Local breads, local reviews (Upd. 11 Jan 2008)
A new baking book arrived a while ago: “Daniel Leader. Local Breads. Sourdough and Whole-Grain Recipes from Europe’s Best Artisan Bakers”. It looks like collection of very good recipes and I hope I will bake from it often.
Generally, I find it difficult to rate cookbooks (or bakingbooks). I’m easily put off by what I think is bad style or bad editing, the latter usually not being the author’s fault. The backbone of a cookbook are the recipes, but if an experienced cook or baker cannot convey what he has been doing successfully for years and years, the clutter and ambiguity of his prose that reveal bad style will turn against him.
Writing is hard work. It is lonely work. Professional writers are “solitary drudges” and not stars. But cooks and even some missent bakers seek stardom. Sure, that stardom might help their first efforts on writing and they might land a best-seller, but eventually a bad writer will stay a bad writer if he cannot stop flirting with the idea of his utter greatness.
Reviews on amazon are usually no help and do not give a balanced view. First, people who do not think much of a book, do not write reviews. Readers find it unnecessary to comment on a poorly written book (unless they think it is overrated or harmful). Second, a book can attract a following of people, that are fans, not thoughtful readers. So neither the number of positive reviews nor the number of positive adjectives used in them tell me if a book is written well. Au contraire: Whenever I read a review, preferably written only a few days after the book’s release, and it is full of praise, I know I can disregard it.
I do not feel entitled to give a complete review of Daniel Leader’s new book, so here are just some of my impressions:
- A chapter about Czech and Polish breads. This is unusual and interesting.
- Emphasis on sourdough. Leader omits commercial yeast where it makes sense, consequently not compromising flavor and texture of a loaf. On the other hand, he uses yeast, where it makes sense (“Parisian Daily Bread” aka Baguette).
- Naturalistic illustrations (not many of them though).
- Beautiful photographs. They act as a guideline to the appearance of a loaf. Not all the breads have photos. Why?
- There is too much text. Once we have understood the basics, it is not necessary to explain them again in every following recipe. By the second or third time we know where to “transfer” the dough to for fermentation. (“Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled, clear 2-quart container with a lid.”)
- Presentation of the recipes could and should have been more compact. Especially the tables displaying weights and baker’s percentages are huge. Cell padding (the distance between text and cell border) is so large, the space for the tables could have been reduced at least by 50%.
- Redundancies. Each occurrence of “Type 55-style flour” reads:
“Type 55-style flour from […]* or […]*’s or unbleached all-purpose flour”.
If an author has a preferred source for buying flour, that is fine. But that is what appendices are for. Tiresome.
- Errors and ambiguities. Making errors is normal. Nobody is perfect. Even polished books by polished bakers aren’t. But when you spot three mishaps after looking through the book for 15 minutes, it makes you suspicious.
- Does this world need another recipe for straight Baguette dough or Ciabatta made with biga? But who am I to judge what goes into Daniel Leader’s proverbial bread basket and what doesn’t.
You have to wade through a lot of text to get to the recipes and methods. Ideally, you go through that once in the beginning of a book and then never again, but Daniel Leader does not agree with that idea. Nevertheless, it is interesting to bake from this book. The first time I made the Whole-Spelt Loaf, I mixed the dough following the given formula. But I had to increase the bulk fermentation to 4 hours and the final fermentation to 3 hours. The dough rose in the oven, but irregularly and the bread had a very dense and dry crumb. I baked this bread again using 40% of sourdough and a hydration of 70% with good results. Will increase the hydration further to open up crumb more just a bit.
In any case, Daniel Leader could not or did not wish to write the book in a very concise way. But other authors could and did. Better authors?
* Brand names deleted
List of errors / ambiguities / strangeness
(Will add to this list, should I find more)
Page 77: Lquid Levain. Table. The amounts of 160g water and 50g flour do not correspond to the given hydration of 60%. (It’s 320%.)
Page 82: Buckwheat Levain. Table. The amounts of 300g Liquid Levain and 125g Buckwheat flour do not correspond to the given hydration of 60%. In the following instructions it says: “Pour 1/4 cup of your liquid levain into a small bowl. (Refresh the remaining liquid levain […])” Aha! But 1/4 cup of liquid levain, according to Leader, is 50g of liquid levain, which doesn’t yield the given hydration of 60% either.
Page 101: Whole Spelt Loaf. Table. Without additional yeast, I found it unlikely that 55% of water and only 10% of Sourdough would yield a douigh that doubled in 2.5 hours and then be ready for baking after 1.5 hours of final fermentation. Remedy: Increase hydration to about 70% (overall) and Rye Sourdough to 30-50%.
Pages 119/120: Poilane-style miche. On page 119 instructions for preparing the whole-wheat levain say to use 45g of the stiff levain, but table says 50g. Leader advises mixing “bread flour and whole wheat flour” to “a very stiff dough”. There is no bread flour in the ingredient list, and the hydration of the whole-wheat levain will be at least 69%, which does not yield a very stiff dough. On page 120, the table lists 225g (45%) of whole-wheat levain, but the following instructions tell us to use only 125g of it. A table for a formula should list what goes into the dough.
Yeast quantities. The baker’s percentages are supposed to give the amounts of instant dry yeast, but using Leader’s conversion formula from page 17, “Instant dry yeast x 2 = fresh yeast”, one arrives at unconventionally high quantities of yeast. Example: “Ciabatta” (p. 218ff). The recipe uses 2% of instant dry yeast, this would then equal 4% of fresh yeast. Thus, baker’s percentages could give the quantities of fresh yeast. Consequently, the quantities of instant dry yeast could safely be cut by a half.
Large rounding errors. Example: “Green Olive Sticks”. Page 231: U.S. Weights for salt and olives. It is not clear where and why rounding occurs. 40% olives of 17.6 ounces flour equals 7.0 ounces, not 7.1 (rounded). But 2% salt of 17.6 ounces flour equals 0.4 ounces (rounded), as correctly stated in the book. The ratio between olives and salt equals 18 and not 20 like in the recipe for metric weights. Using metric or U.S. weights will probably yield different results.
Please find another opinion and corrections in this comment by Joe.