If there is one aspect of cooking where I feel my results are not proportional to my efforts, it would be bread baking. It isn’t for lack of trying: I’ve worked my way through the Bread Baker’s Apprentice, Whole Grain Breads, the Metropolitan Bakery Cookbook, and My Bread to name just the bread-centric cookbooks I’ve tried. Too often, my loaves would be flavorless, overly dense, underfermented, and even undercooked.
Granted, I have been handicapping myself by both insisting on locally grown and milled wheat and on incorporating as much whole wheat flour into the bread as possible. Still, this is how I eat, and I want the bread I eat (and bake) to be reflective of that.
Therefore, when I opened Samuel Fromartz’s In Search of the Perfect Loaf, I was skeptical. I didn’t see how this book could succeed where so many others have failed. However, Fromartz did succeed with me – and brilliantly. I suspect the reason for this is that Fromartz approached everything from the vantage point of a home baker, translating the lessons he learned in professional bakeries to the home kitchen. Cookbooks typically follow the opposite trajectory. He discusses at length the variations in flour, temperature, and humidity that affect dough, ultimately concluding that the best baking is done by feel. Far more than a cookbook, Fromartz provides an appealing narrative of his evolving technique and growing knowledge, and I found myself reading the book in its entirety before even attempting a recipe.
My first success was a wild yeast starter made with whole wheat flour, honey, and water. Somehow, Fromartz’s method succeeded where so many others had failed. I used the resulting starter to make a version of Lahey’s no-knead bread, which had an excellent sourdough flavor.
So, on these brutally cold winter days when you are drawn to the warmth of the fire for reading or the warmth of an oven for baking, I’d recommend a copy of In Search of the Perfect Loaf to accompany you.
P.S. Samuel Fromartz also maintains the very cool Chews Wise Blog