Sunday, May 15, 2011

Simply Great Breads by Daniel Leader with Lauren Chattman

Simply Great Breads: Sweet and Savory Yeasted Treats from America's Premier Artisan Baker

I wrote a review in a post before I tried the Yeasted Pancakes. Now I'm just going to rave about these: I have NEVER have I tasted anything to rival the creamy lightness of these pancakes. In fact, it is laughable that they are even called pancakes. They should have another name--like crepes have a different name because they have a different texture, these are a different class altogether. Maybe something like a pan-fried doughnut, but far more elegant and without the greasy overtones 'doughnut' implies. It has a melt-in-your-mouth not-too-sweet airy perfection that will take any added fruit, fruit sauce, or drizzle of maple syrup and make your family/guests swoon with pleasure. Best of all, you make the batter the night before and have a coffee before you do anything more strenuous than take the batter out of the frig.

At first I thought this a collection for entertaining. It has a marvelous set of breakfast breads, rolls, and specialties that one would probably not make every week for oneself, especially if one had a busy schedule, but may want to do as a special treat for family or if a guest were coming. Or perhaps if one had a tea shop, one could offer specials each day. The yeasted tarts and schiacciata, or flatbreads something like focaccia, make me think of brunches, afternoon teas, cool and sweetly delicious white wines, and casually elegant lunches for delighted and delightful friends. But you know what? I really like this collection so much I would probably use it to fill in all week when I run out of something--and to treat myself.

The array of flatbreads must be tried: Mana’eesh is a Middle Eastern olive oil-rich bread topped with dried thyme, sesame, and sumac. This was screamingly good in taste and texture. (Use some lemon peel if you have no sumac on hand.) But not only are secrets of the bread revealed (e.g., how to make the bread rise--or not--since it is intended to be flat), but the secret of the spice mixture, and the cooking of chicken topping that can adorn it, if one eats meat. In addition there are fry breads and donuts, bagels and bialys. The bialys were so much better than store-bought that I shall probably never buy another. I have yet to try to try the bagels, but look forward to it. (I have tried making bagels several times previously from variously sourced-recipes and all have been vaguely disappointing.)

Perhaps what I like most is that many of these breads can be most successfully made by preparing the biga or proofing dough the day before, which has the effect of lessening the work aspect of bread creation on the day of a big event, strengthening the texture, and enhancing the flavor. I prefer to make my breads this way now, since the flavor is so clearly impacted (I’m terribly spoiled) and I detest wasting an entire day to rising, kneading, shaping, etc. It has to fit in the schedule if it is going to be a part of my life.

I think this is a valuable addition to the library of even an occasional bread-maker because the flatbreads are nearly infallible, and this author uses a standing mixer to knead, which can take some of the mystery out of bread-making, but also gives access to many aspiring bakers. However I note the author, in his preface, suggests this is for the "serious baker with holes in their repertoire." I concede that one may take for granted the necessary oven stones and peels, brioche pans and experience of texture and stages of doneness, but this is too good not to share with everyone. Enjoy!

You can buy this book here: Shop Indie Bookstores

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