Artisan Baking Across America
Can photos of bread in a book crackle? Because I swear I've heard some of the close ups of bread in Maggie Glezer's Artisan Baking Across America make sounds. And give off aromas. They are amazing.
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Artisan Baking Across America is the most beautiful book on artisan bread I have come across. It is a large, coffee table style book full of sumptuous photos of bread, flour, and bakeries. If you want one book that captures the essence of the Artisan Bread movement in America, this is it.
(I should point out that the photos in Artisan Baking Across America are by Ben Fink. He deserves a great deal of credit, as does the designer, Dania Davey, who did the page layout.)
In terms of the content of the book itself, well... I'm luke warm, at best. Artisan Baking Across America makes me think of a higher budget, domestic version of Joe Ortiz's The Village Baker, with some of the same flaws: the emphasis is on authenticity, on capturing the exact recipes and techniques used by professional artisan bakers. That is a worthwhile endeavor: it means for the price of this book you can experience the spirit of the artisan bread movement. But it also means that many of the recipes are too complex for the average home baking enthusiast. Even the recipes marked beginner, such as "Craig Ponsford's Ciabatta," require 30 hours to prepare. I know that I don't mind preparing a sponge the evening before I intend to bake (i.e., mix a sponge Friday night to turn into a dough Saturday morning to bake Saturday afternoon), but preparing a sponge two days ahead of time (mix the sponge Friday night to turn into a dough Saturday night to bake Sunday) is more than I am typically willing to do.
The advanced recipes in this book only get more complicated, with longer preparation times and fairly complex lists of ingredients. I'm sure they are wonderful, but simple they are not.
The interviews with artisan bakers in the book are interesting: Gelzer talks to some of the biggest names in artisan baking, such as Craig Ponsford, former coach of the USA baking team and jury member this year at the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie, and Didier Rosada, this year's Team USA coach. But they are interesting the way an interview with Tiger Woods is interesting to an amateur golfer: it is fascinating to know what kind of issues the pros deal with, but many of their issues are irrelevant to one's own experience.
The section in the beginning of this book on technique and ingredients is, however, quite useful. The full color photos are used well to illustrate such things as the difference between a soft, very soft, and firm dough. I've been using this section quite a bit even though I continue to bake recipes from other books (or out of my own head).
So pick this book up if you want to capture the look and feel of the artisan bread movement. But if you a beginner just getting into artisan baking and want a set of recipes that aren't too daunting, I'd suggest something else (like The Bread Baker's Apprentice).