So this cookbook has been sitting on my kitchen cookbook shelf for 1.5 years now.
Because I have been intimidated by it. This looks like a bread book for serious bread bakers. It isn’t full of glossy photos, or step-by-step photos, instead the pages are mostly words, with clusters of lovely photos of bread interspersed in between.
Now thinking back, I’m not quite sure what motivated me to finally pick up this hefty book on Friday morning. The desire to bake some bread? The lack of bread in the house (except for two lonely slices of storebought raisin bread)? The itch to do something with my hands? I knew I wanted a savoury bread, and this Basic Soft White Sandwich Bread (recipe here) caught my eye. Rose Levy Beranbaum describes this bread as “like a brioche, with less butter and no egg”, “lightly toasted and topped with soft scrambled eggs, it is nothing short of ambrosial”. Ooh…doesn’t that make you want a slice?
Ok so mine wasn’t all that perfect. It had a nice lightness and was much softer than any of the other breads I’ve made before. But it wouldn’t really qualify as ‘sandwich’ bread as it wasn’t tall enough. Because I didn’t let it rise long enough!
The problem began with my less than careful reading through the recipe and skipping over one of the rises. I neglected to factor in two extra hours of rising. Reading over the recipe again after the first couple of steps, I realized that if I followed the recipe to the letter, I’d still be baking at midnight. Oops indeed. So I had to shorten the rising times and make minor adjustments here and there. Note to self: read each step thoroughly next time before proceeding with any recipe!
Plus, my kitchen was a little cold. According to Beranbaum, the ideal temp for rising is 75-80F, and my house tends to hover around 67F (about 20C). So after the first rise (one of many!) seemed to take a while on the counter, I warmed up the oven a little and popped it in. It helped, a little, but just a little too late!
Anyway, this recipe was quite different from the breads I’ve made. It uses a sponge method, essentially making a sponge dough starter (which has all the liquid), and then sprinkling a flour mixture on top of the sponge starter as a protective cover to prevent drying out. Apparently this method helps to deepen the flavour of the bread (to really develop full flavor, it requires an overnight fermentation).
One thing I definitely appreciated in this cookbook was its detailed description on shaping the dough (even though this recipe uses loaf pans). She tells you to press the dough into a wide rectangle, to dimple it, to fold it overlapping and roll it and tuck it under (see the recipe for more information). My previous attempts at dough shaping were far more haphazard! More of a pat pat and into the pan it goes. I’d love to try out one of her free-form loaves to see how the shaping of those works.
At any rate, despite my less than thorough recipe-reading, the bread that emerged from my oven smelled fantastic. The whole house smelled wonderful and of course I had to sneak a bite (after letting it cool). Yummy. I will have to try this recipe again, giving it an overnight ferment and making sure it rises at the right temperature!
The Bread Bible has many other recipes that sound so tempting, like the olive bread, brioches, and scones which immediately caught my eye. I love scones!
Beranbaum has written several other ‘bible’ cookbooks, and has some recipes over at her website.
The Cake Bible (1988)
Rose’s Celebrations (1992)
Rose’s Melting Pot: A Cooking Tour of America’s Ethnic Celebrations (1994)
The Pie and Pastry Bible (1998)
Rose’s Christmas Cookies (1998)
The Bread Bible (2003)
Rose’s Heavenly Cakes (2009)
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