Cookbook: Bread Revolution by Peter Reinhart
Overall impression: This is the book you need if you want to take your bread baking to the next level. It is not an easy book, but it really will change the way you understand everything about food, flour, and the art and science of baking bread.
There is something truly therapeutic about baking your own bread. I have only been really learning to do it the past three years or so, and it is one of my favorite things to do in the kitchen. Now that the holiday madness is over, I like nothing better than to bake, filling the kitchen with the yeasty, homey smell of fresh baked bread.
Recipes I Tried
- Naturally Leavened Hearth Bread
- Sprouted Wheat Focaccia
- Sprouted Wheat Muffins
- Sprouted Wheat Pizza Dough
- Whole Milled Wholewheat Pizzas
- High-Extraction Pain Au Levain (baked in a cob oven)
Cooking from Bread Revolution
Bread Revolution is a revelation. I love baking bread, and ever since I've been reading books by my holy bread-making trio of Peter Reinhart, Chad Robertson, and Richard Bertinet, I have been consistently working on learning and perfecting my bread-baking techniques. I can honestly say that these three writers have changed the way I cook and bake.
Peter Reinhart is a familiar name to Kitchn readers, and he even managed to send Faith into meltdown. It's no wonder then, that I had my own little squealy moment when his latest book arrived. Bread Revolution is not just a cookbook. It is an incisive look at new frontiers of bread making and the role that small family-owned grain farms and farmers, bakers, and bread enthusiasts are playing in this world. The book almost reads as a novel, and I was absorbed in the stories and behind-the-scenes peeks that Reinhart offers into his own life, and the lives of farmers and his suppliers. He uses everything from ancient grains to sprouted flours to come up with recipes that you can almost taste while reading all about them.
One of the key facets of this book is Reinhart's reliance on small suppliers and farmers who are going back to heritage and ancient grains. It is a theme that runs through the book — along with the development of innovative techniques. This is one of the best aspects of the book, and also one that sets it apart from the other bread books in the market. Reinhart also freely and generously acknowledges the expertise of other bakers and the many ways in which they have influenced him and his own work.
This book challenged me in ways that I haven't really been challenged before. To start off, I made my own sprouted wheat flour. If I'm being completely honest, sourcing some of the wheat Reinhart uses in Bread Revolution is not easy. I am, however, very lucky that I have a good relationship with my local, organic, and heritage grain farmer, John Schneider of Gold Forest Grains here in Edmonton. I described to him the kinds of grains I needed, and he supplied me with everything from wheat berries for my sprouted flour, heritage Red Fife flour for the hearth bread, and Park and Einkorn wholemeal flour for some of the other recipes. It made reviewing and cooking from this book a lot easier, for sure, especially as John's whole wheat flours are also all freshly and single milled, as requested by Reinhart.
Once you have your grain supply, the only other things you will need to bake from Bread Revolution are time and patience. The recipes in this book are all characteristically detailed, with measurements in cups (volume), ounces, and grams. This makes the recipes pretty much foolproof and easy to follow. I almost always use weight measures in my bread baking (a habit I developed when I started baking from the Bertinet books).
I tested a wide variety of recipes from the book using John's single milled flour and my sprouted wheat flour, and I didn't have a single failure. In fact, the hearth bread was so good, we couldn't stop eating it, and I had to make another loaf almost straightaway. It was fantastic with smoked salmon and Ottolenghi's eggplant dip. The sprouted wheat muffins were amazing, as was the focaccia (once I got to grips with the hydration; I live at quite a high altitude and I have to adjust most recipes slightly). Flavor-wise, the grain offered a nutty taste, and none of the baking I did gave me that slightly bloated feel that regular bread sometimes gives me. I felt more energized and I can definitely see how this book is going to make a difference in my everyday life.
Like I mentioned above, though, if you are going to be making some of Reinhart's whole-milled wholemeal goods, you will need patience. A seed culture and mother starter are crucial to a lot of the recipes, and they take time to make and nurture. Some of the breads are slow rising, and take time to bake. That said, the recipes that use sprouted wheat flour are simple, and once you find some (or make your own), you can very easily bake a lot of the quick breads, muffins, and pizza. The equipment asked for is very simple, and you can get away with just a pizza or baking stone and a few simple tools. And other than some flours, nothing else is overly expensive.
With this book, it is a good idea to read each incredibly detailed recipe closely before attempting it so you know exactly what needs to be done and can avoid surprises. Reinhart has lots of notes on most of the recipes, and it is worth skimming through these as well. I like that he includes alternatives to ingredients where possible, plus add-ons that make the recipe even more delicious. His herb oil is now a staple in my fridge and I drizzle it on everything. He also includes little snippets of his own stories and other background information, which makes reading the book a real pleasure.
What Could Be Better
I only have a couple of qualms with this book, and to be honest, they even seem a little nitpicky. The first is that the font is a bit light colored and on the small side. I wear glasses, and I had to squint and go pretty close to the book to read the recipes. This is obviously not a fault of the book itself, but more of a design issue that maybe could be addressed somewhere down the line.
The second is that a lot of breads call for specific kinds of flours that may not necessarily be available everywhere. I was lucky in my connections with farmers, but the average reader and baker might not be. This is not to say that the flours can't be sourced, but they might prove to be a little on the expensive side.
I devoured (no pun, honest) this book in one night like it was a novel. This is one of those books that is essential if you want to become a serious bread baker, or if you just want to read a beautifully written, interesting book in general. While the book can seem intimidating at first, with a little preparation and research, you can make incredibly delicious, healthy, and even gluten-free breads and other baked goods at home. For me, the mark of a good book is how many sticky notes I have in it, and at last count I already had about 20 — and the number is just increasing as I get more and more into the book and its contents.
Find the book at your local library, independent bookstore, or Amazon: Bread Revolution by Peter Reinhart
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