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In his new bread book, A Passion for Bread, Vatinet shares both his story and his knowledge. He learned his art through the rigorous apprenticeship program at Les Compagnons du Devoir, which includes years of study, perfecting many techniques under a variety of situations. After baking his masterpiece loaf, Vatinet was admitted into the guild as a true Master Baker.
At the heart of this wonderful cookbook are Vatinet's "seven steps to making great bread." His detailed instructions, accompanied by the numerous clear photographs, guarantee that anyone--and I mean anyone--can bake wonderful bread in his or her own home kitchen. Even if you are afraid of yeast or have tried and failed at baking bread in the past, you will find success under Vatinet's guidance.
He developed his seven steps to great bread while teaching friends, family, and customers how to bake, both in casual settings and in monthly classes at his North Carolina bakery/cafe. There is no mystery to the steps (measuring, kneading, rising, dividing, shaping, rising, and baking), but the path to great bread is found in how those steps are carried out and the ingredients used.
Unlike most bread books, Vatinet spends about 30 pages explaining the process through words and photographs. He uses bullet lists of tips, he presents multiple techniques to match your equipment and skills, and he holds your hand every step of the way.
Even better, his recipes and methods are geared to the home cook. You don't need any fancy equipment whatsoever, just some big bowls, an instant-read thermometer, some pans, a baking stone, and a few other items. Vatinet, however, does recommend other kitchen tools, which you can accumulate as you get into baking more often. For example, you might end up wanting a heavy-duty stand mixer with a dough hook, rising baskets, and dough scrapers.
The recipes themselves cover all the basic breads, including farmhouse breads, whole grain loaves, baguettes, rolls, focaccia, sourdough breads, and flavored loaves. The last chapter takes you beyond the loaf to croutons, crumbs, stuffings, sandwiches, and more.
Each recipe follows the seven-step plan and includes multiple cross-references to the master chapter, in case you forget a technique or need even more photographs. Pretty much every page of the book contains multiple photos showing you what to do from measuring to kneading to preparing the dough for baking.
Experienced bakers and baker wannabes will refer to A Passion for Bread over and over. Lionet Vatinet has generously shared the keys to good baking that he has learned and developed through years of experience. This is one of the best bread books I've seen in years. Get a copy for yourself and a couple to give as gifts.
I'm not going to share a recipe because you really need to see the photographs and read the basic seven-step chapter to get all the benefits of Vatinet's technique and instruction. The photos on this page show my first experience with A Passion for Bread. I made the Frenchman's Cornbread, which is a yeasted loaf that has about a third coarse cornmeal to two thirds white bread flour. Vatinet's recipe called for three types of onions, but I left them out and used red pepper flakes and some Parmesan cheese instead (it suited our dinner better).
For more on Vatinet and to see some great photographs, visit his website. If you're in the North Carolina area, stop in his shop or sign up for a baking class. I sure wish I could do both.
Hachette Book Group / Little, Brown, 2013
Source: Review (see review policy)
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