Many people are exploring new routes to bread these days, despite or maybe because of issues with gluten. One of the most popular types of bread is also one of the oldest — sourdough, or bread that’s made with natural leavening rather than commercial yeast. With this baking renaissance has come a rise, so to speak, in local bakeries and bread shops, plus many great books devoted to bread-baking.
So how can you begin your grains tour? We put together some guides to classes and books to help you ride the grain train and checked in with some local folks to see what books helped wrap their heads and lives around bread.
Miller Nan Kohler of Grist & Toll, a flour mill in Pasadena, has a background in wine selling. She became hooked on milling as a pastry baker wanting a terrific ingredient but didn’t develop a passion for bread baking until she had to understand how her stone-ground, whole-grain flours work in bread doughs.
“I am drawn to books written by European bakers because they naturally incorporate spelt, rye and whole grain flour,” said Kohler. Through Instagram, she found “Sourdough,” a cookbook from Norwegian bakery Illebrod. Another great guide for her this year has been Andrew Whitley’s “Do Sourdough: Slow Bread for Busy Lives.” She loves this simple manual for sourdough.
“There’s way too much intimidation over sourdough, and his book puts an angel over your shoulder as you tackle the process,” said Kohler.
A classic she recommends is “The Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book,” written by vegetarian cooking leader Laurel Robertson in 1984 and updated in 2003. “This book is a reminder that we are not the first to love and explore whole grains,” said Kohler.
Clemence Gossett, founder of the Gourmandise Cooking School in Santa Monica, teaches a lot of people to bake bread (and other things). Gossett found confidence in baking by following Jacques Pepin’s cookbook “La Technique.” She recalls making the pastry cream over and over until she perfected it, following the steps, image by image. “Josey Baker Bread” is the book she prescribes for first-time sourdough bread bakers.
“Ken Forkish’s ‘Flour Water Salt Yeast’ is a little more advanced and takes you through commercial yeast and into sourdough,” said Gossett. “A book that never disappoints is ‘Tartine.’ Every recipe works for baking anything.”
Rose Lawrence is a one-woman baking storm known for courting local ingredients. Proprietor of Red Bread and proponent of wild yeasts, Lawrence is chef de partie at Rustic Canyon in Santa Monica. She also teaches baking classes at Gourmandise and elsewhere, urging students to use flours of known origin, just as they would pursue good fruit or chocolate.
“They really hit a nail for home bakers, encouraging creativity and ease,” said Lawrence. The classic bread book she recommends is author and Johnson & Wales instructor Peter Reinhart’s 1991 “Brother Juniper’s Bread Book.” “When I first started baking, this was the book that spoke to me,” she said.
Keep reading, Lawrence tells her baking students, to find the book that speaks to you. “Bread making is very personal. And through reading everyone’s way, you’ll make your own. ”
Roxana Jullapat of Friends & Family restaurant and bakery in Los Angeles likes two recent off-beat grain books, “Einkorn: Recipes for Nature’s Original Wheat” by Carla Bartolucci, and Stanley Ginsberg’s “The Rye Baker: Classic Breads From Europe and America,” a biography of the grain, and encyclopedia of rye breads from around the world.
Ginsberg, a native New Yorker who lives in San Diego, has made writing about bread his second career, and he brings a sense of humor and fun to his topic, as Jullapat discovered when she took a class with him. “Rye is completely different than wheat, and I can’t think of anyone who’s baked more rye. I love reading his blog.”
Jullapat’s classics? She turns to the “Bread Baker’s Apprentice,” also by Reinhart, as a reference because it’s very accessible, as is Jim Lahey’s first book, “My Bread,” which helped her lose her fear of baking bread. She’s also fond of Nancy Silverton’s “Breads From the La Brea Bakery.” Jullapat baked with Silverton at Campanile and often returns to the recipes such as the rye with currants. “The ratio of currants to bread is just perfect,” said Jullapat.
Coincidentally, Ginsberg’s classic bread title is one Jullapat favors, Reinhart’s “Bread Baker’s Apprentice.” Ginsberg found the book while visiting the library, and it helped him understand the bread he’d been baking for a number of years.
“All of a sudden someone was telling me about the science of what was going on,” he said. “It gave me structure that I could wrap my mind and go from there.”
A few new bread books
The recent crop of bread cookbooks is pretty impressive. There’s the heavy — and heavy-hitting — five-volume “Modernist Bread” by Nathan Mhyrvold, Microsoft technology officer turned culinarian whose encyclopedic, lushly photographed and self-published “Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking” was a runaway hit. But if a $600 bread book doesn’t fit into your budget, there are many new titles from well-known bakeries and baking entities.
Lahey, the New York City baker who made no-knead bread a common practice, has a new book. More than a decade after Mark Bittman’s New York Times article popularized this easy, speedy style of homemade bread, home bakers get a chance to know Lahey and his approach to baking in “The Sullivan Street Bakery Cookbook.”
Intrigued by Nordic cuisine? Claus Meyer, co-founder of the Copenhagen restaurant Noma, which began a wave of chefs diving deep into foraging and other very local routes to ingredients, offers his map to Nordic breads and baking in “Meyer’s Bakery.” King Arthur Flour’s head baker Martin Phillip invites novices and the already-obsessed to follow his trail from beginner to expert in “Breaking Bread: A Baker’s Journey Home in 75 Recipes.”
“Toast and Jam,” a new book by James Beard Award-winning author Sarah Owens, offers home bakers another chance to get cozy with her seasonal approach to bread and baking, along with all the fixings, from ferments to jams. Her 2015 book “Sourdough” is part of the growing interest in natural leavening and long fermentation. Owens’ cookbooks stand out because they feature sourdough as an ingredient in sweets and quick breads, in which starter is not usually found.
A few local bread classes
Mary Parr is an acupuncturist and baker who also teaches whole-grain, sourdough bread classes in Highland Park. The next one is at Food & Shelter on March 4. For more details go to www.maryparracupuncture.com.
The Gourmandise School is offering classes, including Rustic Breads: Sourdough Boules on March 21 and April 8 with Clemence Gossett; Whole Grain Baking: Whole Wheat Breads from Scratch on March 24 with Rose Lawrence.
The Los Angeles Bread Bakers meet-up offers classes and connections with other bread enthusiasts. The group holds community bread bakes at different wood-fired ovens.
And keep your eye out for classes at Grist & Toll, which hosts bakers and cookbook authors.
Amy Halloran is the author of “The New Bread Basket.”