I’ve had The Handmade Loaf for some time but, after reading a post complaining about people who review cookbooks without having tried the recipes, I’ve sat on it for a while. Now I’ve made five, which I think is enough to be getting on with.
I love this book: it is broad, and curious, and pan-European. Dan Lepard doesn’t talk down to the reader: he throws in hard-to-find ingredients and unusual techniques without apology. Don’t want to have to track down barley flour? Dan assumes you have enough sense to switch it for something more obtainable. He agrees you’ll probably want to mail-order malted grains rather than malt your own, but proceeds to tell you how to do it should you want an insight into the process. I haven’t tried the malting, but it makes me feel good that I’d know where to begin.
This all-in quality means the book is not especially beginner-friendly, but allows him to fill a whole book with interesting bread recipes without resorting to either same-y variations or shoehorning recipes in that aren’t bread… Actually, there are Chelsea buns in here, so Lepard is guilty of this too. But I’ll forgive him as his section division is so charming and convincing. It’s not just the divisions, his themes are well thought-out and satisfying. After the basics, sections are as follows:
- From water to wine: covers addition of all sorts of leftover liquids like milk, ale, even pickle juice. This sounds like an odd section but it works.
- From field to mill: different base flours.
- Seeds and grains: self-explanatory, but includes some surprise recipes, such as the lentil rolls above.
- Abundant harvest: adding fruits.
- Herbs, spices and fragrances.
- The fat of the land.
…which I find a nice and original take on bread. He also scatters throughout little features that focus on a particular country, but I found these less interesting and they would have been better more clearly linked to recipes.
In terms of practical usage, all the recipes I’ve tried have been clear, worked, tasted good and in some cases done something pretty original. Some minor gripes / questions.
- His oven times are often too long for my oven. After 30 mins at 210 C in mine, any loaf is pretty much done and can’t cope with a further 20 mins at a lower temp. The rest of my equipment is inaccurate, though, so it’d be surprising if my oven wasn’t.
- I don’t think I’ve got the hang of his almost-no-kneading method (10 sec bursts of kneading, interspersed with breaks). My dough just doesn’t windowpane after his instructions, so I usually keep going. I’m going to persist with this, though, probably by giving it more 10 sec kneads, because I’m pretty sick of Daniel Leader’s approach where you knead it solidly for 15 mins. Leader’s seems to be designed with a machine in mind and adapted to by hand.
- I wish he wouldn’t only give fresh yeast amounts, in tsp. Because I don’t use fresh yeast and it’s a pain to convert.
Any other people called Dan L written a book about bread? Because those are my favourites.