Botany, culinary history and recipes from a bread lover.
A few years ago, Fromartz (Organic, Inc.: Natural Foods and How They Grow, 2006) combined his hobby of bread baking and his profession as a journalist when he set out to write about French bread for a travel magazine. Frustrated by the quality of his homemade baguettes, Fromartz eagerly donned a white apron at Boulangerie Arnaud Delmontel, one of the most famous bakeries in Paris. There, Fromartz learned the intricate process of mixing ingredients, letting dough rest, shaping loaves, slashing them swiftly with a razor and baking them to perfection. After his stint in Paris, the author returned home to Washington, D.C., where, he writes, no good bread could be found, and won a prize for his baguettes in a baking competition. His quest for fine bread, though, was not over. Visiting bakers, scientists and farmers, Fromartz learned about the many grains used for nourishment throughout history: spelt, barley, rye, millet, oats and varieties of wheat. He also practiced handling dough with flours that perform differently. Growing his own grains from seed, he learned about the risks to which all farmers are vulnerable: predators (his were mice and birds), disease and weather. White flour, he discovered, “has been prized since antiquity” as a representation of refinement and economic status. But though unenriched white bread lacks fiber and healthful nutrients, in ancient times, it also lacked “insects, rodent droppings, dirt, perhaps small stones and straw.” Besides imparting a history of grains and their places in culture over the past 105,000 years (when grain consumption appears to have begun), Fromartz includes step-by-step recipes for nurturing dough starters and for baking baguettes, flatbread, rye bread (which he learned to make in Berlin) and a loaf made from an artisanal grain, Turkey Red wheat.
Richly detailed history and lively anecdotes make this book a consummate celebration of the deceptively simple loaf of bread.