Monday, January 2, 2012
The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum
Let me say first that Beranbaum is undoubtedly a master. After all, she developed most of the the recipes in this book on her own, using her own knowledge and the direction, ingredients, perhaps even the recipes of others. Let's just admit that writing a cookbook is darn hard work and nearly impossible. Aspiring cooks can't actually see and feel texture and notice those little indescribables that are so important in creating something completely new to them. All this is prelude to my frustration with her recipes. They seem to me to be overly complicated and particular to her. That is to say, they are not terribly sraightforward nor easily adaptable. I am used to adaptations of recipes for commonly used foods from around the world which tend to be simple enough for whole cultures to adapt to their tastes.
One thing that mattered to me this holiday season was making for the first time a Pannetone, my favorite holiday bread. I was determined to delight myself with making a loaf to celebrate my re-connection with the dear Italian friend who first introduced Pannetone to me years ago with a commercially-bought loaf purchased from New York City’s legendary delicatessen, Zabar’s. Presumptuously perhaps, I determined that Pannetone would be my gift for family this year—one sibling, one loaf. Little did I know how many weeks and how much treasure would be spent on trying to achieve a bread that pleasured four of the five senses: eyes, nose, tongue, as well as the “lightness” of touch. I am now proud to say I almost succeeded. However, “almost” was simply not good enough for me at first.
I flatter myself, I know now, that I am something of a bread master. I should have known this when I read in Daniel Leader's Simply Great Breads: Sweet and Savory Yeasted Treats from America's Premier Artisan Baker that one should attempt to master one type of bread and become known for that. Well, really.
Beranbaum has a recipe for Pannetone in her book. I almost never follow recipes exactly, usually because I lack all the called-for ingredients, but I did follow this one pretty closely (except for the suggestion that the ambient rising temperature be 75-90 deg F). At 2 a.m. (silly me, I should have just gone to bed & let it rise overnight), I rushed this into the oven because it needed to be on the road early the next day. It didn't have the rise I was expecting, but it tasted good. It was gifted to someone who had never seen a Pannetone, so they didn't care. But I did. After this, I went in search of other recipes, finding one I didn't end up using in my standard bread book, The Bread Bible: 300 Favorite Recipes by Beth Hensberger. I finally used my own starter and made a richer variation of Peter Reinhart's basic recipe in his classic The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread.
Why all the recipes call for low heat for an hour or more mystifies me. It dried the bread out terribly. I ended up going by internal temperature, which was reached far in advance of everyone's suggested baking times. Go figure.
Anyway, I did read much of Beranbaum's book, which is packed with information for those interested in breadmaking. I learned how to make the onion smear usually found on commercially-produced bialys, and I tried the bagels (not a grand success--prefer Leader's in his book referenced above). I also tried the Raisin Pecan Loaf which is her husband's favorite bread. It was exceptional and worth attention to detail.
View all my reviews
You can buy this book here: Tweet