If you want it easy, don’t buy my book, says author
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 a few days ago.
Robinson, owner of the popular Glenwood Bakery, points out that cooking well, contrary to what many in the publishing trade or 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 the south-central Durban suburb.
A veteran of the London restaurant scene who has lived in South Africa since 2003, Robinson has teamed up with local photographer-designer Roger Jardine to produce a handsome volume that takes a deep-dive into dough and its making and baking.
If you are already comfortable in the kitchen, or have at least dabbled in bread, this is the book for you. And you’ll find plenty to get your teeth into.
Robinson cites a number of influences, particularly 16th century physick 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. 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 up ten recipes, or formulas (as he styles them) – many Glenwood Bakery favourites.
There’s a Wholemeal Sourdough and a lovely 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, as the book explains).
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 and a community centre of sorts in Glenwood.
All the formulas are accompanied by beautiful photographs, precise lists of ingredients, times and temperatures (the author describes good bakers as “anal”) and step-by-step instructions to help you get it right.
Robinson has been cooking in or running restaurants in his native England as well as 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.
Happily though, Robinson is no health-food Nazi. He’s almost as critical on this faddish topic, although he does touch on gluten intolerance and related themes in sensible terms.
“I am not a fan of the science of nutrition and even less nutritionism (the idea that it is individual nutrients in a food that is alone important). Nor am I that interested in the health benefits of my work. It is about the taste.”
Amen to that!
He concludes with a pithy essay on the pleasures and pitfalls of owning your own little bakery. Something to chew on for those of us who are weighing a career change or anyone who simply loves bread.
The book retails for R225.
- A Book About Bread is available from the Glenwood Bakery, at 398 Esther Roberts Rd, Glenwood, Durban. To reserve a copy call 082 617 9768 or email email@example.com. Payment on collection – no deliveries. Trade enquiries welcome. Please email Adam Robinson at firstname.lastname@example.org
- It is also available at the following Durban establishments: African Root (Umhlanga); Hope Meats (Durban North); Surf Riders (South Beach); Humble Coffee (Morningside); Dukka (Morningside); KZNSA (Glenwood); and Parc (Glenwood – next to the bakery).
- Online orders with deliveries nationwide can be placed through Bake-a-Ton or Ike’s Bookshop.