When I was a kid my grandmother’s next door neighbor was a lovely and thoughtful flight attendant who made regular flights to San Francisco, California. She often brought back with her a special treat for my grandmother: the famous San Francisco sourdough bread.
Back then, I failed to appreciate the true renown of this iconic bread, but I remember the way my grandmother valued her transcontinental loaf, and have since come to make my own sourdough over the years.
I’d never tried to make it Frisco-style, however, until I got my hands on, of all things, a Nordic baking cookbook. It was Home Baked: Nordic Recipes and Techniques for Organic Bread and Pastry.
I didn’t know, but should have, that sourdough is healthier than other breads because the fermentation breaks down the phytate in grain, releasing iron, zinc, and magnesium so our bodies can absorb it. Isn’t it nice when more flavor means more nutrition, instead of the opposite? Bonus.
I’ve been home baking for a long time, over thirty years, but I learned life-changing things from this book. I learned a new way to knead that I love, the importance of misting the oven with water before baking, and the value of a baking stone. I made a focaccia I won’t soon forget, sprigged with rosemary and brushed with olive oil, and I’ve been slavering over an English Apple Pie filled with raisins and spice combinations that have my imagination doing loop de loops. I was inspired to make my own bread peel, too, and, wow, that thing is handy as a pocket on a shirt.
If you’re a beginner baker, this is a very good place to start, because it gets down to brass tacks, including the anatomy of a grain of wheat, descriptions of different types of grain, the basic tools and equipment you need (and why), and the methods I should have learned from the start.
If you’re a veteran home baker like me, but have never studied techniques borrowed from the professional bakers scaled for the home cook, I recommend this book. You will also enjoy the evocative photography of the author’s Danish farm–the author and her family own and operate a small-scale organic stone mill to process their own grain.
Be forewarned, the recipes are in grams. I actually love this part, because it takes one of my least favorite parts of baking and does away with it–guessing whether or not I have measured the amount of flour correctly. American bakers are notorious for using measuring cups instead of weight for baking, and I do this, too, even though I know better. With this cookbook, I’m forced to use weight, and I know I’ve got the amounts right (or as closely as I can come to right, flours differ, moisture content varies) and I can stop worrying and just keep kneading knowing it will come together properly in the end.
If you would like to try to win a copy of this book from the publisher, Chelsea Green, click on the link below and get in the running.