A rye look at dough
If you want a simple, fail-proof recipe for bread, look on any old flour packet. You won’t find it in A Book About Bread, its author and master-baker, Adam Robinson told guests at the book’s launch this week.
Robinson, the owner of the popular Glenwood Bakery, points out that cooking well, contrary to what many telly chefs will tell you, is “a devilishly complicated and wonderfully interesting mistress”.
Or at any rate, it’s exacting when it comes to the details, particularly as these apply to the sourdough specialities that come out of Robinson’s ovens in Glenwood.
A veteran of the London restaurant scene who has lived in South Africa since 2003, Robinson teamed up with photographer-designer Roger Jardine to produce a book that takes a deep-dive into dough and its making and baking. If you are comfortable in the kitchen, or have at least dabbled in bread, this is the book for you.
Robinson cites a number of influences, particularly 16th century physician Dr Thomas Muffett, as he breaks bread-making down to its essentials. We learn about wheat and what makes flour good or otherwise; yeast, water, salt, baking and ovens all get their due attention. But it's the dough, its handling and the microbiology of fermentation where the real magic happens and Robinson explains some of its mysteries in his idiosyncratic, often wry, style.
Then he serves 10 recipes, or formulas (as he styles them) – many Glenwood Bakery favourites.
There’s a Wholemeal Sourdough and Potato and Rosemary bread, described as a gateway bread to the world of sourdoughs. Incidentally, the language here is similar to what you hear from craft-brewers; beer-making and baking, after all, share much in common.
There are also soft Sourdough Burger Rolls, Oat Porridge Sourdough and a Ciabatta. The last is a favourite of the author’s and one of the reasons his bakery has become something of an institution.
All the formulas are accompanied by beautiful photographs, and a precise list of ingredients, times and temperatures. The author describes good bakers as “anal” and gives step-by-step instructions to help you get it right.
Robinson has been cooking in or running restaurants in England and France since 1981. It’s given him a rich store of anecdotes which lend the book a nice light crumb, as well as a good understanding of what makes food and baking work.
He flays the food industry in general and the mass-producers of bread in particular and explains why most of the bread you get from the supermarket is so indigestible.
He concludes with a pithy essay on the pleasures and pitfalls of owning your own little bakery. Something to chew on for those of weighing a career change or anyone who simply loves bread.
The book retails for R225 and is available from the Glenwood Bakery, at 398 Esther Roberts Road, Glenwood, Durban. Call 082 617 9768 or email [email protected]
It also is available at African Roots Coffee (uMhlanga); Hope Meats (Durban North); Surf Riders (South Beach); Humble Coffee (Morningside); Dukka (Morningside); KZNSA (Glenwood); and Parc (Glenwood). Online orders through Bake-a-Ton at www.bakeaton.co.za
The Independent on Saturday