Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Of Books and Bread

Welcome to the first post of Read ‘em and Eats, which I intend to be a chronicle of what I am reading and what I am cooking. I’ve never wanted to belong to a book club because I’d hate to be told what to read – there are too many books piled about the place for me to be further distracted from my own meandering path. But I love hearing about what other people are reading and look forward to comments that add to the piles beside the bed, in the office, on top of the toilet, spill out of the shelves outside the kitchen . . . you get the picture. Speaking of the kitchen, my lifelong goal has been to be the kind of cook that if you turned up on my doorstep unannounced I could respond with a meal that would be engaging and satisfying – like a good book? So let’s begin.

Let them eat bagels
I had understood that croissant were among the most laborious of breakfast foods. Bagels can’t be far behind. I attempted them for the first time this weekend. Unlike the usual two rises of your regular loaf, bagels not only have multiple rises, they are boiled before they are glazed and baked. I love to knead and bagels are aces in this department.

I did two batches. One the half recipe from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Bread Bible. As always her recipe was full of intricacies, well-explained and illustrated, and requires commitment on the home baker’s part. If you work to her exacting and preferred instructions this is two day exercise. Was it worth it? Oh yeah. Great crust encases a chewy, flavorful interior.

The recipe for the second batch was from Janice Murray Gill's Canadian Bread Book, which I fear may be out of print; if so, check out for second hand copy. It’s an excellent book for the beginning bread maker and expert alike. This recipe was less complex in process and shorter in working time. The results were also very good, produced slightly bigger bagels, though they weighed the same in both cases. These were closer to store bought bagels in that they were cakier in texture.

Bottom-line, I preferred The Bread Bible bagels (say that six times fast) overall for both taste and texture, but I’d use the other recipe again, not just because of the shorter working time, but because they were great toasted.

Eating for England by Nigel Slater
By pure coincidence I happen to have just finished a food book – and by a man who has a passion for toast, which is the name of his autobiography. This book is a collection of penseés on English food, some as short as a paragraph or two, some running to a bit longer than a page, which makes it a great bathroom book.

Slater is not a trained chef, rather a food lover and thankfully not a food snob – he spends a lot of time on childish delights like store bought biscuits and candy.

The pleasure for this book will definitely be heightened if you grew up English and understand at the gut level, pardon the pun, the delights of roast beef and Yorkshire puddings, jaffa cakes, and the skeleton in my gustative closet, treacle tart. Let me say in closing then, not bon apetit, but “get that down you.”


  1. Wonderful stuff Sandra - I am looking forward to your next food adventure.

  2. You inspire me to bake bread - i can smell it now. I'll have to try butter for all that bread!

  3. I now have an inexplicable craving for fresh bagels. Not surprisingly though no desire to actually make them!! If only I knew someone who would make them for me ... wait a minute ...

  4. Were they better than Gryffe's? Sounds like a ton of work that could be spent on pastries (pretty much impossible to get truly decent ones here in Toronto).

  5. Ah...excellent recommendations that I will pass along to the bakers in my life. Finally, I have something useful to give them AND I will benefit from the fruits of their labours! Thank you.

  6. I am in San Jose where the bagels seem to be manufactured by the nice people who bring you wonder bread. I am reading a series of mystery books by Andrea Camilleri. The stories take place in Sicily where nothing works but they talk a lot about food. How did you acquire the book about english food?

  7. Dear AFib Runner, very sorry to learn of the San Jose bagel crisis. It seems like a good reason to leave town. I have read one of the Camilleri books, The Terracotta Dog, I think. As Roger Cohen said recently in the NYT:"Italy idles in the belief that life is circular and objectives an illusory distraction from pleasure." I enjoy idling myself. I found the Slater book in the wonderful Nicholas Hoare bookstore - I was already a fan and frequent user of his The 30-Minute Cook.