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Bread: River Cottage Handbook No.3 - Daniel Stevens

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2 Reviews

Genre: Food & Drink / Author: Daniel Stevens / Hardcover / 224 pages / Book published 16 Feb 2009 by Bloomsbury Publishing PLC / ISBN-10: 074759533X

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      31.12.2012 14:46
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      A must have guide to baking bread. My favourite cookery book.

      I bought this book about 6 months ago on recommendation from a friend at the same time as embarking on 'The Bread Challenge'; making all your own bread for a given period of time. I can in thoroughly recommend both the book and the challenge to anyone with an interest in baking as you'll be rewarded with the most satisfying and delicious bread you can imagine.

      The premise
      ========
      This book is a complete introduction to bread making, suiting both those with some experience and complete novices. The first third of the book (give or take) is dedicated to ingredients, techniques, science, hints and tips.

      It walks you through the different types of flours and yeast to choose from as well as other things you can add to improve your breads then moves on to mixing, kneading, proving, shaping and cooking. These are skills which underlie all bread making whether you're dreaming of crusty French baguettes, soft white sandwich loaves, sticky Chelsea buns or dark aromatic sour dough. They're covered in good detail in this book, helping you understand both how and why you're doing these things.

      The recipes
      =======
      The recipes in this book are in four broad categories: Basic loaves, sourdough, yeastless breads, and buns, biscuits and batters.

      The basic loaves are variations on a white loaf with various different seeds. These recipes are great for ideas; however once you've mastered the basic loaf I prefer thinking up my own combinations than following recipes exactly. This section also covers other types of bread like ciabatta, focaccia and pizza. The basic recipe makes a great loaf (I cook mine in a big loaf tin and have it sliced thickly in sandwiches) and the pizza recipe is good, but a bit faffy.

      Sourdough uses wild yeast to leaven the bread (rather than packaged) which means it's a little more luck based, takes a bit of experience and patience to get right but the long fermenting means that flavours are top class. First you make a sourdough starter (full instructions provided) which is left to ferment and then 'fed' periodically. Some of the starter is then added to your mixture to make loaves and the rest kept for another day. It's not unusual for sourdough starters to last for many years with proper feeding.

      I'm ashamed to say that my forays into the sourdough world have, so far been limited and unsucessful. I failed to bring life into my starter and ended up with a goo filled tub. This is, however, probably my fault rather than the books.

      Just yesterday I made my first loaf of soda bread, an incredibly quick (no kneading), easy and delicious yeast free loaf. I've also made wraps from this section and have my eye on crumpets. Some of these recipes are a bit of a faff (wraps take forever to individually cook) but are usually worth the effort and it's good to have a quicker alternative to kneading and proving a loaf when you're pushed for time.

      The buns, biscuits and batters section felt, in places, like it was a bit of an afterthought and included in the book more to bulk up the page count than because the recipes were applicable to the topic. This seems to be the case in several bread books so I can't complain too much.

      Equipment & ingredients
      ==================
      The great thing about baking bread is that you don't need any specialised equipment to get started, just a bowl, a work surface and an oven tray. There are a couple of bits which can be useful which this book covers such as scrapers (try Wilkos paint scrapers), a spray bottle (gardening store) and, depending on what sort of loaf you want to make, some tins. I reckon you could get yourself well kitted out for less than £20. This really is a very approachable field of baking.

      The ingredients for a basic loaf (flour, yeast, salt, water) are all very cheap and even seeds to top the bread aren't expensive. A 1.5kg bag of bread flour will set you back less than £1 and will make three big loaves. Unlike other forms of baking you won't be spending a fortune on fancy, hard to find ingredients.

      Clay ovens
      =======
      The last section of the book takes you through step-by-step how to build a wood fired clay oven in your garden. Living in rented accommodation, this section of the book is of no use to me, and I suspect that it's a small minority of readers who will have the space and inclination to build such an oven in their garden. The chapter is detailed so would probably tell you everything you needed to know but for me this chapter didn't add anything to the book.

      Conclusions
      =======
      To conclude I would like to emphasize how good a book this is. The hardback edition is a nicely bound A5 sized volume and tells you everything you need to know to start making your own bread or to improve your current loaves. At present it costs around £8-9 on Amazon and I would happily pay double that.

      Bread is and always will be a time consuming endeavour, there are no short cuts to kneading and proving, but personally I find it the most satisfying form of baking and a truly life enriching endeavour. I genuinely hope that this review will encourage others to give it a try and this book to the perfect tool to guide you on your journey. Try making all your own bread for a month; I guarantee you'll be hooked.

      Happy baking

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        09.03.2011 20:16
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        Wonderful intro to a difficult topic

        One of my favourite aspects of baking is bread. These days, nobody thinks twice about it, we pick up countless, bland loaves, of soggy white bread in Tesco every day, never questioning what else is out there. In recent years, fresh bread has made a revival, with bigger supermarkets now offering "artisan" style loaves fresh from their bakeries. But nothing compares to baking your own.

        *****Summary*****
        Appearance: small, canvas book. Thick paper. Can stand up to getting covered in flour and the likes
        Content: good, simple approach to baking bread. Lots of added extras
        Price: Under £8 on amazon


        ****Why bake bread at all?****
        It's a good question. When people think of making their own, they usually imagine tedious kneading and hours of waiting for things to rise..... sorry, but that's still the case. Nothing's changed in the last few hundred years, and it won't anytime soon!
        The point about making your own is three-fold:
        1) It's cheaper- bread = flour + water + yeast + salt.... You can make an amazing loaf for under 40p once you've found your feet. Even the cheapest supermarkets find it difficult to compete with this
        2) It tastes better- you can bake whatever you want.... More salt? Softer bread? Crusty bread? Sweeter bread? It's all in your hands.
        3) You get a sense of accomplishment- there's nothing more rewarding than eating bread you've made yourself. It's almost alchemy. Even when it looks a bit scruffy and isn't quite baked enough, it'll still be wonderful to you after your hours of kitchen toil.

        ****Why this book?****
        Again, a good question. I personally like this book because of its incredibly basic approach. The basic bread recipe covers literally over 30 pages. It goes through everything, how to knead, how to shape, how to adjust the recipe to suit your taste, what to do when things go wrong... all of this is covered in mind-numbingly simple detail. For this I applaud the author. So often books of this nature assume everything, simply saying "combine everything into a soft dough then leave to prove for an hour before baking". This approach helps NOBODY.
        The other thing I like about this book is the additional recipes in the back, it has things such as flatbreads and bagels and scones. These are an added bonus. The flatbread was oh so good. He also includes a few recipes for non-yeasted things, like scones. I'm not too sure why, but it's a good little thing to have. In many ways I think it's a shame that the author didn't decide to write a fully-fledged book on baking. He certainly has the capabilities based on this little book.
        For those of you who hate waste, there's even a chapter on what to do with leftover bread. It's not comprehensive. But it gives a few ideas as to what can be done with bread that's going stale to the point of no return. The author even tells you how to refresh a loaf by sticking it in the oven temporarily.

        *****Who's it for?*****
        As I said above, the author assumes NOTHING. Anybody could follow these recipes. Realistically, the book is aimed more to home bakers. A professional chef would find nothing of interest in here, and would instead be better advised finding a book on professional/artisan baking.
        Equally, if you're a home baking enthusiast, you may be a little disappointed. This is really just about baking a nice, homely, white/wholemeal loaf. It doesn't go much into breads such as sourdough or different types of French bread styles.

        *****Any major issues?*****
        On the whole I've found the recipes In the book to be great. I had a bit of an issue with the scones, since the author uses double cream in the recipe rather than milk. I feel that this was perhaps a typo and have emailed the publishers to this effect, since using cream does nothing for the resulting scone.

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