Bernard Clayton, Breadmaker, 1916-2011

Sunday May 15, 2011

I love this old photo of Clayton in his Indiana kitchen (is that a goldfish bowl full of flour?) with that work table full of breads

In each genre of cooking, there are the celebrities, the ones who are well known by being on TV, and then there are the insider pros, the ones who the food world recognize but often are not more widely known. Some food professionals bridge the gap, writing, glamming in the spotlight, teaching, food styling, working in restaurants, owning gourmet food businesses, even work as farmers. You name it. There are others who don’t go on TV and only occasionally publish in the food magazines. They are the old style teachers of home baking and once in a while show up in a local cooking school. That is how I met Bernard Clayton, Jr. By taking a bread class in the early 1980s at Tante Marie’s Cooking School in San Francisco.

He is one of the insider pros of the home bread making world. If you are a serious home bread baker, you know Bernard Clayton’s recipes. Clayton won two IACP Tastemaker Awards and the Bread Bakers Guild of America honored him by inducting him into the bread hall of fame in 2001. As many unknown faceless home bakers bake for their families from his books, not just foodies. If you want a good recipe that works, one that utilizes your glass or metal rectangular bread pans, you can depend on Clayton.

Clayton passed away the first week of April 2011 at age 94. He was a journalist, son of a newspaper man in Indiana, and was hired by Life magazine as a photo editor and later ran the Time-Life bureaus in Chicago and San Francisco. During World War II, he was a military correspondent for Time and Life. At age 50, he dropped out and began to live the gypsy life of traveling the world with the intention of eating and collecting bread recipes.

Mr. Clayton was a bread lover for decades. A native of the Midwest, which has its own deep roots of wonderful home bread bakers with the essence of European flavors, Clayton just started baking bread in his home kitchen in Bloomington Indiana. Any bread baker knows when the bug bites and homemade bread becomes a passion, not just a part of the every day cooking repertoire. Clayton collected hundreds of local recipes—Scandinavian, Eastern Europe, Italian — and published his first book, “The Complete Book of Breads” in 1973. I own a first edition of this book since the early 70s was when I was baking lots of bread cover to cover and learning about it. It is a classic.

He loved to travel in Europe and there, like so many other foodies, fell in love with the bread he ate there. It was the time when French bread was rediscovering its elementary roots, with Poilane hand made, brick oven bread going head to head competing with factory produced baguettes.

In 1978, the same time I made my first trip to France, he published “The Breads of France.” This was my first introduction to the how-tos of artisan French baking. The recipe where Clayton makes croissants on a luxury liner was especially evocative to me and there are all these wonderful black and white photos of rural French bakeries. When “The Complete Book of Breads” was revised, under the title “Bernard Clayton’s New Complete Book of Breads,” sections of the Breads of France were included.

I was so touched when I received a letter from Clayton in the mid-1990s asking for permission to use a buckwheat muffin recipe from my quick breads book in his new book “Bernard Clayton’s Complete Book of Small Breads” (1998). This is a book that might fall through the cracks since there is such a rush about artisan loaves these days rather than plain ol’ Anadama Bread or Oatmeal Bread, much less a bowknot dinner roll.

Buckwheat is so old fashioned Americana, having an affinity for blueberries, raisins, maple syrup, molasses, cornmeal, rolled oats, tree nuts like you would gather from a tree in your backyard, even chocolate. It is considered part of Early American cooking and agriculture since it has been grown since colonial times. According to the Thomas Jefferson Agricultural Institute, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington were the first to plant buckwheat on their land and recognize the benefits of the crop as a bread grain and good rotation crop (a nod to the roots of sustainable agriculture).

So my Buckwheat and Hazelnut Muffins are lodged for posterity between the SS France croissants, Jo Goldberg’s yummy bagels, buttery pan rolls, Plantation biscuits, his mother’s yeast-raised doughnuts, and cheddar cheese crackers. Lucky me.

Buckwheat and Hazelnut Muffins

Yield:  9 large muffins


  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup buckwheat flour
  • 1/4 cup rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup chopped toasted hazelnuts
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup cultured buttermilk
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • 2 large eggs


1.            Preheat the oven to 400º.  Grease nine standard 2 1/2-inch-diameter muffin cups.  In a large bowl, combine the unbleached flour, buckwheat flour, rolled oats, nuts, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients.

2.            In another bowl, beat the buttermilk, butter, maple syrup, and eggs with a whisk or an electric mixer for 1 minute.  Pour into the flour mixture and stir with a large spatula just until moistened, using no more than 15 to 20 strokes.  The batter will be lumpy.

3.            Spoon the batter into each muffin cup until just level with the tops of the pan.  Bake in the center of the preheated oven until browned, the tops feel dry and springy, and a cake tester inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes.  Do not over bake.  Let the muffins rest in the pan 5 minutes before turning out onto a rack to cool. Great warmed with butter or cream cheese.

Excerpted from The Best Quick Breads, a reissue and revision of The Art of Quick Breads by Chronicle Books, by Beth Hensperger. (c) 2000, used by permission from the Harvard Common Press.

Recipe and text copyright Beth Hensperger 2015

Please enjoy the recipe and make it your own. If you copy the recipe and text for internet use, please include my byline and link to my site.

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