Mass production gave the United States affordable automobiles. But when mass productions was applied to food it gave us Wonder Bread, an industrial perversion of this ancient staple, and beers like Coors and Budweiser. Although they have improved considerably, in the past Supermarkets like Safeway sold bread labeled "sourdough" which had a flat taste and a spongy texture.
The theme of mass production is to turn out the product in as little time as possible. Speed is the enemy of both good bread and good beer. They owe their flavor to long fermentation times. Almost all good breads are made over two days. The dough is made on the first day, fermented overnight, and then baked on the second day.
The time taken by a good recipe is, initially, intimidating. Most cooks are not used to recipes that take two days. The William - Sonoma Bread cookbook was the first bread cookbook I used. Its recipes seemed easier than those in Baking with Julia since the breads took less time. All of the breads in this cookbook can be made in few hours. William Sonoma cookbooks are nicely produced and have great photographs. But, like Ford automobiles, the William Sonoma cookbooks are mass produced and are not written by accomplished cooks or bakers. The results I achieved with the William Sonoma Bread cookbook were universally disappointing.
The quality of the recipes in the William Sonoma bread book are best illustrated by the recipe for "French Baguettes". This recipe calls for quick-rise yeast. The bread dough is kneaded for "about one minute", formed into a ball, and then left to rise for an hour. After this rise the dough is kneaded again briefly and allowed to rise for a half hour. Finally, the "baguettes" are formed and allowed to rise for 20 minutes. The quick-rise yeast will double the bread dough volume in this time. Including baking time, this bread can be made in three hours. The result is a bread with little texture and the flavor of Pepperidge Farms frozen bread dough (e.g., bland and flavorless). I would not recommend this book, or any William Sonoma cookbook, to anyone. There are many great cookbooks by wonderful chefs. Save your money and buy one of these.
Ian Kaplan - 1/98
A Review of Four Bread Cookbooks
Book review table of contents
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