Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan
Review score: *** out of *****

At the top of the cover on Baking with Julia it states "based on the PBS series hosted by Julia Child". I am a great fan of Julia Child and her name definitely sells cookbooks. However, this cookbook was actually written by Dorie Greenspan. Many of the recipes are "contributed" by some twenty six chefs. These chefs are primarily professional bakers, although at least one person (Martha Stewart, who has a wedding cake recipe in this book), is a professional self-promoter. This is a good cookbook and I don't hold against it the fact that Julia Child had only a producer's part in creating the book. Dorie Greenspan clearly spent a great deal of time writing the book and testing all the recipes.

Baking with Julia is 465 pages divided, into four sections: an introduction covering the basics of batters and doughs, a section on bread, a section on cakes, and a section on pastry. The sections titled breads, cakes, and pastries are each divided into chapters that cover major catagories. But the actual recipes themselves are not listed in the table of contents. This can make recipes difficult to find without resorting to the index.

Unless I start running marathons, my cake- and pastry-consuming days are largely behind me (except for special occasions). So I have only baked from the bread section of Baking with Julia. I found that the bread recipes I tried gave me good and, on occasion, great results. The book includes clear notes on technique and a large variety of recipes. Most of the recipes use bakers yeast, but there is a chapter on artisan breads made with starter. If, like me, you are intimidated in the beginning by breads that take two days to make, start with some of the bakers yeast breads in this book. Then you can move on to the artisan breads which are made over two days. When you understand bread baking a bit more you will look back and wonder what you were scared of.

There are several recipes in Baking with Julia where the dough is refrigerated for "up to three hours or overnight". Refrigeration slows the action of the yeast and allows for a longer fermentation time. Long fermentation time boosts the flavor of the bread and adds texture by bringing out the gluten. So I recommend the overnight refrigeration whenever the recipe suggests it. For example, one of my favorite recipes in this cookbook is for a whole wheat pita bread. This bread cooks very rapidly (in about eight minutes) and it has a delicate flavor. So it is not appropriate to use a wild yeast starter (sometimes called a sourdough starter). Refrigerate the dough overnight. I love this bread with hummus. Pitas also make great sandwiches. They can be stuffed with sauted vegetables or chicken (which I also like with hummus). Whenever I eat these pitas I am reminded of the great Lebanese food described by Charles Glass in his book Tribes with Flags.

A Review of Four Bread Cookbooks

Book review table of contents

back to home page