Sometimes you pick up a book that changes everything. Sometimes you indulge in the feeling of the smooth cover under the palm of your hand. Sometimes you read the first page, and fall in love.
I think people often take for granted the skill of writing a cookbook. I also think everyone thinks they can write a cookbook. Anyone can publish anything these days, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. Just because you can cook, doesn’t mean you have the ability to write about it. And make me want to actually read it. I have cookbooks that I don’t ever look at. Cookbooks that I’ve never made one simple little recipe out of. Not that anything’s wrong with the recipes, I guess, but they just don’t intrigue me.
I like a cookbook that I can sit down with on the couch and read like a novel. Something that peaks my interest so much I don’t want to put it down. It takes more than ingredients and instructions to make a cookbook, just as it takes more than some food and a few tools to make dinner. There’s skill involved in both cooking and writing, and Tartine Bread delivers both.
I’d been meaning to get this book for quite some time, but as usual there’s more things to pay for than what I have to pay with so it got pushed to the back burner. But I recently graduated from culinary school (yay!) and hence received a gift card. So with this gift card I bought Vegan Pie in the Sky, The Flavor Bible and, of course, Tartine Bread.
Bread is something that seems to mystify most people. How can you take three simple ingredients and make such vastly different products with them? Why does it turn out different every time it’s made? And who actually has time to make their own bread?
I’m not a fabulous bread baker by any means, but I’m not mystified by it either. I love bread. And I also love making bread. I achieve fairly good results with typical sandwich breads, flat breads, ciabatta, focaccia, etc, but I’ve yet to create that dark, thick crusted, moist chewy crumb, gaping pocket filled bread that you find in artisan bakeries. But this will hopefully not be the case for long.
Chad Robertson, the writer of this book and baker/ proprietor of Tartine Bakery in San Francisco, did the entire world a favor when he published this book. Seriously. Many bread baking books don’t really enable the home baker to achieve the same results as one would in a commercial kitchen. But this was Chad’s aim, to create a method that would work for anyone in any oven, even my rink-dink piece of %#*@ oven.
Chad spent the last twenty years studying, testing, baking, eating, breathing bread. That type of dedication should be admired by everyone, but especially anyone who’s ever dabbled in bread baking. Bread baking isn’t a quick task. You can just throw some flours together, toss in some yeast and add a little water and find out in an hour if it turned out alright. It’s quite time consuming and extreme patience and a profound love are definitely a necessity.
The book explains everything, from the tools you’ll need and the process involved in making and maintaining a wild yeast starter, to baking and subsequently eating the bread. There are also recipes for things like bruschetta, panzanella, gazpacho and affogato. And what’s really genius is his idea of making bread to be ready for dinner, not breakfast. Professional bread bakers typically have horrid hours because everyone wants to buy bread in the morning. Why? I don’t know because honestly most people don’t really need their bread until lunch or dinner. As a baker, I think the dinner thing an excellent idea.
But what really makes the book, aside from his excellent writing style, are the pictures. Lets face it, we all like books with pictures in them. Especially food books. I’ve actually put cookbooks back on the shelf because there weren’t enough pictures. People want to see what they are about to create. And with bread making it’s even more important to be able to see what exactly it is that you’re supposed to be doing, or how it’s supposed to look when all is said and done.
Chad’s friend and early apprentice Eric Wolfinger did the photos for the book and they are simply phenomenal. Even if you have no interest in making bread, it’s worth it to buy this thing just to look at the photographs. They are really quite beautiful.
I’ve never had to opportunity to visit the Tartine Bakery in San Fran, but hopefully one day not too awfully far away I’ll be able to enjoy bread of a similar quality from my own oven. I plan on getting my starter going in the next day or so, and I’ll let you know how it goes. Until then, try not to drool on your keyboard as you peruse pictures from this book.