A little over a year ago I baked my first loaf of bread. Considering that I have eaten bread (perhaps to a degree some might consider gluttony…) all my life, the fact that I had never attempted to make my own bread always surprised me. Perhaps I was afraid of the yeast, an ingredient my mother always spoke with guarded fear about. Or, perhaps, I was turned off by the tireless “breads” that didn’t contain any yeast…and thus had a consistency more like a cake than any loaf of good bread I had ever sampled. But emboldened by the literary courage offered to me by Emeril Lagasse in his “Louisiana Real and Rustic” cookbook, I proceeded to bake my first loaf of French bread as part of a cajun-style dinner I made for my wife. The fact that this loaf not only turned out acceptable but was, dare I say, delicious, only made me want to learn more about the craft of making bread.
Like any other hobby I have chosen to begin over the years, the first thing I did was research the topic of bread making on the internet. Between the personal blogs, commercial websites, bread-specific sites, etc, the amount of information out there was fairly vast. In addition, thousands of books have been written on the topic of making bread and after perusing a few books and a few sites I arrived at the following question:
Why is a recipe with so few ingredients so incredibly difficult to master?
So after reading tons of blogs, hundreds of sites, thousands of recipes, and finding essentially the same story, I decided to turn to a trusted old friend. James Beard is considered by many to be the godfather of the American gourmet food identity, and in 1973 he wrote the book “Beard on Bread”. Compared to cookbooks from today, the book looks like a child’s school project. You won’t find a fancy glossy photo anywhere in the book. Rather, the books is filled with drawings of bread, pans, grains, knives, etc, to show the reader what the process should look like. I had wanted this book since I began my study of bread making, and when it never materialized as a gift to me (despite numerous hints…) I broke down and purchased it myself. After reading through it I came up with the idea of making every recipe in the book and documenting the process for anyone who would care to read about it (a la Julie and Julia).
For those of you who know me, your assumption that this story will be a humorous one is correct. Though it perhaps won’t be as funny as I usually am, it will certainly be punctuated with the dry wit that I am known for. Some of the humor will be in my observations of the recipes themselves, while other humor will come from my inability to magically recreate every single aspect of the recipe exactly how James Beard says I should. Regardless, if you enjoy bread it should be an enjoyable ride and you’ll get a lot of great recipes that have been tested by the proverbial common man.
A final note about the writing of the blog:
In the writing of this blog, any sentences or phrases that are taken directly from the cookbook will be noted by both quotations and also italic text. I am by no means attempting to plagiarize any part of the book and wish to give credit where it is due. After all, this is a blog about me following along with the cookbook, so obviously that is where my inspiration lies. If it is any sort of instruction, Jim wrote it. That said…