July 7, 2014

Book Review: Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book

I have been making bread for years and some time ago I stopped using a recipe. While I can definitely make a good basic loaf by feel, at some point it started to drift away from good towards mediocre. I decided I should go back to using a recipe to shed any bad techniques I'd developed and make my loaf great again. 

Since I only cook with whole wheat flour (King Arthur white whole wheat in particular because that's what is available at my local grocery store) I opened up the Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book (subtitled A Guide To Whole-Grain Breadmaking) by Laurel Robertson with Carol Fliners and Bronwen Godfrey. I've had this book for a decade but I think the only thing I baked from it was sourdough (all I remember about that is I don't like the smell of fermenting rye flour!).

I should have returned to this book long ago! The Basic Whole Wheat (page 80) is fantastic. I experimented with the suggested variations: butter, oil, and without fat- all are wonderful although butter is my favorite. Since I started making yogurt again I've been using whey instead of water and as the weather became warmer I cut the amount of yeast in half because it was rising too fast... It's a versatile bread.

The whole wheat challah is phenomenal although it always seems too wet so I reduce the eggs by one and the total liquid to 2 cups. I make the raisin version which is a delicious sandwich bread. FYI, toasting really brings out something special in challah.

I also made English muffins and sour cream biscuits, both great, but the interesting thing about the recipes in this book is that they're all about technique. It's not that her ingredients or ratios are particularly unusual but she does a great job of explaining the mechanics of making amazing whole wheat bread. There is a lot of detail on said techniques but the moral of the story is: it's all about the kneading. I knead the basic whole wheat bread for 20 solid minutes in the stand mixer (you can do it by hand if you want, and in fact it is recommended, I just can't). Then I rise it twice for about 3 hours total followed by a proof it in the pans (one recipe makes 2 loaves) for another 45 minutes or so while the oven heats. The major kneading plus the (relatively) slow rise makes an amazing fluffy loaf (and when using the stand mixer there is very little hands on time in the recipe). 

very fluffy whole wheat loaves
Specialty recipes in this book have explanations of additional techniques that are essential to achieving a fantastic product (like English muffins... make the dough very wet and over proof it). She also discusses how to use non-wheat grains and there are numerous recipes that feature alternatives (rice, rye, potatoes, chick peas...). And, of course, a bread book isn't as much fun if it doesn't include muffins (pages 309-336) and what to do with bread failures (pages 338-349)

If you want amazing whole grain breads of all kinds this is the book to check out. 

P.S. This post contains some affiliate links which cost you nothing extra but pay me a tiny amount for referring you. If anyone actually ever uses one of the links it will go to pay for garden seed. Yay!

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