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Bread Matters, Andrew Whitley

If you bake bread, then you will be in sympathy with what Andrew Whitley has to say. The author rants extensively about the state of the industry, and the depredations to our palate caused by the Chorleywood process with no signs of abatement. He informs this with an eye to the biochemistry of baking that is missing from most ‘hard-core’ bread books.

About three quarters of the book is devoted to the process of baking; we are taken through simple yeast risen recipes, and led directly into creating a no nonsense rye sourdough starter. The recipes here are centred around Russian style ryes, with additional recipes for different grains: wheat and rye of course, but also spelt and gram. Later chapters include the modern trend for flavoured doughs (tomato and onion, mushroom and garlic, etc), and cover the range from ciabatta and calzone to stollen and lardy cake, with an extensive chapter on gluten-free baking.

It should be clear to the experienced from the above description that Andrew Whitley favours working with very wet doughs, using natural leavens and a wide variety of grains. For a novice some of the descriptions could be more detailed, and the number of permutations for using leavens tends towards the confusing. On balance, I think that a novice breadmaker would be able to learn to make bread from the progressive instructions given in the three chapters devoted to this.

I baked my way through the central section of the book; I had to substitute dried yeast for his fresh yeast in the initial recipes with some stumbling on my part – the instructions for conversion are located in a different section of the book. My rye starter worked exactly as he predicted, and is currently producing a series of fantastic wholemeal rye loaves and French country style wheat and rye (which he calls Cromarty Cob). The doughs all come out somewhat wetter and more fluid than the author describes, but bake successfully (which is what really matters). He also suggests baking at 220-240 C for an initial period, which my last two domestic ovens refuse to reach (they all lie about their temperature, too, which is a very common problem).

Bread Matters is joining my bookshelf alongside Ed Espe Brown, Elizabeth David, Laurel’s Kitchen and Nancy Silverton. I can’t say any better than that.

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