100 of 107 people found the following review helpful
on November 21, 2011
Carol Field's new edition of "The Italian Baker" has been released following the first edition published 26 years ago. Some of the same deficiencies hobble use of the book that are carried over from the first version over a quarter-century ago. Field consistently uses too much yeast in most of her bread recipes and, accordingly, most dictated rising times, which vary between 1.25 hours with a couple as much as 3 hours, are too brief. Rustic breads, in particular, need long, cool rising times, often as much as 5 or more hours, with doughs that were assembled with about half to two-thirds less yeast than called for in Field's recipes. The result is confirmed by the breads made according to her directions from the new edition: the breads with short rising times suffer from inadequate flavor and aroma development. Also, Field often recommends additional warmth for doughs that will accelerate their ripening. This also detracts from flavor and aroma. Field knows this because, at points in the new book, she mentions that Italian bakers she is acquainted with use much longer rising times, and some of her recipes for rustic breads do indeed call for long rising times. My own guess is that Field accelerated rising times in many cases because she was doubtful that Americans would tolerate long, slow rising times to produce regional and rustic Italian breads. Field should take note that a well-known lady nearly 50 years ago emphasized the need to use small amounts of yeast, cool water, and long rising times when she documented for the first time how it is possible to make authentic pain ordinaire at home. That lady was Julia Child, and her recipe for "French" bread in the second volume of her famous cookbooks, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," was a revelation to American bakers and set the gold standard for approaching the art of producing really good pain ordinaire.
And there are other problems with the new edition of the "Italian Baker." Field emphasizes the value of a moist oven for the initial oven rise of shaped rustic loaves, but it is mentioned erratically in the recipes -- sometimes it is statd, sometimes the recipes are silent.
She also has an unwarranted negative stance towards natural yeast starters. They are not so demanding as she claims, and, contrary to her argument that a pseudo-natural starter can be made by using a very tiny amount of baker's yeast, the fact is that what results is just a biga or poolish that hit its stride more slowly because of the tiny pinch of baker's yeast to start it. Baker's yeast bigas and poolishes do not smell like natural, wild yeast starters, and bread made with wild yeast starters do not taste like those made with baker's yeast.
Finally, Field seems not to have internalized the dramatic surge in interest and the rapid evolution of home artisanal baking over the last quarter-century. For example, both French and Italian bakers often use autolyse that ultimately can produce superior bread by allowing the initial mixed dough to rest for up to a half-hour, or even more, before kneading the dough and setting it to rise. Autolyse does not exist in Field's repertoire. Similarly, the popularity and proven value in the last decade and more of folding doughs one, two, or even three times during long rising periods to increase gluten development, and the use of the same technique when forming loaves, has apparently had no impact on Field's methods.
As an afterword, there is no bibliography.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on December 5, 2011
I usually try to be very open-minded when a cookbook doesn't have as many pics as I'd like. I tell myself that this recipe or that recipe really doesn't need a visual. But this book has such a rich array of new breads (to me anyway) that I wish there were pics to illustrate them as I am at a loss to imagine what they might look like. That deflates the balloon to get one started many times. There is a chapter in back about baked sweets (dolci) which includes biscotti, tarts, etc., then there's a section on lots of pizzas including thick Sicilian style, soups too, but for me this book was all about the breads. I have pages tagged for Olive Oil Bread, Sicilian Bread, Rosemary Bread, Five Grain Bread with walnuts, Raisin Bread, Sweet Corn Bread, Christmas Bread of Lake Como, Venetion Holiday Bread, Christmas Bread of Verona, etc...except for a few of these listed examples, I have no idea what the others should look like. The only way you would delve into an unknown bread is by first reading the title, then the opening blurb, then reading thru the ingredient list and then the step by step instructions. Unless you are a very passionate and motivated cook or baker,you will be put off by this. A picture as they say is worth a thousand words. Here it is so true. A picture can inspire and motivate you in an instant, especially with breads that are not commonplace. When spring approaches, I will delve into the Easter breads.
What I DO like very much in the layout is the way each recipe allows you to use the method of choice. For each recipe, there are three separate clearly labelled areas to find your preferred method of creating your dough: BY HAND, BY MIXER, or BY PROCESSOR. Choose the method most comfortable to you. Then each process step is clearly italicized into sections as well with: FIRST RISE, SHAPING AND SECOND RISE, and finally, BAKING. It allows your eye to find what you're looking for quickly on the page. I also am glad that measurements are listed in cups, ounces, and grams. These recipes use active yeast exclusively, and since I use instant yeast, a formula on p. 22 says to multiply the amt. of active yeast by 0.75-thus, using less instant yeast to active. I found this out after the fact, it helps to read. It didn't hurt the outcome I must say, using equal amts.
UPDATE: The 5-grain w/walnut bread bakes in a 9x4 loaf pan, very good. The Sweet Corn Bread and the Corn Bread from Lombardy I was not impressed with, would not make again. I wanted to make the pannetone but it was more complicated than the recipe in Artisan Bread in 5 mins, due to lack of time the necessity was to go with that one. I have other breads to try after the holidays.
UPDATE Jan 2012: Made the "pane all'uva" (raisin bread), so easy, great dough to handle, wonderful result! Soft, tender, pillowy interior, crispy crust, loaded with raisins, addictive, yum. Interestingly, that recipe was one that DID have a picture and pulled me in...which goes to my point....pictures DO help! The raisin bread and another I just made, the Bread of Puglia, are my faves so far. The Pane di Genzano was good, not a wow. After that raisin bread, I'm afraid I will not find anything as good.
21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
on November 22, 2011
I must say, I was perplexed at the authors negative attitude toward natural starters. But given the target audience for the book I can understand that bigas made with small amounts of yeast are a good substitute, and it is used throughout most of the bread recipes. What is more troubling, though, is the over yeasting and very short fermentation times. That may be what modern bakers want in a bread recipe, but it has nothing to do with classic Italian bread making. These short fermentation times will yield bland results at best. Unless you have the bread making knowledge to adapt all these recipes to longer room temperature ferments, and even better - using natural starters - you may be disappointed in the final products. I also wish there were more pictures of the final bread shapes.
The sweets and semi-sweet breads look like they may be the redeeming factor in this book. The reference alone is quite nice to have. I look forward to trying out those recipes. But for bread baking, I would suggest looking elsewhere.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on November 17, 2011
I purchased the original book several years ago and loved it very much. I just recently purchased the new version that just came out. Although the new version doesn't have that many pictures, but then I can always go back to the orginal book to see what the bread/pastry look like since the old version contained line drawings of each baked goods. I am not suggesting that you should buy 2 versions of the book, but in my personal opinion, I still like the original book more. Just because the book doesn't contain alot of pictures doesn't mean that the final products is tasteless. I always baked with good result and tasty bread, pastries and cookies from the book. There is not that much changes between the 2 books. I don't regret buying the new book since there is some new information. Happy baking!!
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on January 5, 2012
Ive been baking from the original version of this book since its issuance, and in general it is usable to produce quite acceptable versions, given differences in available flours, water, etc. of the types of bread (the better kinds) one finds in Italy. The wet doughs in the book were a revelation to me.
Recipes for sweets, pizza etc are also very good and authentic.
I do concur to a degree with those critics who suggest a little less yeast, cooler temperatures and a little more time produces more characterful, flavorful bread, and practice and experience also go a long way, but simple adjustments short of laboring over developing natural yeasts will work well (see note below, the new book adds a natural biga recipe). For those who want to explore and enjoy italian regional breads and are looking for a comprehensive collection of reliable recipes, this book can not be beat.
Update January 2013: Just to make clear, my original review above was of the original book. I've since had the opportunity to look in detail at the books side by side - losing patience with the process but not my admiration for the book after about 300 pp. The new book is fundamentally a reissue of the old. There has been some enhancement/revision to the presentation of weights and measures(but no changes in ingredient quantities), a change in format, with substitution of some photos for the line drawings in the earlier version, but there is by no means a picture of every bread. There has been some light - very light - editorial updating (to reflect changes in the ingredient/baking product market) and the merest handful of new recipes or recipe revisions. There is now a natural yeast biga recipe side by side with the universal biga recipe, a second ciabatta recipe, Ciabatta Polesana,an additional soup- MInestra Toscana and a shift in the Pane di Altemura recipe to a biga using the durum flour (note, this bread is DOP now),the pizza pugliese topping is moved from the pizza romana to napoletana recipe. Minor edits have been made to clarify that water should be cold if using a processor. Some but not all of the cup measurements for flour are changed (probably due to a different measuring methods used in testing - but the weight measurements by grams seem to be the same and the practice of measuring by weight is recommended.
For those who have not dipped into the original book, its wonderful that it is back in print and I enthusically recommend its purchase. For those who have the old book, frankly, I see little reason to upgrade.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 26, 2013
I bought the original edition shortly after it appeared in 1985, and until relatively recently it was my go-to book for both breads and sweets. Field introduced me and a lot of folks to high-hydration (wet!) doughs, to extended fermentation, and to a much wider range of possible breads. And while her tarts/cakes are less radical, I have found them well-adapted for home baking: reliable, tasty, and less fussy then their French counterparts.
If you already have the old edition: go to the "Fresh Loaf" site and find a thread called "The Italian Baker, Revised" for a good discussion of what has changed. The bottom line is not much. The key upgrade for me is that metric weights have been added to all recipes -- much easier to work with and scale up and down. But if you already have the old edition and don't need recipes in grams, I don't think there's much reason to upgrade.
If you're looking for your very first bread book: _The Italian Baker_ was a revelation in 1985, and it's still very good, but some of the new crop are even better. I would now suggest Reinhart's _Bread Baker's Apprentice_ as a first book, and if you don't mind a little geekiness I really like Hamelman's _Bread_. These books take you through a greater variety of types of bread in greater depth and detail.
Why you still want _The Italian Baker_ on your shelf: it has a range of rustic breads, veg and herb breads, and sweet and festive breads that you won't find elsewhere. You'll find panettone recipes here and there, but I can't think of another book that is as thorough and helpful on festive Italian baking. Folks still remember the chocolate bread from this book that I made them 20 years ago. When I want something for a special occasion this is absolutely the first book I open. And if you just want to make the occasional nice loaf of bread, but are not ready to acquire a new hobby/obsession/fanaticism, you might find this book is written for you!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on February 23, 2013
I'm an off and on baker and reader of cookbooks. This book is a good read, great history of Italian baking along with wonderful I instructions. I chose one of the most difficult recipes (chibata) for my first from the book. It was wonderful. I cannot wait to try the next one.
The way I found this book is I came across a rerun of Julia with Ms Field. I then researched her and found the updated book. If you like bread and love to bake you must have this book.
10 of 14 people found the following review helpful
I've been baking bread for years and decided to step it up and try more "authentic" recipes. I had such high hopes for this book and bought the Kindle version. Very, very disappointed. I tried several times to make the "Biga" only to have bad results. I thought perhaps it was me until I did an online search and found recipes for starters (one that uses no yeast at all) and all have yielded wonderful results. I've tried the Friendship Bread and Sourdough Starter recipes from Allrecipes (the recipes with the highest & most popular reviews). What I find amazing is this book advised me to cover the Biga tightly with wrap - when the other recipes advised me to cover it LOOSELY (and this seemed to make all the difference). Also - I've found that the The Tassajara Bread Book is WONDERFUL and so much more helpful! For instance - when moving dough from bowl to bowl - make sure bowl is warm that you are transferring it to (I never knew this - something so simple and yet no recipe book has mentioned this!). One thing I love about the Tassajara bread book is it actually has diagrams for mixing, stirring, forming, etc. Very simple, but very helpful.
The Italian Baker has very few pictures (I paid 18.99 for the Kindle version - which is probably why I'm so unhappy - I'd have expected a Kindle book that expensive to be well worth the money) - if it's going to be so costly, I want something beautiful to look at, also!
Directions seem detailed, but are actually just "filler" - and vague. For example - "You can also freeze it (the Biga) and bring it back to life at room temperature in a day or so."
How long can I freeze it for?
What container should I use to freeze it?
When bringing it back to life, do I "refresh" it (add warm water and flour)? Do I refresh it after it's completely thawed?
Then there is the recipe for Pane di Como Antico o Pane Francese (French Bread)
The directions state to use 3/4 cup of Biga "made with half the yeast."
That's exactly what it says.
I thought the whole point of a Biga (starter) was to always have starter on hand in order to make various breads. So, if I want to make French bread, I have to make a Biga but only use HALF the yeast the original recipe calls for?
I wish I had experimented with these recipes immediately when I purchased this because I could have returned it within 7 days for a refund. It's 18 days later and now I'm out of almost 20.00 + money on wasted flour.
Well, we live and learn - and the point of reviews is to help people decide if they want to spend their money or not - so I say, if you're really intent on purchasing this book (at least on Kindle) - make some recipes prior to the 7 day refund window.
I found the best results I've had with starters and bread recipes was a mixture between the Tassajara bread book (no pictures but does have diagrams and great tips) - and Allrecipes.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 28, 2015
When I scan books on Amazon, it seems I always read the bad reviews first, the one star reviews. So did I when I came across this one. Perhaps, I think, the detractors 'get' something that those more affirmative do not. Reading the reviews here, I was struck that they missed something perhaps, of the essence of making bread, and so ordered the book. I was not disappointed. I have made bread all my life, and was looking for a new text, authored by a kindred spirit. Ms. Field's book does not disappoint. You see, bread is not cooking. It is alchemy. Elemental components - flour, salt, water, yeast, mixed in a secret way, to make something simple yet complex, easy yet hard. Did you ever wonder why one can take these same four ingredients, and make something that is either sublime or grotesque, and that each tastes a little different? Ms. Field writes a book that is captivating yet practical; she shares her secrets, the wizard of bread, in a way that is on one hand practical, and on the other magical - her text is as compelling (moreso!!) than the recipes. Bread is historical. Bread is spiritual. Bread is love. It is no accident that Christ broke bread with his disciples. This is my body. This is my food. This is my love for those with whom I break it.
The book is in two halves. Let's say that the first is spiritual. What are the ingredients, how do they differ, how does one handle them, how are they combined, what is the history of each, what is the mythology of each? Do you want to make the perfect loaf? Learn the mythology before you measure out a cup of flower. The second half of the book is recipes. The recipes of bread all seem stereotyped: this much flour, this much yeast, this much water, etc., etc. Ms Field elaborates the subtleties of them all. I have made about half a dozen so far and all have been wonderful. Yet I think perhaps it is because I read the first half of the book before I started. You see, you need both. The right amount of flour, and the love in your hands. Read the first half, then use the recipe from whatever book you want. I am sure that the effort will be rewarded.
One of my fondest memories is of my grandmother cooking dinner. I remember her kneading bread, as I came as a small child to her apartment after church. She sang in Italian as she worked on the loaf. Later, over dinner, the warm loaves were served alongside our pasta or roast. I remember her sitting quietly as we rolled our eyes in ecstasy, and consumed her labors. Now, after a lifetime of pursuing perfection in a mixture of baked wheat, water, salt and yeast, know what she was thinking; I have given this up for you.
If you want recipes go elsewhere. If you want a spiritual experience, I heartily recommend this book.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 26, 2013
i make the best breads from the recipes in this book. I have bought several books on making breads and this is the best