I've been reading a lot of bread books lately -- a lot -- and each year brings more. What follows is a brief list of books that would help any aspiring baker as well as a couple of other cookbooks that have caught my eye.
Inside the Jewish Bakery, Stanley Ginsberg and Norman Berg
For anyone interested in classic Jewish American baking, this book shouldn't be missed. It has all the recipes you'd want, but what makes the book stand out are the essays about Jewish baking. Who knew, for instance, that marble rye may have evolved out of an Eastern European practice of adding light rye flour to dark loaves in an attempt to make them look less impoverished? Plus, everyone has a challah recipe, but this book has a whole chapter of them -- and nearly 15 pages of pictures on braiding, including the "eight-dollar challah" (a five-strand braid topped by a four-strand topped by a three-strand). Now that's a challah!
The Italian Baker Revisted, by Carol Field
When this book first appeared in 1985, it caused quite a stir. In fact, many professional bakers refer to it as inspiration, including Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery and Kathleen Webber of Della Fattoria. This revised edition is still chock-full of recipes, including standards such as ciabatta, but she also has unusual ones such as segale con pancetta (rye with pancetta) or pane di altamura, a famous bread from the south made with durum flour. Enriched doughs such as colomba pasquale, a panettone type bread for Easter studded with almonds and candied orange peel, are intriguing. More advanced bakers might be frustrated that Field hasn't included a true biga naturale (sourdough), instead relying on one kick-started with yeast. But in recipes that call for it, you can easily substitute your own natural leaven.
The Fundamental Techniques of Classic Bread Baking, the French Culinary Institute
This is kind of baking 101 in a well-designed, gorgeously photograhed volume. It reads a bit like a textbook, but that's okay, because you'll find the classic preparations of classic breads. As a bonus, it includes a number of recipes from Didier Rosada, the unsung force behind a lot of artisan bread baking in this country. On my list to try, his buckwheat apple walnut bread.
Ruhlman's Twenty, By Michael Ruhlman
OK, you've got a dog-eared copy of Bittman's How to Cook Everything, just like me -- now it's time to graduate. Michael Ruhlman has done a lot to make culinary school techniques accessible to the home cook and he does so again in this clever volume focused on 20 key techniques. Some of them are less obvious (with chapters including "Think" or "Salt" or "Water") but he elaborates on his point in the recipes. Many are the culinary standards that might have faded, such as "simple butter sauce," but then there are standbys that every omnivore needs, such as "perfect roast chicken." His argument here -- truss the bird to prevent hot air from drying out the breast meat. Point taken.
All About Roasting, by Molly Stevens
Do we need a book about roasting, especially when Ruhlman has given you the perfect chicken? I was skeptical until I started reading this book, admitting and accepting that I've overcooked or flubbed one too many roasts. Now the reason for this is that I hardy every roast, because it's the sort of thing you do a couple of times a year, usually around the holidays. In this book, Stevens dissects the technique and offers up recipes for all cuts of meat cooked at various temperatures. For the ambitious, I recommend the oven-roasted porchetta, made with a rolled pork loin and pork belly. Needless to say, this book will be put to use this holiday season.
- Samuel Fromartz