Pros: Some of the most delightful breads ever; bread for a week morning programs
Cons: Make sure you have a recent-model heavy-duty stand mixer before trying the stand-mixer amounts
Rating: 5 out of 5
My husband and I have and have used hundreds of cookbooks, so when it comes to something as well-explored as bread, it takes quite a good book to truly impress us. Not only have we thoroughly enjoyed using “Secrets of a Jewish Baker,” but we look for every excuse to use it again and again!
The point of the book is not merely to provide you with recipes, but rather to help you create professional-quality loaves in your own kitchens. If you find you have difficulty making a truly light and airy loaf of bread, a whole-grain loaf that’s tasty as well as nutritious, or a crusty loaf like your favorite baker’s, you won’t have any trouble with these tasks by the time you’ve made a few recipes from this book.
The book opens with wonderful notes on basic materials you’ll need (as well as optional ones), ingredients, special bakers’ techniques, handy tricks and tips to make things easier on yourself, and even a trouble-shooting section to help you figure out what might have gone wrong with a loaf of bread and how to fix it. Many of these tips are not things I’ve seen in other books–usually I find myself reading these sorts of sections and nodding with a sense of “yeah, that’s useful, but I’ve seen it before.” Here I learned new things.
Bread chapters include basic yeast bread, corn- and potato-based breads, breads from around the world, sourdough breads, rolls, biscuits and muffins, quick breads, and a chapter of menus enabling you to bake a week’s worth of bread in one morning. There’s also a list of sources for equipment and ingredients. As for the recipes, they come out nothing short of stunning. The cheese bread disappeared so fast you’d think it had been a figment of our imaginations. Most surprisingly for me, the cracked wheat bread and bran bread disappeared just as quickly–I think of bran as tasteless and unappealing, but these healthy breads were moist, tender, and delicious. The coffee cake made a yummy (if rather sinful) breakfast, as did the peach streusel muffins. The techniques for creating great crusts worked like magic, particularly on the Irish raisin bread, which was similarly delightful.
We made use of one of the morning “programs” of baking, since it seemed disingenuous not to explore how well those worked out. Mr. Greenstein includes a number of programs, each of which includes a handful of recipes, their steps interleaved so that you can make all of the recipes within several hours of work. It’s quite impressive, and worked perfectly for us. Just make sure you have plenty of measuring cups, bowls, and so on at hand right from the start–not to mention clear counter space!
One fantastic function of the recipes is that many of them include variations designed for the food processor and the six-quart stand mixer, with different ratios of ingredients to take advantage of those items’ form-factors. Thus you can easily adapt the recipes to the equipment you have on hand. I do have one caution if you plan to use a stand mixer with these recipes, however. We have a six-quart stand mixer and used it with two of the recipes, using his amounts designed for a six-quart stand mixer. One recipe came out fine; the next killed our mixer’s motor. I did a bit of research into today’s six-quart mixers, and concluded this is probably because we got ours in 2002, and today’s six-quart stand mixers come in varieties with sturdier, higher-powered motors. So I recommend carefully checking the recommended maximum cups of flour your mixer is rated for, and if his mixer variations look borderline or too high, just use the regular by-hand recipe amounts in your stand mixer–particularly if you didn’t buy your mixer recently.
This is a stunning bread cookbook, particularly for anyone who wants to make professional-quality breads in their home kitchen, or who wants recipes for healthy, whole-grain breads that taste amazing!