Bread: A Global History (Anglais) Relié – 1 septembre 2011
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The primary thesis is that bread is more than merely a food or a summary of ingredients: it is also a concept. Mr. Rubel strives to enlarge the way we think about bread by taking us on a bread tour across time and through international space. He is a serious food historian, excellent cook and baker, and the author of The Magic of Fire--an encyclopedic book of fire cooking, which is sadly now out of print.
As culture develops, bread becomes a social marker--the whiter the bread, the more desirable it is. The poor consumed a more primitive loaf--darker and less desirable. Fashions in food are generally guided by a wish to imitate what is eaten by the wealthy. This still tends to be true. Although the history of bread can be seen as a steady march toward whiter and finer flour, today consumers are being drawn to more primitive ingredients and techniques because of our awareness of the enhanced flavors and healthy characteristics of whole grains.
The book emphasizes leavened, kneaded dough, but also includes relevant information on flatbreads, pancakes and shortbreads. Mr. Rubel dispels the myth that cooking over a fire is a "primitive" activity. He appreciates that the campfire provides an "infinitely nuanced oven" for baking breads at different levels of heat. If the baker knows how to manage a fire properly, he has a far greater range of temperatures available to him than he does in the modern conventional oven.
Recipes for 7 different kinds of historic breads are included, as well as a glossary defining ninety-nine different kinds of bread. My only complaint about the book is that it is too small, which makes it difficult to see the detail in the excellent photographs and prints. This is a fascinating book to read, and has succeeded in changing the way I experience a loaf of bread. I think that's what the author had in mind.
I was impressed with the quality of writing, an effective combination of intensive scholarship, cosmopolitan experience and friendly conversation. I was surprised to learn that some older practices had survived longer in the US than in the original European countries.
The book distinguishes itself from general bread recipe books, although it contains several detailed and unusual (horse-bread!) recipes. What sets it apart from other such books is its attention to the role played by bread in society. There are discussions of breadmaking as a cultural activity, and the attitudes of many different cultures toward bread, as well as the status distinctions between light or dark, loafed or flat, and crusted or soft breads. Also treated is the importance of bread in diet throughout history; whether it is a vitally necessary staple, or just an accessory to more lavish menus.
The inclusion of this book in a series (The Edible Series) dictates its small size; I look forward to the planned larger version.
It's probably good to mention that while the book does contain some recipes, it's not a cookbook. Which is what I like about this book. It's a good story that runs from beginning to end, inviting you to explore the vast world of bread making.