Monday, October 2, 2006

Books: Bread Alone

Bread Alone: Bold Fresh Loaves from Your Own Hands
by Daniel Leader and Judith Blahnik

Bread Alone provides a good, solid introduction to artisan bread baking. Daniel Leader begins with a thorough description of the equipment, ingredients, and care that go into making a good loaf of artisan bread, imbuing the reader with a real sense of the romance and long tradition of bread baking in European history. The detailed recipes are interspersed with stories of bakers and bakeries that Leader has encountered on his European travels. The recipes for classic country-style hearth loaf, sourdough starter, and pain au levain are perfect for introducing new bakers to the fundamentals of artisan bread baking, and in fact, these are recipes that I go back to again and again as springboards for experimentation.

At times, however, Leader’s reverent and weighty language can be intimidating for the novice baker and makes ‘the perfect artisan loaf’ appear attainable by only the few learned and experienced master bakers. The repetition of the even most basic instructions in every recipe and the reminders to ‘conserve your plastic wrap!’ and ‘use only the best organic ingredients!’ can feel off-putting and condescending. An added frustration is the durability of the physical book--or lack there of. After only a few uses, pages of my favorite recipes started falling out of the spine. Ultimately, I had the spine cut off (we have a nifty machine at the noodle factory that does this in about five seconds! Fancy!), punched holes in the pages, and put it in a three-ring binder. Still, practicing the basic recipes found in this book is an excellent way to begin exploring the diverse world of artisan bread baking.

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