Fear and avoidance of bread is rampant these days, even among those without a gluten allergy. And that makes sense if you’re looking at a typical grocery store loaf, which is generally constructed from bleached white flour made from industrialized wheat—a formula that makes for bread that’s not that tasty or good for you.
But a small yet growing group of bakers is showing that bread can be wholesome and delicious, if—like with so many things—we go back to the way it used to be made. That means better, fresher flour, slower fermentation techniques and traditional recipes.
Two new books from locals exemplify this movement. Read on to learn why it’s time for bread to rejoin your table (and to get a great recipe).
Bien Cuit: The Art of Bread by Zachary Golper and Peter Kaminsky ($50): Baker Zachary Golper is driving the artisanal revival in North American baking from his Brooklyn kitchen. At first glance this tome may seem intimidating, but sit with it a bit, add a bowl, an oven, and patience and you’ll be well on your way to bread with soul—no PhD in breadology needed. Golper breaks down his cold, slow fermentation technique, which results in complex tangy flavors and a dark mahogany crust. Need more incentive to get baking now? Recipes for Late-Harvest Carrot Rolls and Whole Wheat Bread with Pumpkin Seeds are just begging to join a holiday feast.
The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook: Artisanal Baking from Around the World by Jessamyn Waldman Rodriguez and Julia Turshen ($35): Behind Hot Bread Kitchen’s chewy Indian naan and grindstone rye with wheat berries and oats, a powerful mission prevails. The East Harlem bakery employs and empowers immigrant women, providing them with the skills to succeed in the culinary industry with traditional recipes from their homelands. Hot Bread Kitchen’s CEO and founder, Jessamyn Waldman Rodriguez, shared the recipe for versatile Whole Wheat Lavash Crackers with Sesame Seeds, a crisp variation on Armenian flatbread. Waldman Rodriguez notes in the recipe heading, “You can easily substitute other toppings for the sesame seeds, including poppy seeds, nigella seeds, or za’atar—or simply sprinkle them with kosher salt.”
with Sesame Seeds
Makes 18 (6-inch/15 cm) square crackers
1¼ cups/295 g lukewarm water
2½ cups/315 g bread flour, plus more for shaping
1½ cups/195 g whole wheat flour
¼ cup/55 g extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons honey
2¾ teaspoons kosher salt vegetable oil
3 teaspoons sesame seeds
1. Combine the water, bread flour, whole wheat flour, olive oil, honey, and 2 teaspoons of the salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Mix on medium-low until a firm, supple dough forms and the sides of the bowl are clean, about 6 minutes. Do the window test (see below) to check to see if the gluten is fully formed.
2. Transfer the dough to a floured surface and divide it into 3 equal pieces (about 10½ ounces/300 g each). Cover the pieces loosely with plastic wrap or put them in a large plastic bag and let them rest at room temperature for 15 minutes.
3. Preheat the oven to 325°F/165°C.
4. Use a brush or your fingers to coat the underside of a 13 × 18-inch/ 33 × 46 cm rimmed baking sheet with vegetable oil. On a floured surface, roll out a piece of dough into a rectangle slightly larger than the surface of the baking sheet. If the dough springs back when you’re rolling it, let it rest for a few minutes. Drape the rectangle over the underside of the baking sheet so it hangs over the edges a little.
5. Put the baking sheet in the oven and bake for 5 minutes. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and spray the surface of the lavash lightly with water from a spray bottle. Sprinkle the top with ¼ teaspoon of the salt and 1 teaspoon of the sesame seeds. Use a pizza wheel to cut the lavash into 6 squares, about 6 inches/15 cm. For flat crackers, cut along the edge of the pan (see photo).
6. Lower the temperature to 280°F/140°C. Cover the pan of lavash with a sheet of parchment paper and put a second baking sheet, inverted, on top, sandwiching the lavash between the pans. Bake the crackers until they’re browned and crisp, about 35 minutes.
7. Repeat the process with the remaining pieces of dough.
8. Let the crackers cool completely before eating (they will continue to crisp as they cool). Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week.
Whether you mix your dough in a mixer or by hand, the final check to make sure the gluten in your dough is properly developed is called the windowpane test. Tear off a small piece of dough about the size of a golf ball. If it is sticky, dredge it through a little extra flour to make it easy to handle. Use your hands to gently stretch the dough from all sides until it forms a thin, nearly transparent layer that you can see the light through if you hold it up to an actual window or light. If you can stretch the dough to that state, it means the gluten is developed and your bread is ready to rise. Simply press the small dough ball back into the large one and proceed. If, on the other hand, your dough tears before you can stretch it thin enough to see the light through it, keep kneading it until it passes the test.