BREAD BAKING FOR EVERYONE
Is there anyone whose soul isn't moved by the air of a kitchen filled with the yeasty aroma of bread fresh out of the oven?
I'd like to start this review by telling you how the smell of fresh baked bread brings me back to my childhood and my mother's kitchen. I'd like to, but it would be a lie. I did not grow up in a baking tradition. Bread was something you bought in a bake shop of which there were several within walking distance. The childhood smells of fresh baked bread wafted up from a paper sack, not from my mother's oven.
Still and all, I love baking bread. I'm just not very good at it. Or, at least, I wasn't until "Ultimate Bread" entered the scene.
Eric Treulle and Ursula Ferrigno did grow up in baking traditions he in France and she in Italy. What's more, the talented pair, both of whom teach breadmaking at the Books For Cooks cooking school in London, have the ability to share that tradition with strangers. After reading this book, and trying some of the recipes, I at last feel that I'm starting to understanding bread. It's been a long time coming.
Besides providing good food," they say in their introduction, " breadmaking enlivens both your kitchen and your life when it becomes a regular activity." Thanks to them, it has become a regular activity in my kitchen. And has, indeed, enlivened both my kitchen and my life.
Not to say there aren't some faults with the book. The dust jacket and cover both use the simple title, "bread." The frontispiece, on the other hand, is entitled "Ultimate Bread." An interesting publishing mistake.
The second negative belongs to the authors. Flour measurements are given in cups. Most professionals now recognize the importance of using flour weight for a more consistent end product, even for the home cook. It's one thing to talk about the science of baking. But if the breadmaker has to make seat-of-the-pants adjustments, then it remains more an art form than a science.
Thus, when I tried their Hungarian Potato Bread I had to add considerably more flour because the dough was far too wet. Had I been the novice baker I pretend to be, it's doubtful the bread would have worked at all.
The third negative is---whoa! There are no others I can find. And that alone makes it a great book.
True, professional pastry chefs might find the introductory material---which takes up about half the book---beneath them. But home cooks and other professionals, for whom breadmaking is a sometime thing, will find much of that information enlightening. Take, for instance, the section on glazing. They not only discuss different types of glazes, they show, through Ian O'Leary's phenomenal photos, the effect of that glaze on the crust, both before and after baking.
But the book doesn't open with that educational material. It starts, rather, with a pictorial gallery of breads, arranged primarily by country of origin: French, Italian, British, American, and Eastern, along with a grouping of Festive Breads. Later on, the recipes will be arranged much as they were in the gallery. So, if necessary, the experienced pastry chef can simply use the gallery for inspiration, or, if necessary, skip to the recipes---where there are some interesting surprises.
My first attempt from Ultimate Bread was to bake a pumpkin bread. I have, in my collection, numerous pumpkin bread recipes. All of them are quick breads, with minor differences in ingredients. The version in Ultimate Bread, however, is a yeast bread. The first I've ever seen. And it certainly lives up to expectations.
As I write this, the dough for Pain Tunisien---a North African bread made with semolina and olive oil---is rising. I doubt I would have had the confidence to attempt such a loaf until Ultimate Bread came along.
I don't want to leave you with the impression this is a book just for novices. Certainly it's the best basic breadmaking book I've read. But the recipes, the tips, and the chatty history of breadmaking provided go a long way towards satisfying the pro's needs as well. I would bet a mustard-bedecked soft pretzel (page 82, under the name "Salzbrezeln") to a burnt Fan Tan (page 121) that even the most experienced pastry chef will find something about which to say, "I didn't know that."
All in all, this is a breadmaking book for everyone.