Like a Mother who adamantly refuses to name her favorite child, I have a hard time picking a favorite cookbook. But, if someone asked me which cookbook had the greatest impact on my cooking, I’d pick “The Handmade Loaf” by Dan Lepard, hands down.
If you dream of making great bread, if you feel that calling those preserved abnormalities at the grocery store “bread” is disrespectful to bakers everywhere, then you need this book. Not only are the photos gorgeous, but Dan’s writing will excite you to try every single bread from the book. Isn’t that the mark of a great cookbook? Each page you turn makes you want to stop reading and start cooking!
His main message is simple: if you want to become great at baking bread, forget about using a bread machine, or even a mixer. You won’t be pushing buttons, you will be using your hands to knead the dough. But his kneading technique is miles and miles ahead of the traditional, back-breaking, sweat-inducing method. You’ll fold the dough instead, allowing time to accomplish what brute force used to do. You will also, for the most part, use yeast captured from your own kitchen, starting from flour, water, and a few raisins. This book will completely change your approach to bread baking.
Yes, you will make the sourdough starter. Yes, at first you will feel intimidated. Yes, you will make mistakes, but you’ll soon realize that the starter is a very forgiving creature. Some of you who read my profile might be mumbling: “yeah, right, she is a biochemist who works with bacteria, easy for her to make starter”. Believe me, I felt intimidated too. I was afraid of the sourdough turning rotten, of my breads not rising, tasting flat, ending up hard as a hockey puck. In part because those things happened to me in the past, I was convinced that bread baking was simply not my cup of tea.
That all changed with “The Handmade Loaf”. My first starter was born on March 2008 (I now have more than one). Since then, I’ve baked sourdough bread on a regular schedule, by far the MOST rewarding activity in my Bewitching Kitchen. I will share many of my bread baking adventures here, so stay tuned.
Meanwhile, would anyone care for a piece of levain bread with black olives?