Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Cookbook I've Longed For

Where to begin to describe the wonderful book that The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook: Artisanal Breads from Around the World by Jessamyn Waldman Rodriguez and the bakers of Hot Bread Kitchen is? As a long-time baker (I've even taught bread baking classes) and food-obsessed cook in general, I understand that one thing that can bring people of all cultures together is the sharing of food. It's a way in, a point of connection. It's one of humankind's - no, it is humankind's primary means of showing hospitality, compassion, love. Almost every part of the world has its own bread, its own staff of life, and The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook celebrates that fact with its eclectic collection of recipes and, of equal importance, the stories of the women who make the bread (and other dishes included among the recipes).

Hot Bread Kitchen in Brooklyn is more than just a thriving bakery. It is also a paid training program for immigrant and refugee women from all around the world who learn to professionalize their homegrown skills and passion for food; they also learn the business skills that help them to succeed after they graduate. When the book arrived in the mail I took it with me on a short road trip. While my husband drove, I alternated between telling him about the recipes I planned to make and the stories of the women with whom they originated. Tomorrow, for example, I think I'll try Lutfunnessa Islam's whole wheat chapatis and "Greenmarket Vegetables, Bangladeshi-Style." Lutfunnessa is just one of Hot Bread Kitchen's success stories. "The training program appealed to her because it was paid, it was with a team of women, and it didn't require her to interact with the public too much (which intimidated her because of her limited English and experience)." Today she speaks not only English but also proficient Spanish and works as a product coordinator and teacher at Hot Bread Kitchen. Other former trainees have gone on to similar successes and accomplishments.

The book itself is gorgeous, practical, and very well organized. It has all the information a first-time baker will need and offers exciting possibilities for those of us who've been at for decades. I never thought I could make some of the more exotic breads I've enjoyed in restaurants, like Indian naan, Armenian lavash, or Ethiopian injera, but with the clearly written recipes and abundant photographs provided, I'm pretty sure I can succeed.

Beginning with a section on basic (and not-so-basic) techniques, an extensive sidebar on how to store bread, and then "Notes on Equipment and Ingredients," it provides readers with all the technical background they'll need before moving on to the actual recipes, which begin with unleavened flatbreads like Moroccan m'smen and the above-mentioned chapatis and lavash, as well as matzo, then moves on to "slightly elevated leavened flatbreads" (like naan, injera, pita, and focaccia), then a terrific chapter on tortillas and other things to be made with masa, before getting into what some folks think of as "real" bread baking, loaves from rustic French breads to ryes to traditional onion bialys, followed by "enriched" breads - "Challah and Beyond." But it doesn't stop there; the next chapter provides recipes for "Filled Doughs from Around the World" - kreplach, knishes, Albanian cheese triangles, empanadas, and more. That chapter is followed by a collection of "quick breads and holiday breads" which once again reflect food traditions from all over the world. I'm planning to make my first stollen ever for Christmas morning! There's even a chapter on what to do with leftover bread, "Waste Not": the panzanella salad below is just one example.

I can't remember the last time I felt so enthusiastic about a cookbook, and not only about the book itself and its recipes and stories, but about the mission that drives Hot Bread Kitchen. In every way I can think of, it's a very good thing.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful review! Heart warming, captures so much humanity behind food!