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Posted November 11, 2009
Great bread, not as complete as it could be
I have been baking most of my own bread for the last 20 years, either by hand or breadmaker. I bought this book specifically to learn recipes using the two-step poolish methods.
The book provides very, very detailed instructions for 10 recipes. There are several variations for each recipe.
Good points: Following these recipes gives me the absolute best crust and most consistently delicious bagettes, ciabtta, pane francese, and croissants I have ever made. No other recipes have ever gotten as good results. Variations include the lovely loaf on the cover, foccacia bread, nice twists and bread sticks, etc.
There are extremely detailed instructions with illustrations (I haven't looked at the videos) showing what dough looks like with fully and partially developed gluten, etc.
The book is based on using a stand mixer for dough and give very accurate times for mixing. In addition, the book is based on weight, rather than on cup measures (both are given), which is important in variable weather for producing good results with flour.
The description of detailed techniques are superb and the pictures and ideas inspiring.
Bad points: First, there are only 10 recipes. Of those, the pizza crust, white bread, and whole wheat loafs are very pedestrian. There is no recipe for sourdough or rye. These seem like important omissions.
The organization of each recipe is presented as a variation of an overall strategy for breadmaking. That works okay, but seems a bit forced for some recipes. It also makes it very hard to follow. I rewrote several steps in order to make work flow easier or more efficient. For example, you are pre-heating your oven to 475 degrees. However, in the bagette recipe, they have you do so perhaps four steps before your baking - solidly two hours. You can fully preheat in 30 minutes, even with a baking stone and two hours is excessive.
I consistently find myself searching for the next step of what to do because it is buried in text, pictures, and explanation.
Finally, and this is a warning, not a lack in the book, the recipes are very time consuming. For example, the delicious bagette is set up the night before to get good gluten development. It sits 12-16 hours. Then it takes four hours the day of preparation with 30 minutes between steps. I work, so following the directions, that means I set it up at midnight the first day and begin it at dinner time during meal preparation the next day to pull it from the oven around 9 or 10.
That's why it tastes so good, but be forswarned this is not a book of fast recipes.
Finally, the book would be improved by more variations in flour as well as form. For example, by using whole wheat or rye in the poolish stage, and bread flour in the rest, I get delicious loaves that have a sourdough or rye taste (although they are neither). However, those very simple variations aren't mentioned.
Overall: This book improved my breadmaking - and I was pretty good to start. But it isn't a book for someone not committed to finetuning this skill. It would also be improved by filling some obvious gaps (sourdough and rye).
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