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The Bread Bible

(article, Caroline Cummins)

Let's take three classic books: the hippie manifesto The Tassajara Bread Book, the James Beard standby Beard on Bread, and Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 2, which isn't just about bread but includes her baguette recipe.

The Tassajara breadmaking outlook is all about one simple dough recipe with flavor variations. The Beard ethos is all about technique: knowing how to knead yeasted breads, or knowing how to combine ingredients for quickbreads. And the Child philosophy is all about letting the dough do its own thing, gaining texture and flavor from letting the dough rise for what seems like forever.

Rose Levy Beranbaum's latest, The Bread Bible, covers the wheat fields trodden in these earlier books and then some. Her book's title is no hyperbole; she is painstaking in her efforts to provide a comprehensive worldview, as seen through bread. After a sift through the 600-plus pages of The Bread Bible, you may well feel like worshipping, too.

Like Beard, Beranbaum organizes her book by bread category: quickbreads, flatbreads, sourdough, etc. But unlike Beard, who is laissez-faire and just wants to have a good time, Beranbaum wants to make sure you Get It Right. And nothing is carved in baking stone here; if she thinks something isn't right one of her recipes, she'll correct it on her website.

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Her recipes go on for pages, and measurements are given by volume (cups, teaspoons), weight (ounces), and metric (grams). At times — as in the all-important opening chapter "The Ten Essential Steps of Making Bread" — The Bread Bible feels like a self-help book. Only ten steps, and you, too, can make perfect bread! But heck, the original Bible is a self-help book, too. 

As with all cooking, of course, even the most painstaking instructions and measurements won't guarantee the same results every time. Yeast is a living thing, oven temperatures vary, and nifty equipment will only get you so far. 

But even the exacting Beranbaum is happy to roll with the dough punches. "Bread is like life — you can never control it completely," she writes in the introduction. "Come to think of it, bread IS life."

p(bio). Caroline Cummins is the managing editor of Culinate.


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