by Dianne Boate
You may have to learn a new dance in your kitchen and start a whole new kind of conversation; the results from trying out several recipes from the recently published Josey Baker Bread (Chronicle Books) will, I can report, set your baking inclinations on fire and send you scurrying to market for just the right ingredients: bread flour and sea salt.
A new book covering a passionate interest is challenging but is also the greatest entertainment in the world on the path of discovering what is in it. Contents, Introduction and Chapter One led me straight to the first recipe with white bread flour that was a 24-hour dance to and from the refrigerator. The dough looked so promising that I started the next recipe right away with whole wheat flour and could not stop there either, so on to Chapter Two and making sourdough starter, something new for me. My plan is to make the sourdough bread and work my way to sourdough pizza crust.
Promising sweets for a major art exhibition, I skipped over to Chapter Five about cookies. One basic recipe has five variations. There is a big deal going on here with butter: First brown the butter . I made the chocolate chip, peanut butter and oatmeal raisin versions. The combination of the browned butter and sea salt here is what takes all of your senses to an enchanted place.
I noticed something right away in all the recipes: the use of sea salt. Like Winston Churchill and his “blind eye” about the English Empire and India, I have had a “blind eye” about sea salt, making do with regular iodized, kosher, and fleur de sel in various forms. (Q: What! You did not know about sea salt? A: You do not come into this world knowing about sea salt.) Result was a caution about how much salt to put in the first bread recipes, erring on the side of too little, but better than too much! In spite of the salt issue, the first loaves were scrumptious with thick, crunchy crusts that made my whole household cry for more.
I could not find an explanation in the book about sea salt nor about wrapping and storing what you make, but here is Josey’s explanation on that, right in the Introduction: “But if you’re wondering about something in particular, just look it up in the index, and you will find the page where you can learn more about it. And if it’s not there, use the Internet, or better still, talk to a baker buddy. And if you don’t have one, now’s the time to make one. Don’t worry, bakers are a generous bunch.” Speaking of that, what other profession can you think of where the maker of a product wants to sell you his goods and also teach you how to make it yourself?
Full of slapdash words and wit, Josey takes you by the hand as if you are an old friend, guiding you firmly to higher quality baking. He anticipates your inclinations to want everything right now , and tries to teach discipline of time management when it comes to his methods of baking. The book is an ongoing conversation that covers all the details in a breezy style that offers one other discipline: paying attention . The recipes come on a good learning curve, adding dimensions as you go along with nuts, seeds, grains, and things you never would have thought of. As an experienced baker, I really liked the surprises.
The photographs in the book lead you step by step for beginning baker techniques, and the breads in the book look just like what comes out of the oven.
The way things are going, Josey Baker Bread will join the ranks of spine-broken, note-filled, dough-spattered pages characteristic of my favorite cooking and baking books, the lovable wrecks in my kitchen that I could not do without. Now, let us see how that sourdough starter is coming along…
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Dianne Boate, a former staff member of the original Dating Game television show, and later, The Renaissance Pleasure Faire, is The Hat Lady, maker of custom millinery, and The Cake Lady, a special events baker for 30 years in the Bay Area. Between cake assignments she has had several one-woman photography shows, and participated as a botanical illustrator in group shows benefiting the Conservatory of Flowers, National AIDS Memorial Grove, Marin Cancer Institute, and University of California Alumni Association. Her website can be found at http://www.boatecollection.com.