be fair to Daniel Leader almost all books on bread commit this mistake in the obligatory "San Francisco Sourdough" recipe).

On page 42 he says flour is "bromated" with potassium! (For you non scientists potassium bromate is used - with the bromate doing the brominating not potassium! Then on page 50 he has the strangest definition of first rise and second rise I have ever seen - he claims the yeast feed on free sugar in the first rise and the yeast release sugar from starch in the second rise. In truth there is very little free sugar in flour and once depleted the yeast are dependant on release of sugar from starch to continue to do their thing. When exactly this happens depends on the dough formulation, fermentation time and temperature etc etc. In fact in his lean long fermented poolish the yeast are very definitely living of starch & no rises have occurred at all! It is simply stupid to use his definitions. I heap so much venom because he is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, professional baker etc. and should have a better command of the facts. I would not nitpick if I found stuff like this in Marge Schlee's "Baking with Schmecks appeal !"

Another aspect of the book that I dislike is that he repeats the most basic information for each step for every single recipe (many of which are variations in the form of an addition to a basic dough). For example he has three standard paragraphs on baking that tell you your rack should be in the center of the oven. Do not spritz the electric light bulb etc. This repetitious stuff occupies at least half the printed pages of the book - the book thus has the mere appearance of heft but is in fact quite thin. (Others may like this because you can start at any recipe in a non linear fashion). It has no bibliography and is lean on technique. To me the book is more sizzle than steak - it is worth reading but owning?

The Italian Baker - Carol Field. In the Joe Ortiz vein. A masterpiece on Italian Bread. Carol Field is less authoritative than Ortiz in some respects - she is a cook book author with 5-6 published books on the history of Italy and Italian foods. Her cookbook author roots show through occasionally. For example on page 41 talking about yeast she says: "Bakers, who have noses like doctors or pharmacists, insist you can cut into the yeast and smell if it's right. The really expert say that if you set your ear right next to it, you can hear the little "tic-tac" of its growing." While poetic this is pure nonsense. Fortunately, there is not much drivel like this in the book. The reason I like the book is she tells you what the character of the dough is like - wet, firm etc. All too often this is ignored in most books on bread when in fact it is one of the major ways of controlling the nature of the loaf you produce. The minor negative is she repeats mixing information by hand, mixer and food processor for each recipe. This is generally unnecessary except in some rare cases.

Il Fornio - Author? Light version of Carol Field. In fact owner of Il Fornio chain Carlo Veggetti was the person that arranged the meetings with regional Italian bakers for Field's own research.

Elizabeth Davids "English Bread and Yeast Cookery". Available in an English version with imperial and metric measures and an American edition with a conversion to volume based measures (cups vs weights). The books is divided into two parts - "History and Background" and the second "Recipes". This is an interesting book to a scholar because it traces several historical roots of English Bread - it is not as some people think an encyclopedia on bread in general. It is written in a humanistic style & its virtue lies solely in its research into the historical aspects of English bread and breadmaking (bibliography of 200+). This aspect of the book makes a fascinating read with interesting plates and illustrations.

Its practical utility is a different matter. For example, she has a chapter on French Bread, goes on to enumerate the difficulties of making french bread and the difference between French and English flour and then throws up her hands and says despite all I've said if you want to bake French Bread consult Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child et al. ! She then goes on to trace the roots of French Bread in England from 1654 to the twentieth century via 10-12 historical recipes. Clearly this is aimed at a pedant not an amateur. Most of the recipes are historical in nature and make interesting reading but it is not a good place to start to learn how to bake bread. Please note I am not saying there is nothing of practical utility (there is a lot) it is just buried in a lot of material. Despite the praise universally heaped on this book (much of it is deserved) I feel it has an equal number of deficiencies that are glaring. For example, she has a section on Malt, declares she hates the taste of it in bread, goes on to say some bakers like it for good rises & leaves one thoroughly confused. She neglects to mention how and why it works and the distinctions in malt (Malt can be diastatic or non-diastatic. Non diastatic is simply added as a sweetener, diastatic malt breaks down the starch in dough to yield sugars on which the yeast can feed. Having some around in long fermented breads is very important). It seems amazing to me that she will spend chapters on the "Assize System" & then neglect to tell you something of great practical importance. Similarly, her basic recipe for bread has almost no mention of kneading at all!

The Breads of France - Bernard Clayton. Bernard Clayton has been looked upon as the doyen of American Bread for reasons I cannot fathom. The material when published was new and novel. Unfortunately, the book is sort of pointless since there appears to be no correlation between his description of a bread and the recipe that follows. For example, he has a recipe for the famous Poilaine loaf (actually describing a bread made by the father of the now equally famous Lionel Poilaine), says it is made from whole wheat and then uses next to no whole wheat in his recipe! It is therefore pointless to buy a book of this sort. His complete book of breads has a vast array of recipes again in a boring style. Essentially both books are recipe repositories & the recipes are of dubious authenticity. The tedium in the Breads of France is relieved by a few photographs and vignettes of the bakers or history behind some of the breads.

Special and Decorative Breads a two volume set by Roland Bilheux, Alain Escoffier, Daniel Herve and Jean Marie Pouradier (Volume 1) & Volume II is authored by Alain Couet and Eric Kayser. There is some overlap between Vol 1 & II, Vol 1 mainly focuses on traditional breads while Vol II has Viennese pastries, Croissants Brioches etc. This is a translation of a French original has much distilled wisdom and incredible photographs of ornamental and decorative breads. It has very concise information that is generally very precise - they define the exact hydration for stiff (58-60%) to soft & sticky (65-67%) doughs with five intermediate steps. This is useful because they either explicitly say the dough is mixed at xx hydration or if they use a word like moderately firm you know precisely what they mean. Its negative - very specialized all recipes are scaled for a professional baker i.e. yield 25-100 lb of dough and major $$ each volume is about $70. I am glad I own them but they are so specialized that they may not be worth the $$ but it is a very good set of books to thumb through if only to improve your presentation.

World Sourdough from Antiquity: by Ed Wood. Out of print (new edition in print now - dg) but may be available in some libraries. A very cynical view would suggest this book was probably published as a marketing vehicle for the starters that he sells through his company Sourdough International. A more generous view would be that Dr. Wood genuinely wants to spread the sourdough gospel. I do not know what motivates him but in fact I feel that the Woods have provided a tremendous service to the community by amassing these starters. Simply being able to buy a "fast" starter vs a "slow" starter allows you to refute the view of Leader or Joe Ortiz that starters are not substantially different. The book gives a reasonable explanation of several aspects of baking with sourdough. It is probably the best book on sourdough for a non technical audience. Treasure trove of recipes from Egypt, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia i.e. the area where all bread making probably originated (and less interestingly since this material is almost universally available, The Yukon, France, San Francisco, Austria, etc). He uses a number of grains and flours in his recipes demonstrating his awareness of what a true country bread is and a certain adventurous spirit with respect to ingredients. It has been built up so much on this group that it will probably prove underwhelming - it is the best non technical book on sourdough but is not necessarily the best book on bread in general.

-Roland

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