With praise from Dorie Greenspan, Jim Lahey, and David Lebovitz, the definitive bread-baking book for a new generation. But this book isn’t just about baking bread it’s about what to do with the slices and heels and nubs from those many loaves you’ll bake.
Alexandra Stafford grew up eating her mother’s peasant bread at nearly every meal—the recipe for which was a closely-guarded family secret. When her blog, Alexandra’s Kitchen, began to grow in popularity, readers started asking how to make the bread they’d heard so much about; the bread they had seen peeking into photos. Finally, Alexandra’s mother relented, and the recipe went up on the internet. It has since inspired many who had deemed bread-baking an impossibility to give it a try, and their results have exceeded expectations. The secret is in its simplicity: the no-knead dough comes together in fewer than five minutes, rises in an hour, and after a second short rise, bakes in buttered bowls.
After you master the famous peasant bread, you’ll work your way through its many variations, both in flavor (Cornmeal, Jalapeno, and Jack; Three Seed) and form (Cranberry Walnut Dinner Rolls; Cinnamon Sugar Monkey Bread). You’ll enjoy bread’s usual utilities with Food Cart Grilled Cheese and the Summer Tartine with Burrata and Avocado, but then you’ll discover its true versatility when you use it to sop up Mussels with Shallot and White Wine or juicy Roast Chicken Legs. Finally, you’ll find ways to savor every last bite, from Panzanella Salad Three Ways to Roasted Tomato Soup to No-Bake Chocolate-Coconut Cookies.
Bread, Toast, Crumbs is a 2018 nominee for The IACP Julia Child First Book Award, and Alexandra's Kitchen was a finalist for the Saveur Blog Awards Most Inspired Weeknight Dinners 2016
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About the Author
After graduating from Yale, Alexandra (Ali) Stafford moved to Philadelphia, where she attended cooking school and worked in catering and restaurant kitchens. She launched her blog, Alexandra’s Kitchen, and began writing about food. Today, she writes a biweekly column for Food52, “A Bushel and a Peck,” and contributes to the Baking Steel blog. Ali lives near Schenectady in upstate New York with her husband and their four young children.
Read an Excerpt
It’s hard not to wax poetic about the bread-baking process—the time, the growth, the smells, the awe it inspires. But the reasons to bake bread aside from romance are simple: Foremost, flavor—homemade bread tastes better than anything you can find at the store. Second, health—you know exactly what’s in your homemade bread. Third, cost—a homemade loaf of bread requires about a dolloar’s worth of pantry items. And fourth, ease—there’s really nothing to it.
The first recipe in this book gives you each step of the process detailed and demystified. It will produce two golden loaves, fit for serving for dinner or toasting for breakfast. Most important, it will leave you with the confidence to tackle anything in the first part of this book, BREAD: various boules, buns, pullman loaves, pull-apart breads, pizza, focaccia, and dinner rolls. Each is an adaptation of the master recipe.
Many of these breads can (and should!) be used for the recipes in the TOAST and CRUMBS sections, but you do not need to bake your own bread to have success with those recipes. They will find new and delicious purpose for any heel, slice, or loaf aging in your kitchen. In Toast, fresh slices of bread are first used in sandwiches, flanking the likes of tarragon chicken salad and crabmeat with sauce gribiche. As the bread ages, the slices meet the broiler, the grill grates, the sauté pan, and finally the custard bath.
In Crumbs, bread is broken down further. In addition to highlighting some classic day-old bread revivals—panzanella salad, bread pudding—this part explores bread’s workhorse capabilities: as a thickener for soups and sauces, as a panade, or bread soaked in liquid, in meatballs and meat loaves, and as a medium for transforming modest ingredients into hearty fare. These uses perhaps best illustrate bread’s resilience and reflect how bread has been used loaf-to-crumb for centuries. And this is the real beauty of bread: its ability to endure, to become something else, and to nourish at every phase of its existence.
Each of these three parts—Bread, Toast, and Crumbs—is divided into subsections: Bread into Savory Boules, Freeform Breads, and Sweet Breads; Toast into Salads, Soups, and Starters, Sandwiches, Entrées, and Sweets; Crumbs into Salads, Soups, and Starters, On the Side, Pasta, Meatless Mains, Meat and Fish, and Sweets. To easily navigate through each part, just look for the text along the bottom of each page, where you will find the subsection referenced.
The recipes in this book, inspired by family, friends, my time working in restaurant kitchens, meals out, and my favorite cookbooks, celebrate bread in its entirety. Twenty years after baking my first loaf, I have found that the awe it inspires persists. Bread is what greets me in the morning, what sustains me throughout the day, and what I still look forward to most in the evening no matter the form: freshly baked, toasted, or crumbled all over my plate.
The recipes here follow a simple no-knead mixing process: whisk together the dry ingredients, add the wet, mix with a spatula until combined. If you can make the Peasant Bread Master Recipe (and you can!), you can also make all the others, as each, in essence, is an adaptation. In simple variations, nuts, seeds, cheese, herbs, and dried fruit enter the equation. In slightly more complex variations, grains (bulgur, oatmeal, cornmeal) are briefly soaked prior to mixing. In some cases, the liquid is infused with herbs or tea.
These recipes will also show how the dough can be adapted into other vessels (loaf pans, skillets, sheet pans, and muffin tins, to name a few) and applications (pizza, focaccia, and pullapart breads). And just a handful of recipes deviates from the main assembly process, asking you to use your hands. Being liberal with the flour and letting the dough rest when directed will allow these breads to come together as seamlessly as the others, and the reward is well worth the extra effort: hamburger buns to bring to the barbecue all summer, cinnamon swirl bread for breakfast toast, buttermilk pull-apart rolls at the dinner table, pizza, egg-topped or créme fraîche–slicked, for any time of day, and so on.
The key to creating successful variations on the Peasant Bread Master Recipe is to stick to the basic ratio: 4 cups (512 g) of flour to 2 cups of liquid with (about) 2 teaspoons each of salt, sugar, and yeast. The proportions can vary slightly, and it’s best to change one variable at a time, but if you keep this ratio in mind as you substitute flours and add seeds, nuts, herbs, spices, fruit, and cheeses, you are likely to create a tasty loaf every time.
As you add more nuts, seeds, and whole-grain flours—all of which make for a heavier loaf—you may need to increase the yeast to keep the texture of the bread light. Additionally, sugar and fat slow down the rising, so loaves with high amounts of sugar, oil, and/or butter benefit from a touch more yeast and longer rising periods. Here are a few basic guidelines to follow as you invent your own variations on the master loaf:
• OIL: add as much as 1/4 cup, such as olive, grapeseed, canola, walnut, or almond.
• GRATED CHEESE: add no more than 8 ounces.
• FRESH HERBS: start with a teaspoon or two.
• DRIED HERBS: start with 1/2 teaspoon.
• SEEDS: add as much as 1/2 cup; toasted seeds add more flavor.
• NUTS: add as much as 1 1/2 cups; toasted nuts add more flavor.
• DRIED FRUIT: add as much as 1 cup, diced, if necessary.
• FLOURS: substitute 1 cup (about 128 g) at a time, gradually adding more to taste.
• CORNMEAL: add as much as 1/3 cup.
• SWEETENERS: omit the sugar or use others such as honey, maple syrup, molasses, or agave in the same proportion. When using 1/4 cup or more of a liquid sweetener, you may have to compensate with more flour; when the amount is small (1 to 2 tablespoons), you shouldn’t have to make any adjustments. Loaves with a higher sugar quantity will brown more quickly, so you should bake these sweeter loaves at 350°F or 375°F.
THREE SEED BREAD
Makes 2 loaves
Toasted seeds, a simple addition to any loaf of bread, go a long way in providing texture and weight and imparting a subtle nutty flavor. When freshly baked, this bread can be used for sandwiches, such as Crab Salad Sandwiches with Sauce Gribiche. Day old, toast it and spread with salted butter, almond butter, or jam.
1/4 cup (40 g) sunflower seeds
1/4 cup (40 g) pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup (35 g) sesame seeds
4 cups (512 g) unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
2 cups lukewarm water
1/4 cup neutral oil
Softened unsalted butter, for greasing
1. In a large skillet over medium heat, toast the sesame seeds until they are fragrant, lightly golden, and beginning to pop, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer the seeds to a plate and let cool, about 10 minutes.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, sugar, and instant yeast. Add the toasted seeds and whisk to combine. Add the water, followed by the oil. Using a rubber spatula, mix until the liquid is absorbed and the ingredients form a sticky dough ball. Cover the bowl with a damp tea towel or plastic wrap and set aside in a warm spot to rise for 1 to 1. hours, until the dough has doubled in bulk.
3. Set a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat it to 425°F. Grease two 1-quart oven-safe bowls with the softened butter—be generous. Using two forks, deflate the dough by releasing it from the sides of the bowl and pulling it toward the center. Rotate the bowl quarter turns as you deflate, turning the mass into a rough ball.
4. Using your two forks and working from the center out, separate the dough into two equal pieces. Use the forks to lift each half of dough into a prepared bowl. If the dough is too wet to transfer with forks, lightly grease your hands with butter or oil, then transfer each half to a bowl. Do not cover the bowls. Let the dough rise on the countertop near the oven (or another warm, draft-free spot) for 10 to 20 minutes, until the top of the dough just crowns the rims of the bowls.
5. Transfer the bowls to the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to 375°F and bake for 17 to 20 minutes more, until golden all around. Remove the bowls from the oven and turn the loaves out onto cooling racks. If the loaves look pale, return them to their bowls and bake for 5 minutes longer. Let the loaves cool for 15 minutes before cutting.