on March 4, 2010
Let me start with a summary. My Bread is a great cookbook about making artisan bread, thin crust pizza, and sandwiches. The instruction is clear, the recipe is practical and super easy, and the picture is beautiful. You also get a bonus section about the author's personal story in developing his career and famed no-knead method. I love this book and highly recommend it to everyone.
I like bread, especially good quality artisan bread. I like getting my hands dirty, both in the laboratory and in my kitchen. But, as a Taiwanese biologist, I have no cultural background, professional training, or family tradition in making bread, so I didn't even think about doing it before. Until somewhere in 2009, I learned about Jim Lahey's no-knead, slow fermentation, and baking in an oven-within-an-oven method. (Thanks to Mark Bittman for New York Times and Internet!) I just tried it using my Pyrex bowl. The result was a big surprise and very successful! I started making bread regularly. I shared my bread with friends including Americans, a Brazilian, Chinese, and an Italian. They all like it and cannot believe that this bread is not purchased from stores. So, if I, a guy with no cultural background and no family tradition in bread, can use this method to make great artisan bread in his little kitchen, anyone can do it!
Someone has commented that it is a one-trick thing, so if you've known this technique beforehand (like myself), you don't need this book. I DISAGREE. I got this book after I've produced about 30 loafs with experimenting add-in ingredients, but Lahey's book still provides me with good recipe for different bread variations and interesting ideas. I tried several already; I like some better than others, but they all taste pretty good. Not to mention the pizza section he put together. He told you how to handle the dough in a baking sheet, and he taught you how to make pizza that the simple topping comes in balance with the thin, crispy crust. I've made pizza funghi, pizza cipolla, and pizza patate accordingly. Oh, they are so good.
The final two chapters are about "The Art of the Sandwich" and "Stale Bread". In addition to panini recipes, Lahey also included a quite comprehensive coverage of making "homemade sandwich ingredients" (such as roast beef, aioli, pickles, and mustard) from scratch! Doesn't it sound interesting? The last section gives some idea to use leftover bread that is too hard to use as sandwich or snacks. I have not tried any yet. I definitely will try them out when I have time.
I found that Amazon.com has this "customer images" feature on every product page, and here for My Bread it has become a showcase of no-knead bread that people made. Not to repeat the awesome round loaf, I uploaded pictures of three other types of bread/pizza that I made following the recipe from the book: stecca (p.77), pizza bianca and sweet variation (pp.137 and 139), and pizza cipolla (p.134). I hope you can get some idea of what this book can offer.
It's true that there is one major technique, but My Bread is definitely not just a one-trick book. It tells me how to make good bread and pizza. I enjoy My Bread (and my bread) very much. I hope you can also enjoy the same satisfaction of making YOUR bread. This is why I wrote this lengthy comment here.
on September 19, 2009
I prefer bread books written by practicing bakers. I find that they usually reflect author's approach to bread-baking, his philosophy, and in my opinion such books are more complete and entertaining than the ones written by professional food writers, although there are some notable exception. So from that point of view a book by Jim Lahey, owner and founder of New York Sullivan Street Bakery is an obvious choice. There is another reason altogether though - arguably it was Mr. Lahey's recipe for no-knead-bread and publication by Mark Bittman in NY Times that started the resurgence of amateur bread baking. It was his recipe that transformed me from occasional to everyday baker. Therefore for me buying this book was a no brainer.
My first impression is very positive (I don't expect it to change). The book is printed in convenient 10x8" format on a high-quality glossy paper. Most but not all recipes are accompanied by photos, which make the process very clear. The recipes are given in cups and in metric units, a good thing in my opinion, but if you're used to ounces, you're a bit out luck, although quite a few recipes start with 280 g. of flour which is pretty much 10 oz. The layout is very clear, typeface makes it easy to read, there are no gaudy colors, and every recipe can be found in the table of contents.
There are six chapters. First comes highly personal, rather entertaining and mercifully short explanation of how Mr. Lahey became a baker and what bread represents to him. Second chapter is theory, it explains what the ingredients are, and how the process works. Third chapter is where the recipes begin, there's no-knead-bread itself and about dozen of breads based on it as well as some breads based on liquids other than water. Fourth chapter is pizza and focaccia. Brace yourself, you won't find much tomato sauce there and even less cheese. Fifth chapter is called "The Art of the Sandwich" and describes about a score of paninis and gives recipes for most ingredients that go into them - roasts, spreads, marinated vegetables, dressings, they are all there. The last chapter deals with the things you can do with the stale bread.
Sadly there're no sourdough recipes, and many Sullivan Street Bakery staple breads are not in the book, but then again it is not called "Sullivan Street Bakery Bread Book", so I can't fault the author for not including them, no matter how much I'd like them to be there.
So all in all it's an excellent book and highly recommend it. Seasoned baker or beginner, no matter, you will find something there that will make it worth the purchase. And mark my word, in a couple of months everyone and his uncle will have blogged about stecca.
on September 20, 2009
I have done the bread machine and other quick methods of making bread for years. This is the first time ever that a loaf of bread has come out of my oven, that the taste and texture made me pinch myself. Could not believe that the slice of bread that I was eating came out of my oven. By the way this is also the first time that I have reviewed a cookbook, even though i have bought at least a hundred of them. This book does not have tons of recipes, but focuses on the technique. The descriptions and photos were very helpful. Can't wait to try the couple dozen varieties included within.
on April 14, 2010
I think it's fantastic that the No Knead Bread took over much of the world by storm. As a passionate homebaker, I think there are very few things that can get much better than a great loaf created by your own hands. And I think it's fantastic that Lahey (and Bitmann) have inspired so many intrepid folks to successfully attempt to make their own good bread at home. And for that, I'm giving this book 3 stars.
But...I think book is a one trick pony. Most of the recipes are pretty much identical, with a few variations. Take some bread flour, add water weighing 75-85% of the flour weight, 2% salt and 0.25-0.5% instant yeast. Stir 30 seconds, leave at room temp for 12-18 hours, do a fold, dump into a dutch oven and bake. In a few recipes, you replace 25% of the bread flour with some whole wheat or rye (but this is predominantly a white bread book). In some you add olives, or fennel or whatever. Sure, they work, but they're just minor variations on the same theme. You will learn "the trick" to make decent loaves without much skill on your part, but that's it. Which is fine, but just realize that this is not the book that will help you progress further as a baker. And you can find countless no knead recipes on The Internet which then almost makes getting this book redundant. I see this book simply as Lahey's official codification of the no knead method, and not a true representation of the complex and beautiful breads available at his bakery.
If you catch the bread bug, you will undoubtedly want to try out other flours, make shapes other than a dutch oven round or a ciabatta, maybe get a little creative with loaves that you can score with nice designs, or even venture into the land of wild yeast. At that point, I doubt you will really refer back to this book. I'm not trying to hurt sales of this book, and I mean no disrespect to Mr Lahey. In fact, I think Sullivan St Bakery makes incredible bread and pastries - some of which are the best I've had in the US. I have the greatest respect for Lahey's skills and his passion for food, and look at him as an inspiration in many regards. If you get a chance, visit the bakery in NYC and try some of the goods firsthand - you too will be inspired.
While it seems superfluous, I did enjoy the chapter on recipes that use stale bread. If you catch the bug, you will have a lot of stale bread, unless you have many friends to bake for.
on November 13, 2009
I had no problems with the recipes; as long as you use Jim's suggestions as to very crefully weighing all the ingredients, and understanding that Bread Flour can vary in hardness (durum) from north to south on this continent, and yeast can get stale, and the pot should be cast iron and enamelled with a lid heat proof to 500C.I found the times given for the initial bread gave a very burnt crust, and too black for my taste. So I cut down the covered time slowly to 20mins, and the uncovered time to 15mins, and raised the rack one notch. Can't keep it in stock, all gone by dinner time! You can use an oval pot, but with a smaller round one, I found a better rise, and it sang!
on January 4, 2010
I always had a desire to make bread at home. At the age of 65, Mr. Jim Lahey, with his No-Knead method came to my rescue. I was contemplating taking a four hour course at a local college for $49.00, instead I bought a 5 Qt. Lodge Cast Iron dutch oven on Amazon for $29.99 and purchased Mr. Lahey's book. I enjoyed reading his history on becoming a bread baker. I tried the first recipe with terrific success! The first recipe calls for 3 cups of flour, however you will be very successful if you weigh the flour as Mr. Lahey suggests. Since this process involves a total of 20 hours of rise time, I found it convenient to start at 3:00 p.m. on a Friday and on Saturday at 11:00a.m. (20 hrs. later) it was time to put the bread in the oven. After cooling the bread for 1 hr., and enjoyed the "singing", (You have to read the book) my wife served it with dried Salami and Provolone Cheese. I thought I died and went to heaven!
Three years ago, Jim Lahey's "No Knead Bread" recipe, written up by NYTimes food writer Mark Bittman (he of How to Cook Everything fame, ripped through the culinary blogosphere as one of the first really famous viral recipes. Though perhaps not very original, Lahey's bread technique, compatible as it is with a culture that relies heavily on convenience cooking and crockpots, became a flashpoint for a resurgence in home bread baking that helped pick up where the bread machine market had fallen off. Knockoffs,refinements, and alternate takes appeared, and even well-known instructors like Peter Reinhart brought their own skills to the party. But there's still nothing like a book from the man who started the ball rolling, and Lahey and coauthor Rick Flaste managed to put together an entirely worthwhile book not only on the bread, but on the many possible uses for it -- after all, a loaf of fresh bread is always good, but what do you do with it after it comes out of the oven, and how does the recipe work to begin with?
Hype is unavoidable, but so, too often, is letdown. "My Bread", despite the hyperbolic subtitle, avoids this by doing what smart inventors have been doing at least since Thomas Edison -- not just the invention itself, but an end-to-end framework; in fact, add a section on pastries and this could easily have been the "Sullivan St. Bakery Cookbook". Lahey begins with a brief biography of how his bakery came to be, then proceeds into a fairly thorough discussion (with some help from Harold McGee) of how the recipe actually works, with moisture and enzyme action doing the work overnight that would usually be done with muscle or motor power. He then follows with several examples of variations done with the same technique (including an Italian-style whole wheat bread and a pb&j loaf for kids), followed with a chapter on his bakery-style pizza and foccacia. At this point, the subject of the book has seemingly run out of gas, so he turns his attention to the most obvious use for his bread -- sandwiches. Starting with roast beef and pork and an assortment of condiments and vegetable preparations, he devotes a chapter to specialty sandwiches, before wrapping up the book with some soups, desserts, and other effective ways to use leftovers. The layout is clean and readable, with appetizing pictures and (woohoo!) metric weight measurements for every recipe.
It's far too easy to take a subject like this and slap it together with a pile of shovelware, so it's very refreshing to find someone who took what could have been a quick-and-dirty bid for money and take the project seriously. Lahey and Flaste's book was a long time coming, but when you consider the slapdash mess it could have been, it was worth it. For bread fans and kitchen geeks, this is one to go on the shelf next to Cookwise,Nancy Silverton, and The Bread Builders.
on November 18, 2009
I love to cook and bake but I have always been pretty yeast-a-phobic. But I saw the author, Jim Lahey, demonstrate his technique on the "Martha Stewart" show, and I was intrigued. I had a dinner party coming up, and knowing I was cooking everything else from scratch, and that I usually purchase artisan-type breads for nice dinners, I thought I would try the basic recipe that I found on his website. Well, I was hooked! I ordered the book on Amazon so that I could try his olive bread ~ oh, my goodness! I baked two loaves of olive bread and two loaves of the one with beer & buttermilk, and my guests were very impressed! I have since tried the cheese bread as well, and have a few friends who are going to become bread makers now, too! Not only is the method easy for a novice baker, but it is foolproof! You really can't ruin this bread! One tip I would add is that I did have trouble during the second rise, with the dough sticking to the towel as it grew, so I just put parchment paper under the bread, dust it with flour, and that solves the problem...it also makes it easier to get the unbaked loaf into the dutch oven. I would say, if you love crusty, artisan bread, try this once and you will, no doubt, be hooked! ...enjoy!
on February 22, 2010
I fell in love with Jim Lahey's no-knead artisan bread method when it first appeared in the New York Times in November of 2006. While batter bread or no-knead yeast doughs aren't new, Lahey adapted the theory to professional baking and then let the rest of us in on his secrets. Essentially, it involves more water than a kneading recipe, just a little yeast, mixing in flour and salt and letting it sit for 12 - 18 hours after which you gently shape it, let it rise for a couple more hours then toss into an iron or enameled iron Dutch oven that has been heated in a high heat oven, covered and baked. (Of course, there is a tad more than that involved, but you get the picture.) This has never let me down: I get a beautiful dome with holey innards and sturdy crust every time.
One of the other reviewers characterizes the book and method as one-note. In fact, the book thinks outside the pot, so you can get baguettes or stecca, pizza dough and other breads formed and baked otherwise. Also, it has a number of variations on the basic pot bread. I've tried a number of them, including the rye (terrific for sandwiches), whole wheat and the inspired currant walnut made with carrot juice (gorgeous and great with cheese). As a bonus he kicks in several gourmet recipes for pizza, sandwich fillings and other dishes that the bread can accompany.
I also own Jeffrey Hertzberg's books (Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes A Day). By comparison, Hertzberg's method uses more yeast, a shorter rise, makes a larger batch and requires refrigeration up to a week if the dough is not used all at once, so you need space in the fridge to store it, which can be a challenge with a large bowl. Lahey's dough rises at room temperature overnight and is used all at once. Lahey's pot bread uses the kind of Dutch oven that is all the rage right now and thus pricey (but a worthwhile investment); Hertzberg uses a baking stone in the oven, which is less expensive (and also worthwhile). Because the dough is not trapped in the Dutch oven in Hershberger's process, it requires external steam and you must use a boiler pan full of hot water to get the crispy crust. Hertzberg includes more variations on his basic formula than Lahey. On the other hand, Lahey's breads have a special tang from their slow rise at room temperature and offer a rugged texture associated with artisan breads. If you love baking bread, buy the books by both of the authors.
on February 27, 2011
Perhaps "My Bread" IS just a one-trick-pony, but I only wanted one trick. I didn't want a book filled with 101 different bread recipes for serious bakers. This is a girl who uses a bread machine, for heaven's sake. I just wanted One Perfect Bread. I don't want to knead anything. I don't want to fuss with it. What I DO want is that real, perfect bread. The bread with the crust. The bread with the holes inside the perfect crumb. The bread you rip apart with your bare hands and dip in olive oil. The bread that costs a fortune at the fancy bakery. The bread that doesn't fall apart in sandwiches. The bread that doesn't require a lot of fooling around to get variations. The bread my husband will love above all other breads.
This is IT! One Perfect Bread. Totally perfect the first time I made it.
I am happy to have purchased and read, cover to cover, the whole book. I now know the science, and the art, behind the One Perfect Bread. The great photos were very helpful to me. I'm inspired by the lengthy chapters that conclude the book: Pizzas and Focaccias, The Art of the Sandwich, and especially Stale Bread, as in what-to-do-with-it.
So, yes, if you are a great and experienced bread baker, or if you want to make every bread known to man, maybe you should pass this book over. But for me, "My Bread" has now joined my other cooking bibles, those written by Julia Childs, Alice Waters, and Martha Stewart. Throw in "Cooks Illustrated" and I'm set for life.