Book Discussion – Bread Baking

Becky Bread



The third meeting of both our morning and evening Bibliobites group found many of us leaving our comfort zones and trying new things. Bread baking is not part of every cook’s repertoire and some of us found it intimidating. “Why is that so?” asked a new member who joined us on Thursday night to share his expertise and experience. He owned and worked at a bakery in the North End and also taught classes at the Le Cordon Bleu – (He also brought sourdough flax seed bread and wonderful baguettes featuring masa harina plus an amazing braided bread sculpture to share with group members.)

Group members explained that bread baking seemed more hit or miss than other cooking projects. One loaf will not rise, one will be perfect, and one will not taste as good as the last time. It is unpredictable and it can take up your whole day. If the results are less than stellar, it isn’t an experience you are apt to repeat.

But it is the practice that makes it perfect. The feel of the dough, the correct kneading techniques, how to know when the dough has doubled in bulk, recognizing when a dough could use an extra turn – this is all knowledge that comes with trial and error. So we encourage everyone to practice, again and again and fill your homes with the heavenly aroma of warm, baked bread.  And if you bake too much bread, you can always start bringing it to the library – the staff will be happy to eat it up!

Initial conversation in the evening group centered on the time-honored tradition of creating bread before the advent of commercial yeast. There are many traditional techniques methods that aid in the dough rising – Italians use the biga – Polish the poolish and the French are fond of the pate fermentee. Sourdough starters such as what they use in the famous Boudin bakery in San Francisco are so valuable that they are sometimes kept in a large vault.  When the original Boudin bakery was affected by the Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906, Louise Boudin saved the original “mother dough” by placing it in a bucket. We talked about the value of using a Banneton for shaping and molding when making a sourdough bread and the importance of using the right amount of salt in a bread recipe. It was mentioned that the Italian make a Tuscan bread pane toscano or pane sciapo that is traditionally made without salt as a staple for the poor.

We also discussed what and when our first attempt at baking bread was – One of us recalled using Beard on Bread to make a classic French-style loaf – another remembers a Pillsbury prize-winner with poppy seeds, cheese and onion (could it be this recipe? and another member recalled a Portuguese sweet bread made with cinnamon as her first attempt.

Here are the books we took a look at along with some comments in red:

From the basics:

  • Beard on Bread by James Beard
    Becky’s favorite bridal gift to give, a real primer

To ethnic breads:

  • The Italian Baker  by Carol Field
    The whole wheat bread did not rise on the second rise but still tasted good with soup.

To artisan loaves:

To cooking flat breads –

  • Flatbreads and Flavors: a Baker’s Atlas by Jeffrey Alford
    The reviewer enjoyed learning how to make flatbreads and about the many different cultures where flatbreads are cooked. Also enjoyable were the side dishes suggested to go along with the breads.

To cooking gluten free breads:

  • Gluten-Free Baking Classics by Annalise Roberts.
  • Gluten-Free on a shoestring Bakes Bread by Nicole Hunn
  •  The gluten-free gourmet bakes bread: more than 200 wheat-free recipes  Bette Hagman
  • Healthy Bread in five minutes” by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francoi
    Gluten free bread baking requires special flours and has a different texture from wheat breads. The breads tried were tasty.  The person who baked the gluten-free loaf found in “Healthy Bread in five minutes” was pleased with her loaf and thought you might not notice the difference if you didn’t know it was gluten free.  She also tried the basic recipe in this book which makes enough dough for four loaves which can be stored in the refrigerator for 2 weeks.  The first loaf she made was good and as the flavor changes as it ages, she has promised to tell us how the next loaves turn out. Hint: you can store the batter in plastic bags in the refrigerator so it doesn’t take up so much room.

To quick breads:

Some of us pulled out our old favorite cookbooks :

The best find was:

  •  The Carriage House Cookbook compiled by the Chelmsford Library staff in 1979 as a fund raiser. (Available only in the history room at the Chelmsford Library. )
    The highly recommended recipe for Julie’s Irish Soda Bread will be posted in the comment section of this blog, along with Dorothy’s beer bread and any recipe you would like to add.

Some bread baking websites, stores and resources mentioned were:

For Middle Eastern Products:

Armenian market and Bakery  in Watertown
Olive Tree at 1270 Westford St. Lowell (near Drum hill) a local source


Ken Haedrich’s website on pie making including lots of how-to videos
National Honey Board,  for tips on storing and substituting honey in recipes.
Penzey’s spices catalog.   for unusual spices