Cookbook Review: My Bread by Jim Lahey

by Deanna Dong
June 2012

My Bread by Jim Lahey

Author: Jim Lahey

Difficulty Level: Home Cook to Moderately Difficult. (Recipes require extensive time rather than advanced technique.)

Singing Bread: When bread is removed from the oven, it often makes a rapid-fire cracking sound, or "sings." This is a sign that the bread is still cooking and is a crucial step to bread baking. Lahey points out that the romance of eating a loaf "fresh out the oven" is an illusion. If bread does not cool, or finish "singing," it will taste under-baked and wet.

Chapters: The Making of a Bread Baker; The Lahey Method for No-Knead Bread in a Pot; Specialties of the House; Pizzas and Focaccias; The Art of the Sandwich; and Stale Bread.

Mastermind of the famed Sullivan Street Bakery and the pizza-focused Co., Jim Lahey breaks down his revolutionary approach to bread-baking in My Bread. Instead of the vigorous kneading process that doubles as a cardio workout, Lahey is firm believer in a “no-work” method: mix a handful of ingredients for mere minutes, allow the dough to ferment for 12 to 18 hours, and then bake in a covered pot. The result is a rustic loaf of crunchy crust enveloping pleasantly acidic, wheaty, wholesome goodness.

But before getting into the nuts and bolts of baking, Lahey outlines his own colorful history. In straightforward, undramatic manner, Lahey recounts his first time making bread to woo a college crush, peddling homemade loaves on the streets of Williamsburg in the 90s (decades before Bedford Ave became studded with gourmet artisan food shops), and working stints at Amy’s Bread and Orso. After traveling to Italy and experiencing its bread culture, he returned to New York City to open Sullivan Street Bakery, determined to change Americans’ understanding of bread.

Once you get to the instructional part, you’ll find reading My Bread is like taking an introductory course at Lahey University. Baking enthusiasts are urged to master the basic no-knead bread recipe before moving on to more advanced chapters, where the basic method is adorned with extra ingredients. And those willing to put in the practice are handsomely rewarded. A section on more basic breads (rye, olive, ciabatta) is followed by a more intriguing one (titled “Beyond Water”) that includes juices and beers in the dough. Each recipe features only a handful of ingredients, and directions are easy to follow, often accompanied with step-by-step photos.

Lahey’s breads are never overwrought, but simplicity doesn’t mean lack of complexity or creativity. There is Peanut Bread, a delight for peanut butter fans and a natural companion to fruit jelly; Fresh Corn Bread, a crusty, structured bread incorporating corn purée and not at all like the better known Southern cake-style; and for something edgier, Jones Beach Bread, which calls for about a cup of (clean) seawater, passed once through a coffee filter.

My Bread goes beyond loaves, too. Lahey includes a chapter on pizza, which he calls bread’s cousin. And in true Italian style, the pizza recipes are unfussy, often showcasing one vegetable (mushrooms, potatoes, onion) and skipping layers of tomato sauce or cheese. A section on sandwiches features items to complement your bread, such as Citrus Roast Pork, Spicy Eggplant Spread, and Artichoke Confit. Lahey rounds out the cookbook with ideas for stale bread (Panzanella, Roasted Red Pepper Bruschetta, Bread Pudding Tart), which will surely be laying around as you diligently perfect the no-knead method.