By Heidi Komlofske-Rojek
Photo credit: Heidi Komlofske-Rojek
September rolls around, the kids go back to school, and Fall is suddenly in the air. Or, if you live in Northern California, like I do, it’s still in the 90s, but you know it’s Fall everywhere else. And that means BAKING! Luckily, America’s Test Kitchen Bread Illustrated: A Step-by-Step Guide to Achieving Bakery-Quality Results at Home arrives to my kitchen to add fuel to my fire to bake up a storm. This is the first bread book put out by America’s Test Kitchen. I have a feeling it’s going to be good. After quickly flipping through the pages — my mouth starts watering. For a carb-o-holic like me, it’s like a drug.
I begin reading the book’s introduction. I’ve been a baker pretty much all of my life. I learned from the best: my grandmother, whom I playfully nicknamed “Baker Grandma.” Whenever she came to visit, she taught me how to make pies and cookies. She instilled the love of creating baked goods in me, which carries through to today. The things we, as adults, remember from our childhood hanging out with a grandparent always have to do with either being in the kitchen with grandma or tinkering outside with grandpa. Teaching a child to cook is a memory we can give them that will last forever.
But grandma never really taught me why we use different flours for different breads or what the various yeasts yield. That’s what this book taught me. It even went over the basic bread-baking equipment you may wish to invest in — most of which we already have on our shelves. However, I will admit that I’ll be purchasing a bread thermometer. That little thing can be invaluable. The pages detailing the bread baker’s pantry lend to all sorts of cooking — not just bread baking. So, even if you’re not into bread (GAH, shame on you!), read these pages. It will enhance your everyday cooking knowledge. The book is also very nicely indexed for easily finding recipes.
The book’s photos are delicious! Everything is laid out so nicely. One of the best parts I found about this book was how to know if you’ve kneaded the dough enough. It’s a simple test that I tried for the first time in my life on the recipes I made from the book.
So, I sat down at the kitchen table, like so many of us when we get a new cookbook, and marked the recipes I wanted to make. So many good ones. But I settled on three that I wanted to make that week.
I’ve never made English Muffins from scratch before. And I certainly didn’t realize they had to rise overnight in the refrigerator, of all things. The recipe was easy to follow; the photos were a nice companion to each step of the recipe.
I also didn’t realize that you actually pan-fry each muffin before popping them into the oven. The result was something that tasted different than what you buy in the grocery stores. Not a bad thing at all. But my kids noticed it. Goes to show you that homemade anything is different than you’ll get from the store. I baked them in the morning for yummy egg and sausage breakfast sandwiches. The next day, we smothered them in butter and preserves. They were a hit. (The leftovers froze nicely for other breakfasts.)
Seeing that they had a recipe for Naan, I planned to make Chicken Tikka Masala to go with it — neither of which I’d ever made before. The recipe was incredibly easy and delicious! I doubled the recipe, knowing that we’d have a houseful for this dinner. My daughter-in-law snagged the leftovers to take home. My adult children, who don’t live with us, have been asking me ever since when I’m going to make the Naan again. It was that good. As for the Chicken Tikka Masala, that didn’t turn out so stellar. My son, who is a wonderful chef, said I didn’t have the passion for it.
This is the recipe that makes you ask yourself why you even bother buying bread at the grocery store. It’s that easy to make! I ended up making this three times, my family loved it so.
Granted, I haven’t made ALL of the recipes from this book — and I WILL — but I will always lean towards the America’s Test Kitchen cookbooks, because I let them work out all the kinks in a recipe. I can’t tell you how many recipes I’ve tried from online where I said “It was good, but it needs something…” You just can’t go wrong with any of their cookbooks. This one will carry me through the winter this year … if California ever gets there.
HEIDI KOMLOFSKE-ROJEK is the owner of the City Book Review publications, started in 2008. When she’s not designing images or maintaining websites, you can probably find her in the kitchen baking goodies. She lives in Sacramento, California, with her husband and cohort in the business. Between them, they have six children and two beautiful baby grandchildren.