January 13, 1999
BY THE BOOK
Browsing Through Favorite Bread Recipes
By AMANDA HESSER
THE BREAD BIBLE 300 Favorite Recipes.
By Beth Hensperger/Chronicle Books, $32.50.
In a market crowded with specialized bread books that promote everything from traditional French breads to those made in machines, Beth Hensperger has gone her own way. In her latest book, “The Bread Bible,” the subtitle, “300 Favorite Recipes,” tells the real story.
Ms. Hensperger, the author of five other books on bread, invites readers to take a peek into her recipe file and try the ones she likes best. She presents no innovative techniques, nor recipes from a mountain village in Switzerland. In fact, many of her recipes sound familiar: Anadama Bread, Seven Grain and Pain de Campagne are in countless cookbooks.
Many others are homey. Rosemary Raisin Bread, made with (gasp!) dried rosemary, was surprisingly fragrant and pleasantly yeasty. It had a fairly fragile texture because of its rather elementary technique: it is mixed in a food processor, not by hand, and takes only one rising. My first reaction, as a fan of today’s chewy, slowly developed country breads, was to turn up my nose. But then objectivity set in: for the effort involved, this really is a good bread.
A recipe for traditional English muffins, which I’ve eaten my whole life but have never made, was enlightening. It is actually a yeast dough that is treated like a biscuit dough. You roll out the dough on cornmeal, cut it with a biscuit cutter, and fry it in a lightly greased skillet. It never nears the oven.
A page that will get sticky and dusty over the years in my kitchen is the one containing a recipe for farm-style white bread with cardamom. The recipe makes four beautiful, shiny sandwich loaves. Though there is a relatively large amount of sugar in the dough, it balances perfectly with the cardamom. As you eat it, the cardamom flavor builds in intensity and yet is never so strong that you would hesitate to pair the bread with other foods. (It was delicious spread with goat cheese.)
Publishing a collection of favorite recipes is actually the old way of cookbook writing. “The Bread Bible” is a sound and pleasant revival of that approach. This book is also old-fashioned in the sense that it expects the reader to read instructions like “shape into rectangular loaves” and know that this takes considerable skill.
There are sections describing fundamental bread ingredients and their function in bread dough, and others telling how to mix and knead bread. But without illustrations, I doubt these will inspire non-bakers to whip out their bowls. The truth is, the book is for experienced bakers who will want to thumb through, trying plain white bread one day, hot cross buns another.
FARM-STYLE WHITE BREAD WITH CARDAMOM
Adapted from “The Bread Bible” by Beth Hensperger
Time: 2 hours 15 minutes, plus rising time
Yield: 4 loaves.
4 cups boiling water
1 2/3 cups instant nonfat dried milk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon salt
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water, for dissolving yeast
Pinch of sugar
10 white cardamom pods
12 cups (approximately) unbleached all-purpose flour or bread flour
1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tablespoon milk, for glaze
1. Bring a pot of water to boil. In a very large bowl whisk together 4 cups boiling water, the dried milk, 4 tablespoons butter, salt and 1 cup sugar. Continue whisking until butter melts; let stand until lukewarm.
2. Pour 1/2 cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees) into a small bowl. Sprinkle the yeast and the pinch of sugar over surface. Stir to dissolve, and let stand at room temperature until foamy, about 10 minutes. Remove the seeds from the cardamom pods with your fingers, and crush with a rolling pin on a piece of wax paper. Set aside.
3. Add 4 cups of the flour, the cardamom and the yeast mixture to the milk and butter mixture. Beat hard with a whisk or Danish dough whisk until smooth and creamy. Switch to a wooden spoon, and add the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until a soft, shaggy dough forms, one that clears the sides of the bowl is formed.
4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface, and knead until the dough is smooth and resilient to the touch but not dry, 5 to 8 minutes, dusting with flour 1 tablespoon at a time as needed.
5. Place the dough in a greased deep bowl. Turn once, and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours.
6. Gently deflate the dough by pressing it with your fist. Turn it out onto a floured work surface. Grease four 9-by-5-inch loaf pans with butter or nonstick cooking spray.
Divide the dough into 4 equal portions. Shape each portions into rectangular loaves and place in pans. Cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let rise until 1 inch above the rim of the pans, about 40 minutes.
7. Twenty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolk and milk. With a serrated knife, slash the tops of the loaves decoratively (but no more than 1/4 inch deep.) Brush the tops with the egg and milk mixture. Place the pans on the center rack of oven, and bake 40 to 45 minutes, or until loaves are brown and sound hollow when tapped with your finger. Transfer the loaves immediately to a cooling rack. Don’t slice until completely cooled and be sure to use a serrated bread knife.
Recipe and text copyright Beth Hensperger 2016
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.