When I went to a carboot sale a little while ago, I met a lady who was selling off her cook book collection. I ended up bringing home several of her lovely books, despite trying to thin down my own collection! I paid just 50p for "Italian Breads" by Maxine Clark which was at least a bargain. I do not know much about the author, but I have noticed that she has produced a couple of other Italian themed titles. I wil be keeping an eye out for those too.
THE BOOK ITSELF
"Italian Breads" is a small square hardbook book, about paperback novel size in height but wider. It has 63 pages and each recipe gets a double page spread. This means that there are just under 30 recipes in the book. If I had paid the full cover price of £9.99 for the book, I may well have felt a bit short changed. If I had wanted just a couple of classic Italian recipes, it would be cheaper just to google them. However, there are breads here that I have struggled to find good recipes for both online and off, and I like the convenience of having them all in one place. As I have made a large number of the breads, and intend to try them all eventually, the book represents good value for me.
Each recipe spread comes with an attractive photograph that always inspires me to get kneading! The book as a whole looks attractive, with plenty of room given to each recipe. There is a very brief introduction, but no general "how-to" advice. So if you are not sure of the technique of kneading for example, you won't find it explained here. I remember being confused about what was meant by "knocking back" dough when I first made bread - it sounded like I needed to get out a hammer! If you are a total beginner, you may need to consult another book for help if there is something you aren't sure about. Apart from that, the recipes are explained clearly and succintly. It may be worth mentioning that there are no instruction specifically intended for those using bread machines, only for those baking by hand. This is by far my favourite way of baking, so the instructions are perfect for me, but if you do use a bread maker it willl be one of those times that you need to refer to your manual.
WHAT KINDS OF RECIPES ARE INCLUDED?
All the familiar Italian breads are here, such as focaccia, grissini, and ciabatta as well as flat breads, pizza dough and sweet loaves. The flavoured breads such as a chickpea and rosemary flatbread have been my favourites because they taste so delicious on their own as well as topped. It is these recipes that are also less easy to find in general baking books. In the same way, it is nice to have a selection of focaccia recipes to choose from, rather than the basic one that is included in so many other books. I recommend the oatmeal variant as especially tasty.
IS THE BOOK EASY TO USE?
The instructions are perfectly easy to understand, and accurate too in my experience. Many of the breads are made with "00" flour rather than the standard strong bread flour although it is advised that you can use the other if you wish. I have found 00 flour to be quite widely stocked now, and Sainsbury's do an own brand version in larger stores that is reasonably priced. Apart from that, the ingredients are generally the same as you would need in other breadmaking, or an alternative will be offered on the odd occasion something rarer is wanted. The other relatively unusual requirement for some recipes is a "testo" or bakestone that is supposed to help mimic the effect of using a pizza oven. I have a pizza stone somewhere, that I believe to be effectively the same thing, but I decided to follow the author's suggestion and use a sturdy baking tray instead. This works fine, using the instructions in the book, and I do think using a fake "testo" helps give a good texture to the bread.
The other part of this book that I appreciate is the fact that the ingredients list the required quanties of yeast whether you are using fresh, dried or fast action. This seems a small thing, but they are not interchangeable as regards quantities, and having the information to hand saves me looking up my conversion charts.
WOULD I RECOMMEND THIS BOOK?
The lovely smells that come from my oven when I am making one of these breads makes the book seem worth it's price alone. If you like mediterranean style food, you will find plenty of ideal accompaniments within it's pages. If you just like making bread, this book gives fresh inspiration. You can use the base recipes here, and then play around with the flavourings. I love the recipe for pignola, a sweet bread made with oranges and pine nuts, and so I have been trying variations of that with chopped apricots and cranberries in and it is delicious. Because I have wanted to make just about every recipe, I feel the book would be reasonable value at £9.99 despite the fact it isn't a huge book. If you have more of a passing interest, you may not feel the same. I do think it would make a good present for a keen bread maker though.
ISBN 978 845978990
Published by Ryland, Peters & Small, 2010.
[This review is also on Ciao under my user name.]