“Don’t be put off by strange-sounding names, like barm, biga, chef, desem, levain, madre bianca, mother, pâte fermentée, pollish sponge, starter or sourdough starter. At first these terms put me off, and I was resolved to avoid them in this book, thinking that the all-encompassing term starter was all I really needed, but gradually these special words became familiar friends.” (The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum)
Even though it has been a particularly hot summer, I have somehow spent most of it learning how to bake bread. I grabbed The Bread Bible from the library out of curiosity, was entirely charmed by Rose Levy Beranbaum’s voice, and had no choice but to try my hand at her art. Previously, an attempt at a recipe from my beloved America’s Test Kitchen almost turned me off the whole enterprise, but with Rose’s guidance, my hearth breads now rise to impossible heights and my ciabatta comes out gaping with big, beautiful holes.
I have long been an advocate for reading cookbooks cover to cover – and this is one of the best experiences I’ve had with the practice. Each description of a dough is like a fascinating short story, where minor variations on a general plot line yield mouth-watering impressions in one’s imagination. Rose’s subtle humor and gentle instructions make for a rather relaxing read. If you haven’t tried reading a cookbook before, I would definitely recommend this one to start with: it has a consistent narrative voice, excellent organization, and a thrilling conclusion (‘brioche’).
Keep in mind that actually learning how to bake bread from this book isn’t for everyone – sometimes the strength of the voice wins out over clear instructions, and you may find yourself hunting through the first hundred pages of the book for an essential step or two. On the other hand, maybe mastering the art of bread making is too complicated for such straightforward directives.
Recommended Action: Buy ;
Borrow ; TBR ; Avoid
Further Reading: If you do want to read more cookbooks, I would recommend others that are writers first and cooks second: Nigel Slater is a particular favorite of mine. If you are willing to explore the crossroads of children’s lit and cooking, I highly recommend the Redwall series which, to my mind, is more about food than anything else.