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Trekking through the 50 states in search of local breadmaking traditions--as this Oklahoma-based cooking teacher did in nearly a dozen journeys over the course of five years--would be a fine idea if carried out with some technical insight, critical acumen, and historical perspective. Otherwise. . .well, otherwise, you end up with something like this well-intended monument to the homogenization of American taste from sea to shining sea. Most of the 300-odd recipes are for yeast breads; there is also a sizable sprinkling of quick breads and muffins, along with a lot of unclassifiable regional specialties like sopaipillas or hush puppies. Gubser has diligently tried to include a lot of ethnic strains: jalapeno corn bread, Portuguese sweet bread from Martha's Vineyard (and also, unexpectedly, Hawaii), Mexican pan de muerto from San Antonio, Hungarian poppyseed rolls from Oklahoma. A few local ingredients (New England blueberries and maple syrup, Hawaiian mangoes and macadamia nuts) are duly employed, and many recipes testify to the ongoing rediscovery of whole grains and varied mixtures of grains. But good intentions or no, the recipes as a body resemble too many unilluminating snapshots from someone's vacation in Chattanooga or Katmandu. Much undigested information from local business organizations and extension services is poured in, and major commercial ethnic bakeries of New York and Chicago--still offering an alternative to mediocrity--are ignored in favor of supposed family heirlooms or small-town treasures that manifest a puzzling sameness and sweetness. Perhaps some of this is the fault of Gubser's presentation: dry yeast uniformly used throughout, all-butter pointlessly substituted for the original mixture of butter and lard in a ""century-old"" Minnesota Danish coffee cake recipe, virtually no attention paid to the still-conspicuous regional preferences for harder or softer flour (the reason Southern biscuits won't taste Southern in Boston without special precautions). Gubser can be forgiven for being an ill-informed traveler (""Bookbinder's Caf‚ by the bay"" in Philadelphia) with an endless fund of chamber-of-commerce clich‚s for every community she visits. But misinformation like calling baking powder ""a combination of soda and flour or starch"" is another matter. Worthy subject, banal book.

Pub Date: June 28th, 1985
Publisher: Morrow