Thursday, February 28, 2013

All You Knead is Bread

All You Knead is Bread
Author: Jane Mason
Publisher: Ryland Peters & Small (2012)

There are few things that embody the heart and sprit of the creator more than a handmade loaf of bread. Bread is a staple, occurring in some form or another in every country around the world. From inexpensive crusts baked in the ashes of wood burning fires to the extravagant brioches and fruit-studded, alcohol infused holiday breads found in December and at Easter, it is undeniable that mankind relies on it. Well made bread in the home kitchen is certainly attainable, and Jane Mason provides a wealth of information and techniques in her first book, All You Knead is Bread.

Far from focusing on one form or nationality of breads, All You Knead is essentially an encyclopedia and atlas of the art. Mason includes over 50 actual recipes for loaves and rolls, but more than that, she details bread as a historically significant item, a scientific medium and an economic tool. Everything from the ingredients to the processes occurring in a loaf-in-progress can be found in the first 28 pages, including a fully detailed guide to sourdough. Amidst the recipes are peeks into bread baking and eating around the world, from Mexico to Germany, all informative and fascinating in their own rights. Throughout the book, gorgeous photography from a variety of sources (all listed on p. 176) entice the casual browser to stop and peer a little deeper.

Black Rice Bread
Black Rice Bread (p. 75)

Turning to the formulae themselves, readers will find options for “everyday”, “occasional”, “celebration” and “sweet” breads, all handily cross-referenced in a well-organized index. The Everyday Bread chapter (p. 29 – 83) includes everything from the yeastless Soda Bread (p. 33) to the delectably savoury Cheese Rolls (p.82), as well as internationally-themed items like Steamed Buns (p. 71) and Simit (p. 61). Any and all of these are more than enough variety to last the average baker a year or more of enjoyment, but Mason has even more doughy delights in later pages.  Occasional Bread (p. 85 – 119) holds the glorious Brioche (p. 86), buckwheat Blinis (p. 105) and hearty Beer Bread (p. 100). For holidays, Mason includes treats like Hot Cross Buns (p. 122) and Kringel (p.135), and to tempt the readers’ sweet tooth, Cinnamon Buns (p. 167) and Maple Syrup Buns (p. 164).

Bag(uette) End
Baguettes (p. 37)
Luckily for readers, even the most complex of recipes in All You Knead is incredibly approachable. Mason is detailed without becoming verbose, and the photos illustrate critical junctures while managing to avoid cluttering the pages. I definitely appreciated both the photos and the written instructions while making the Baguettes (p. 37), and I credit their clarity for both my batches’ success. Mason’s Black Rice Bread (p. 75) was another huge hit here, turning out “in person” as beautifully as the book’s photos and with a wonderfully tender crumb. Being so soft, my only criticism is that it has no practical application beyond eating plain – it is too difficult to slice thinly for sandwiches and far too soft to stand up to the toaster. However, thick, fresh slices drizzled with runny honey make for a delicious breakfast or mid-afternoon snack, and I’d bet if it was left out to stale for a few days one could turn it into a delectable, exotic coconut milk bread pudding.

This book is a surefire hit for households everywhere, provided there are no low-carbers in the vicinity! It certainly is hard to think of a single person who wouldn’t benefit from a browse through All You Knead is Bread. Whether you are a total novice in the bread baking world or have been crafting loaves for 30 years, there will be something of interest and information to discover and tempt.  

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