My hopefully award-winning 2017 chili cook-off recipe

img_6375Every year for Superbowl Sunday, my church has a chili cook-off.  I enter every year, and I’ve never won.  But I think that’s about to change this year.  I can feel it.

Most years, I use a traditional chili recipe.  I like one from the Joy of Cooking 1997.  Last year I took inspiration from Mexican mole sauce and added chocolate and cinnamon.  People really liked it, and I came in second place.  But I want to clinch it this year.

This year, I’m taking what I’ve learned in previous years, and combined two non-chili recipes to get at a recipe I think takes the best from both.

Ok, here’s what I’ve discovered:

  • Not too spicy.  Kids and adults are tasting and voting.
  • Ground beef is too fall-apart-y.
  • Not too greasy.
  • A little sweetness is nice.
  • Even though Texans would disapprove, people tend to like beans in their chili.
  • Not too crazy.  Keep the flavors traditional, even if you’re using influences from other cuisines.

Ok, with all that said, here’s what my thought process was:

When I thought about my chili last year, my biggest disappointment was with the decision to use ground beef.  The texture wasn’t right for chili, and it fell apart to the point it looked more like Bolognese sauce than chili.  When I thought about what I wanted the meat to be like, I envisioned ropa vieja, a dish popular in Puerto Rico and Cuba.  In particular, I wanted the chunky strands of meat.ropa-vieja-22-editedWhere do those long strands come from?  Most ropa vieja recipes use flank steak.  But as this blogger points out, flank steak is problematic for low and slow cooking like, say, chili:IMG_6398.PNG

This blogger decided to use chuck in her ropa vieja, but for my chili I decided to use brisket instead.  It is easier to cook for a long time but doesn’t fall apart like ground beef.  I seared the brisket on all sides, cut it into big chunks the size of two fists, then cooked them in a slow cooker on low with sliced red onions and beef broth overnight.  The next morning, the meat was incredibly tender and shreddy, and the beef broth was super flavorful.

The other recipe I used was one I found on Epicurious.com when I searched for chili.  This recipe came up for some reason:IMG_6394.PNG

I liked the idea of a tomato and black bean sauce, so I nixed the meatballs and made the rest of the recipe mostly as written.  At the point where you are supposed to add the meatballs to the sauce, I shredded the brisket and added it instead.  I particularly liked the addition of crispy chorizo at the end.img_6395IMG_6397.PNG

Ok, that’s enough introduction.  For a big ol’ pot of chili, you will need:

1/2 a beef brisket, the fatty half

1 liter beef stock

1 liter apple cider

1 red onion, sliced

2-3 jalapenos, sliced

1 yellow onion, sliced

3 cloves of garlic, smashed

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

28 oz chopped tomatoes

28 oz black beans, drained and rinsed

1 tablespoon paprika

1 large dried chorizo, roughly chopped

salt to taste

pepper to taste

  1. In a large cast iron dutch oven, sear the brisket on all sides.  Let cool slightly, then cut into four or so large pieces.  Slice the red onion and place on the bottom of a slow cooker.  Place the brisket pieces on top, then pour over one cup of beef broth.  Let cook overnight on low.  Remove the brisket from the slow cooker but reserve the concentrated beef stock.
  2. The next day, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  In the dutch oven, pour 1 tablespoon of oil.  Saute the sliced yellow onion until translucent, then add the tomato paste, sugar and vinegar and cook for one minute.  Add the beef stock left over from the slow cooker, tomatoes, garlic, beans, chopped jalapenos, paprika, salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil, shred the brisket and add it to the pot.  Transfer to the oven and bake 15-20 minutes until sauce is reduced.
  3. Place the chorizo in a food processor and process until finely chopped.  Heat some oil in a frying pan over high heat.  Add the chorizo and cook, stirring frequently, for 5-6 minutes or until golden and crispy.  Top the chili with the crispy chorizo.  Add more beef broth or alternate apple cider and beef broth if your chili is too dry. If possible, let the chili rest a day or two before eating so the flavors have time to meld.

Wish me luck, people!  By the time this is published I’ll already know the results from the cook-off, so I’ll let you know how it goes.

Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day: master recipe

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If you are looking for my review of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, you can check it out here: A Bread Library book review: Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day.

I made their master recipe, mostly because I was skeptical that it would really work out the way they said it would.  Surely, with as much yeast as they include in the recipe, they would exhaust themselves before I got a chance to bake the dough, right?  I wanted to see.

I also wanted to see if this was a good book for beginning bakers.  And I couldn’t very well recommend it if the master recipe didn’t work, could I?

Sorry for all these rhetorical questions.  Let’s get to it, shall we?

For three loaves (recipe says four, but I doubt that) you will need:img_6337

6 1/2 cups AP flour

3 1/2 cups water

1 tablespoon yeast

1 1/2 tablespoon saltimg_6338Mix the salt and yeast into the water in a large bowl.  Then pour in all the flour.img_6339

I knew from reading the book that the dough is supposed to be wet.  My dough was not wet, so I added another 1/2 cup of water.  While I recognize that the book is trying to be accessible to beginners, it would’ve been nice to have the weights of the flour and water and baking percentages to get a sense of ‘how wet is wet enough.’img_6340img_6341

The recipe says to mix until the flour was fully incorporated, but then you’re done.  No more kneading!  Usually I let the dough rest for 15-20 minutes then reshape it into a ball, but the recipe doesn’t say to do that.  So I left it for 2 hours as indicated.  It was very difficult to resist the temptation to futz with the dough!img_6343

After two hours, the dough looked like this:img_6344

After that, you cover the dough and place it in the oven until you plan to bake.  The next morning, the dough looked like this:img_6345

The second morning (two days after I mixed the dough) it looked like this:img_6347

On the day you plan to bake, set up a pizza stone and cast iron skillet thusly.  Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.img_6348

Flour a pizza paddle.img_6349

Pull off a piece of dough and fold it into a ball shape by pulling the sides underneath so the gluten strands form a “gluten cloak” around the dough.  Brush the outside of the dough with flour and place it on the pizza paddle. Let sit for 45 minutes to an hour while the oven is preheating.img_6351

Put the rest of your dough back in the fridge if you plan to bake it another day.img_6352img_6354

After an hour, use a sharp bread knife or razor blade to score the top of the dough.  The recipe suggests a cross pattern so that is what I did.img_6361

Place the dough from the pizza paddle onto the pizza stone, and pour a cup of hot water into the skillet.  Bake the dough for 20-30 minutes until very golden brown.img_6356

The first loaf I did, I followed the recipe which seemed to say to only let the dough proof for 20 minutes before baking.  This was clearly not enough time to take the chill off the dough, and it pretty much exploded in the oven.  The holes were ok, but not great.  The proofing period after being in the fridge for days needed more time. img_6364

My second loaf of dough was given an hour-long proof, and it turned out much better.  It still exploded in the oven, but it wasn’t deformed.img_6367

You can also see the holes were slightly bigger and more distributed within the crumb.img_63681

I thought the recipe made a nice loaf of dough.  My concern, which I mentioned in my book review as well, was that keeping enough dough for three loaves of bread for days and days takes a lot of space in the fridge!  Maybe for some people that’s a small price to pay for convenience.  It’s up to you.  It’s nice to know if I do plan to make bread in the future, I shouldn’t be afraid to leave it in the fridge for days; the yeast won’t get exhausted and the flavor won’t suffer.

This book is very good for the beginning baker and I would recommend it.

A Bread Library book review: Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day

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I’m kicking myself because I know I took pictures for this review before returning the book to the library but I can’t find them on my camera or on my phone.  So here are my recipe testing pictures which will have to do.  Despite the pictures, this is still a review post.  I’ll publish the recipe in a different post.img_6337

I decided to read and review this book based on a recommendation by a friend.  She said she really liked this book and had learned to bake from it.  Since I’m always looking for books for beginners, I checked it out.img_6338

From the first page, the book really had a lot going for it.  The writing style was very friendly, and it immediately eschewed many of the points of worry for beginning bakers: measuring, fermentation, kneading, etc.  The recipe claims to not need any of those techniques.img_6339

The book revolves around a single ‘mother’ recipe, and the rest of the book is variations on that first basic recipe.img_6340

As with most baking books, the introduction describes the purposes of flour, water, yeast and salt and why their techniques work.  By keeping the dough in the refrigerator, you can mix it up one day and bake it in a few days’ time.

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By using a wet dough, it allows the yeast to move around more freely, also the gluten isn’t fully formed so the yeast doesn’t rise the dough quickly.img_6343

You should be aware that the title of this book is a misnomer.  On the first day, you have to mix the ingredients, then let the dough sit on the counter for two hours.  Then on the baking day, you have to give it a good second rise to take the chill from the refrigerator off.  So you’re dedicating two hours on mixing day and two hours on baking day.  Maybe it’s five minutes a day average, over the course of two weeks?  I can’t be the only person to notice this.img_6344

My one critique of this recipe is that, while keeping dough in the refrigerator does keep it for several days, I just don’t have the space in my fridge to keep a multi-loaf ball of dough for 14 days.  My bowl took up a whole shelf. img_6345

Ok, I did have one other complaint.  I hate this baking set-up.  I get much better results from baking with a dutch oven.  Some authors think the average bake doesn’t have a dutch oven, but they assume that same average baker has a pizza stone and cast iron skillet?  I don’t know.  Maybe they do.  But I always hate pouring water into the pan because I got a bad steam burn a year ago.  One of the books I read suggested pulling the skillet out slightly to pour the water, then let the oven door push it back in as you close it.  img_6348img_6350img_6351

One of my other issues, which I know is a nod to the non-baker people, is not weighing ingredients.  That includes not measuring the individual dough loaves when you cinch it from the rest of the dough.  I don’t know what a 1-lb loaf feels like, and I think all of my loaves were smaller than 1 lb. img_6352

I will say, I was satisfied with the way the dough came out.  Not bad for a recipe for beginners, that required zero kneading.  img_6357img_6361img_6364

The holes were decent.  They would’ve been better if I’d given it a longer second rise.  This loaf had an hour rise, not the twenty-minute rise they suggest in the book.img_6367

I wish I had had more time to peruse the recipes in this book before returning it to the library.  But I had a backing backlog and I’m just catching up.  So my verdict on Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day:  I recommend it!

Rose Levy Beranbaum’s sweet potato bread

This is my first recipe out of Rose Levy Beranbaum’s tome of a cookbook, The Bread Bible.dsc03750

I have five recipes flagged to try out.  My review of her book is here.

Since I’m going to be a little occupied tomorrow, I decided to make a recipe that didn’t require a long rise or a poolish to start.  One of my flagged recipes, the sweet potato bread, would be ready in approximately 7 hours.  I’m off work today, so that’s what I picked.IMG_6154.JPG  Another bonus is that it uses up some of our million sweet potatoes (thanks CSA!).img_6156

For this recipe (makes one loaf) you will need:

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For the sponge:

170g sweet potato (one medium)

117g AP flour

132g room temperature water

13g honey

1/4 teaspoon instant yeast

For the final dough:

180g AP flour

20 grams dry milk powder

3/4 teaspoon instant yeast

18g melted butter

125g mashed sweet potato

Prick your sweet potato all over with a fork.  Bake in a 375 degree oven for 50 minutes until soft.  Remove from oven and let cool, then peel and mash.  Mix up the sponge in a large bowl and let rise for one hour.img_6157

I totally messed this up and instead of measuring out my water, I dumped in a whole glass of water without thinking.  So my sponge was the consistency of a very thin batter, and I ended up having to add a ton of flour to the final dough to make up for it.img_6158

Now add your final dough ingredients to the sponge.img_6159img_6160

I probably added an additional two cups of flour to my dough.  I transferred it to my stand mixer and used the dough hook for 15 minutes or so.  Then, when it seemed like it just wasn’t going to have good structure, I kneaded in another half cup or so of flour on the counter with my hands.  When it was finally feeling like a good consistency and holding together, I let it rise for 2 hours in an oiled bowl.img_6167

It rose very well, considering there was no observable activity in the sponge.img_6168At this point, the recipe calls for gently folding the dough a very times and returning it to the bowl for a second rise of 1.5-2 hours.img_6169After that rise:img_6170

Then I gently rolled up the dough and transferred it to a large buttered bread pan for an additional 1.5-2 hours.  I covered it with a tea towel.img_6171After 1.5 hours, I preheated the oven to 550 degrees F with a pizza stone on a low rack and a cast iron skillet on the floor of the oven.  After 2 hours, the dough looked like this:img_6177Beranbaum does not have you score the bread.  I put the bread pan on the rack with the pizza stone and threw about a cup of ice cubes into the cast iron skillet.  img_6179img_6180img_6181Then I bumped the temperature down to 475 degrees F and baked for five minutes. Then I bumped it down to 375 for 15 minutes, after which time I rotated the dough and baked an additional 25 minutes until it was golden brown and the top was hard.img_6182img_6184img_6186

Sadly, I guess I didn’t take a crumb shot before it all got eaten.  Which is a shame because this bread was nice and golden inside.  It had a tight crumb and was very soft.  There was no hint of sweet potato flavor.  I used it for Little Bread Dude’s peanut butter and jelly sandwiches this week with no complaints.  If you have sweet potatoes to use up, this is a good recipe for that!

A Bread Library book review: Cooked by Michael Pollan

I’ve been a bit busy with book reviews, as you may have noticed.  A friend of mine has inspired the quest for the perfect baking book for the beginner.  After several in a row, I was hitting the wall.  Then that same friend recommended I read Cooked.  It served as a chaser of shorts, cleansing the palate of the repetitive baking descriptions and recipes.img_6187

A few months ago, I watched the Cooked documentary on netflix, which left me a little disappointed.  Michael Pollan, one of my favorite authors, appeared to be very awkward in the kitchen.  We wondered, does this food writer not know how to cook?

According to Pollan’s latest book, that does seem to be the case.img_6322

I appreciated his recognition here, which he didn’t make in the documentary, that the slow food movement and the wide availability of home-cooked food assumes the privilege of time and money, and individuals to do said cooking, which often falls to women.  img_6323

The original question that let me to read Cooked was about Pollan’s admiration of Wendell Berry.  I haven’t read any of his writings, but maybe that’s the next step.img_6324

Even though I was less than impressed with the baking episode of the Cooked documentary (do you even knead, bruh?), his chapter titled “Air” is very good.  Comprehensive but accessible.  I adore Pollan’s writing, finding connections between the physical processes going on in the foods we manipulate and what they mean to us as a culture.img_6325

I used to go on thefreshloaf.com a lot.  I still recommend it as a resource to home bakers.img_6326

This is not the first book I’ve read where the protagonist visits a monastery to learn some spiritual mysteries and be introspective.  But I really liked Pollan’s treatment here.  The idea of including cheese in the eucharist is subversive, unexpectedly meaningful, and awesome.img_6327

I will be making this recipe in a few weeks.  Right now I have a backlog of bread that I need to eat.img_6316

Overall, I really enjoyed Cooked, and it’s a worthy successor to Omnivore’s Dilemma and Botany of Desire.

A Bread Library book review: White Bread by Aaron Bobrow-Strain

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In grad school, I took a course called something like “Global Commodity Chains” or something like that.  It explored the global political, cultural and economic shifts that took place to allow the rise and spread of commodities like coffee, chocolate, and bananas.  It was a fascinating class.

As I began to read this book, I realized it would’ve been right at home on the syllabus of that class.  I thought I might send an e-mail to the professor of that course recommending it to him, but alas I can’t remember his name and the internet thus far has not been helpful.

If I was expecting a breezy read, based on the jolly cover and a description that included “a social history,” that is not what I got.  This text is pure academia.  Readable academia, and entertaining, but in a fairly intellectual way.  Look no further than the table of contents:img_6161

The premise is that, since its very inception, white bread has always found itself caught in the crosshairs of our national obsession with food.  This national obsession is based on several general ideas about our national identity, our sense of security, desire for purity, and our feelings about health and wellbeing, which the author details in each chapter.  As a Latin-Americanist, my favorite section was about how Bimbo brand, a bread producer from Mexico, has managed to corner the North American market on white bread.img_6163

Another thing that stuck out for me is that the author quotes Crescent Dragonwagon extensively.  Having only been familiar with her Passionate Vegetarian cookbook and not her politics, I was surprised.  I’ll have to check out her The Commune Cookbook.  Based on Passionate Vegetarian, you would think she’s just a little plain-spoken, humble owner of a humble bed and breakfast. img_6164

Finally, and I wasn’t sure if Bobrow-Strain was going to touch on this, in the chapter on health and wellness he interweaves Grahamism (yes, from the crackers) from the 1900s and today’s gluten-free craze, and how our ideas of what is and isn’t healthy have changed over time.img_6162

I did feel like his chapter on how white bread became synonymous with white trash could’ve used a bit more fleshing out, since that seemed to be a large part of his premise.  Ultimately, he concludes that food in general, and bread in particular, is really a symbol for how we feel about ourselves, our health, and our national identity, and maybe we should focus less on how our differences divide us than on celebrating our heterogeneity.  img_6165My one disappointment with this conclusion is that he opens the chapter describing using a sourdough starter.  He never admits to eating wonder bread, and so he still seems to be coming from a privileged position of ranking homemade sourdough above lesser breads.

This book didn’t have any recipes, not that I was expecting it to!  It did give me a craving for super soft white bread, so I may make that soon.

A Bread Library book review: The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum

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For the past few weeks, I’ve been reviewing books in my quest to find the best “true beginner breadbaking book.”  That is to say, one that would give the true beginner all the information they would need to know to get a good start, but would not be overwhelming or too technical.  It would explain the whys and hows of bread in a way that was easy to absorb.  I checked out all the books on breadbaking at the library, giving particular attention to ones I’d heard about on The Fresh Loaf.

I had heard Rose Levy Beranbaum’s name around, so I decided to check out her bread book.  I quickly realized this was quite a tome.  To start, it’s over 600 pages long.  This is not a beginner’s book; it’s one that you could spend a lifetime baking from.

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It goes through each part of the baking process in great detail.dsc03752

I did like the illustrations; it reminded me of the pictures in the Joy of Cooking.dsc03753dsc03754

I thought these instructions for a single-strand braid were fascinating. I’ve never seen that before!dsc03755

She has a few sections of full-color pictures that are lovely.dsc03756dsc03757

We are drowning in sweet potatoes so I’ll definitely be using this recipe.dsc03758

One disappointment was that her potato bread uses potato flour instead of mashed potatoes or potato water.  Who does that? Where does one find potato flour???dsc03759

This page on baguettes made me laugh.  Apparently dough doesn’t rise for expert bakers either!dsc03760

Another aspect I really appreciated was each recipe included a ‘pointers for success’ and an ‘understanding’ section at the end, with tips and advice.  It allows you to do a deep dive into the science behind the recipe, if you want.dsc03761

Beranbaum also includes sections at the end for ingredients and equipment.dsc03763dsc03764dsc03765 I tagged several recipes to test, including her baguettes.  So look for those soon!

William Alexander’s Pain de Campagne

I made this bread twice, because the first time I under-proofed the dough before it went into the oven so it blew way out and had a weird shape and no big holes in the crumb, and cut into it after it had only cooled for about an hour so the flavor wasn’t great, and I made the mistake of explaining this to my dad so when we both tasted it and I wasn’t impressed, my frickin’ DAD accused me of not giving the recipe a fair shake.  dsc03745dsc03746dsc03748

So I was guilt-tripped into making it a second time instead of moving on to testing the recipes from my next two books up for review, Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Bread Bible and Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.

Which was fine, since I did it on my telework day so I was able to follow the instructions exactly as written and give it the time it required while I did my work in the living room.

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This recipe can be found in William Alexander’s excellent book, 52 Loaves.  My review of the book is here.dsc03729

The first time around, I knew I wouldn’t be able to stick to the 4-5 hour rise he calls for because I have to work.  So instead of waking up and bringing my starter up to room temperature the night before, I stirred cold starter into the dough and gave it a 10 hour rise.  dsc03730I think that part was actually ok.  It was what happened after that.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

For one round loaf, you will need:

260g 100% hydration sourdough starter

300g all-purpose flour

60g whole wheat flour

30g rye flour

13g salt

292g water

  1. Mix together your ingredients in a large bowl.  Let rest for 20 minutes, then mix again into a ball.  dsc03733dsc03734dsc03735
  2. Let rise 4-5 hours.  Gently punch down, re-shape into a ball and place into a floured banetton seam-side down.dsc03737dsc03738
  3. Let rise for 1.5-2 hours (this is where I messed up, since I only let it rise for one hour before baking the first time.  I think it really does need a lightly longer second proofing time).
  4. Preheat the oven to 550 degrees F with a pizza stone on a low rack and a cast iron skillet resting on the bottom of the oven.  Flip the dough onto the pizza stone and score with a sharp knife or razor blade.dsc03740dsc03741
  5. Ugh, that shirt does me and my butt no favors.  Yeesh.  Ok. At this point, wearing an oven mitt, pour a bowl of water into the skillet.  Quickly close the oven door to trap the steam.dsc03743
  6. Drop the temperature down to 480 degrees F and bake for 25 minutes.  Drop the temperature down to 375 degrees F and bake an additional 20 minutes.  Turn the oven off, prop the door slightly open, and keep the dough in the oven for a final 15 minutes.dsc03745dsc03747I was pretty disappointed when I looked in and saw that my dough looked like this.  But there was nothing I could do but let it finish baking and see what it looked like on the inside.dsc03748Not great, Bob.  As I mentioned before, I tasted some and wasn’t impressed.  But as the dough cooled a bit more, it did become more complex and tasty.  It wasn’t bad, all things considered.  Maybe it was true that I needed to give this recipe another shot.  So I did.dsc03749I started with an active sourdough starter this time, and let it rise 5 hours.  I placed the dough in a banetton, and let it rise 2 full hours.  I think that longer second rise really helped.img_6142This is the dough once I flipped it onto the pizza stone.img_6143After baking, I shut the oven off and propped it open with a wooden spoon.img_6144I was much happier the second time around.  The dough didn’t explode on contact with the hot pizza stone.  Also, this time I used a combination of water and ice and I think it worked well.  My one disappointment the second time around is that I didn’t score the dough deep enough.  I was worried that with the longer second rise, the dough would deflate upon scoring.img_6145img_6146The crumb was an improvement too.DSC03767.JPGNot great, considering the long second rise and wet dough.  I would’ve expected much bigger holes.  But I’m pretty satisfied. I went from this:dsc03748to this:dsc03767and this:dsc03746to this:img_6144I’ll take it!  And with that, I bid adieu to William Alexander.  Next stop: Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Bread Bible.

A Bread Library book review: 52 Loaves by William Alexander

dsc03727As I mentioned in a previous review, I’m looking for a true beginner’s book of bread, one that introduces all the ingredients (flour, water, yeast and salt) as well as the hows and whys of bread-making and baking.  I want a book that is comprehensive yet not overwhelming.  It should include some basic recipes that are easy to follow.  So I checked out all the library books I could find on bread baking and am working my way through them.

52 Loaves by William Alexander is the second on my list.  As soon as I opened it, I groaned.  It had not one gimmick (2010 was the year of the “year of the…” craze) but two: it was structured based on the seven daily monastic prayers.  I’ve read at least four books where the author uses spiritual practice or daily prayers as the structure, and it’s getting tiresome.  dsc03725

However, I decided to keep reading for one reason, and one reason only: Peter Reinhart and Jacques Pepin left reviews on the back cover.dsc03726

It certainly wasn’t the first chapter that wowed me.  The writing felt gimmicky, like every other lazy 2010-era “The Year of fill-in-the-blank” bestsellers.  But I kept going, and was glad I did.  There was a reason he set up the book using the seven times of prayer, even if it was (a little) gimmicky.

So, as you could probably tell, the author commits to figuring out how to bake the perfect ‘peasant loaf’ as he calls it.  His investigation takes him to Maine, France, and Morocco; to state fair bake-offs, monasteries, and baking conferences.  Even though I feel like a pretty seasoned home baker, I learned a few things.  His discussion of the malnutrition epidemic of pellagra that resulted from industrial improvements in milling wheat and why flour in the US is enriched with niacin was fascinating.  dsc03723

More importantly for my purposes is that in the beginning, each chapter is a deep dive into the three main ingredients of bread – flour, water, and yeast.  I think that is so important in a beginner’s bread book, and most authors gloss over them, considering the topic fully covered in a page, if not a paragraph.  By devoting an entire chapter to each one, the reader really gets a familiarity with the ingredients.  dsc03724

The author visits a yeast production plant and a flour mill, grows, harvests, threshes and winnows his own wheat, and builds his own brick oven.dsc03728

He also gets a chance to pay it forward with his newfound baking knowledge – but I’ll let you discover that for yourself.

I am currently working on Alexander’s pain de campagne recipe, so that blog post will be forthcoming.  Even though I didn’t come away from the book having changed my techniques at all, I do appreciate knowing all the work involved in building a homemade brick oven and growing your own wheat flour in case the mood ever strikes 😉

I still have several books to go in my investigation into beginner baking books, but this one is a definite contender.

 

A Bread Library book review: Bread Alone by Dan Leader

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A friend recently asked me for recommendations for bread books for beginners.  I wasn’t sure what to say, because I mostly learned to bake by trial and error (lots of errors).  I have had Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads book for a long time, and have different favorite bread recipes that come in standard cookbooks, like The Joy of Cooking and Ina Garten’s cookbook.  I’ve also read a lot of baking books along the way, but I didn’t start baking by picking up a book.  dsc03608

I decided to investigate.  Maybe there were books I could recommend participants read after my Bread Camp.  So I checked out all the books on bread I could find at our library.  The first one I read was Bread Alone by Dan Leader.dsc03609

The pictures are pretty amazing.dsc03610dsc03611

The book does touch on a lot of what the beginning baker would need to know, such as equipment and ingredients.dsc03612

I also like how he breaks down each recipe’s cook time by what you will be doing for each step and how long each one takes.  He also includes chapters about other bakers and their techniques.dsc03613dsc03614

I thought the recipes he includes were awesome and definitely the highlight of the book.  While he does include recipes for basic breads like sourdough, I thought his enriched doughs had fascinating combinations of ingredients that I couldn’t wait to try out.  I flagged so many recipes!dsc03615

Andre LeFort is a mason who primarily services the legendary ovens that made his family name famous in France.dsc03617dsc03632dsc03646dsc03649dsc03668

This paragraph called to me.  Bread isn’t as precise and unyielding as people think, but you do have to start out being precise until you become comfortable with the feel of dough and don’t have to be precise anymore.fullsizerender-2

I loved this.  He provides timetables for whether you want to bake a dough in 12 hours, 18 hours or 24 hours.img_5999-1

One small quibble I had was that he provides recipe measurements in volume and by weight in ounces but not in metric.  I love metric- the math is so much easier.  Also, he doesn’t provide baker’s percentages or dough hydrations.  Sometimes I needed way more or way less flour than he calls for, and it would’ve been nice to get a general idea of what the dough’s hydration should be so I know whether to keep adding or stop adding flour.

I also felt like this wasn’t a true beginner’s baking book.  He never says it is, so I’m not faulting Leader here, but I’m looking for something really, really elementary that I can recommend to true beginners.  So many bread books provide a cursory overview of the process and ingredients that I don’t think true beginners get a very good grasp of each ingredient’s importance or each technique’s significance.

I do think this is a very good book in general though. It’s worth a look if you can find it!