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Oatmeal Rye, from the Tassajara Bread Book

I’ve posted things several times from the Tassajara Bread Book, which I bought with some Christmas money early this year.

I bought it because of the focus on whole grain baking, and because it had a lot of good reviews that emphasized the relaxed attitude.  Plus, it has a small sourdough section.

I have really enjoyed baking from this book.  There are yeast breads, sourdough breads, quick breads, pancakes, and desserts.  There’s also a section of “unyeasted breads” but since bread like a brick isn’t something I aim for, I do not intend to ever actually use that section.

The author worked/lived at the Tassajara Zen Retreat Center in California.  Zen philosophies influence a lot of the introductory matter and make it more touchy-feely than I like.  Sentences like “What to do, how to tend, how to pass on the message: star food, angel food, transfixed body, body of light…”[and etc., it goes on for a bit more] just make me roll my eyes.  The title of one of the recipes, “Wheat Veneration” seems borderline blasphemous.

But there is a bit about pre-heating your bread bowl with warm water to allow the “baby bread dough to feel at home and warmly held”, and I actually liked that and thought it was a cute mental image.

The recipes are what is really important here, though, and besides the recipes, the teaching philosophy.  The author presents bread making as easy and natural, not some Byzantine process that only the chosen few can really perfect.  I like that.

I like that he admits that all ingredients may not be available at all times in your kitchen, and suggests substitutions.  In the muffin section, there is even a recipe called “Something Missing Muffins” which gives variations of the basic recipe with different ingredients missing (egg, milk, baking powder, oil, etc.) and what to expect of each in terms of texture.

Every recipe I’ve tried has turned out well.  I do usually use part whole-wheat and part white flour, instead of 100% whole wheat (or other grains), as the recipes usually call for.

It is important to take time to do the master recipe using the detailed instructions a few times, because the procedures are a little different from what most recipes call for.

Almost all of the recipes require a sponge, and the method of stirring/kneading is a little different.  He doesn’t go into the WHY of these things much, but I think they make the final bread softer and less dense than a whole-wheat bread made the “normal” way.

It’s also important to make the master recipe because all of the following recipes use a shorthand – they usually give a list of ingredients and then say something like “Proceed as for Tassajara Yeasted Bread, page 34.”

This saves space and paper, and I do like that it is a small book and doesn’t take up a lot of counter space, but it leads to a lot of flipping back and forth, which is annoying.

Overall I consider my money well-spent for this book.  I do wish it had more sourdough recipes.

“You can enjoy the aroma of freshly baked bread in your kitchen.  Nothing is difficult about this recipe, as there is a wide margin for error, adaptation, and experimentation.” —-Edward Espe Brown

Linked to: Raising Homemakers, Wholehearted Home