Editors’ Choices for Cookbooks

beginning month 6 of staying at home; books are my friends; thank goodness for the public library; brief review of “Samarkand” by Caroline Eden and Eleanor Ford; ridiculous recipe conventions; water is so an ingredient; reluctance to change from measurements by volume to metric weight; art directors’ decisions based on looks rather than content; going postal; yet another rant;

It has now been more than 5 months that we have been “staying at home”. Yes, we can leave the house to go for walks and bicycle rides. And we can also go to stores – as long as we wear our masks and stay at least 2 meters away from anyone not in our bubble. And the library is now lending hardcover books with curb-side pickup only. But it looks like I might be losing what’s left of my mind.

Samarkand Cover A couple of weeks ago, when the library finally started the curb-side pickup for hardcopy books, we borrowed a copy of “Samarkand: Recipes & Stories from Central Asia & The Caucasus” by Caroline Eden and Eleanor Ford.

Samarkand—the turquoise city
For centuries, the fabled city Samarkand has been a magnet for merchants, travellers, and conquerors. Its name resonates like those of only a handful of other ancient cities, perhaps Babylon, Rome, or Jerusalem. Say it out loud and it rolls off the tongue: Samarkand. It is seductive.
– Caroline Eden, Introduction, p7

It is the most wonderful book about the “inextricable link between food and travel” and the delicious offerings from Central Asia with its “dazzling bazaars, golden bread, and a blanket of stars“. The photographs – which include tantalizing views of various places in Central Asia and the Caucasus mostly taken by Caroline Eden, Eleanor Ford, or Christopher Herwig, as well as Laura Edward’s stunningly beautiful food shots – draw you in, but Caroline Eden’s essays and Eleanor Ford’s recipes hold you there.

The book is only available in hardcover. There is no paperback (not even trade paperback) or e-book version. To look at, on first glance and leafing through, the book is beautiful and appears perfectly laid out. (continue reading )

Adventures in Scoring (BBB August 2020)

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BBB August 2020 - Let's Keep Baking summary: being razor sharp with wild slack-dough Bread; it’s all by design; alternative scoring devices; slashing and burning; a Bread Baking Babes (BBB) project;

Bread Baking Babes’ Play with Sharp Objects, August 2020

Come, trusty sword;
Come, blade, my [bread] imbrue
– William Shakespeare (mostly)

Popsicle Sticks Lame Handle

Screenshot of BBBabes' FB Group I don’t know why it came as such a surprise to me to recall that it was I who signed up for the BBBs’ August 2020 project! (You’d think I would have learned by now to mark these things in my calendar. It’s not as if there isn’t plenty of room on each day….)

At the time I signed up, I had a great idea about what we would bake. And of course, when it came to telling the others what we would actually do this month, I’d forgotten what that was…. But no matter. Back in June, in the BBBabes’ FB forum, Judy posted this fabulous scoring tutorial:

Gesine’s Sunday sourdough scoring session
1st step: draw the pattern on paper.
2nd step: use dental floss to divide the loaf into sections to create guidelines without cutting
3rd: use a straight lame to score leafs at a shallow depth. You must be CONFIDENT! No hesitation allowed!
4th: the big score for expansion. This is deep. About 1/2 inch. Up top to create an opening bud-like effect. If you don’t tell the bread where you want the oven spring to burst forth, it will burst out where it pleases.
– Gesine, YouTube: High Hydration Sourdough Scoring


I couldn’t stop thinking about it. (continue reading )

Wild Naan When the Weather is Hot and the Nights are Getting Longer

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summary: wild naan recipe revision; importance of the float test; hot weather baking on the barbecue; the nights are getting longer; steep learning curve for iPhone camera; Group Baking Naan in the FB sourdough bread baking group;

Wild Naan

It’s not really surprising that since March, even with the difficulty of getting flour and yeast, there seem to be many more people baking bread. And, probably because of the scarcity of yeast on the store shelves for several weeks, FB’s Sourdough Bread Baking private group is especially active.

This month, it was decided to bake sourdough naan together.
groupbake: naan

For the group bake this month, I decided to make Naan. Google helped me find a recipe, which, after some slight modifications, produced a pretty good Naan.
– Tom Ford, FB | Sourdough Bread Baking, *** August 2020 #GroupBake = Naan ***, 31 July 2020

We LOVE naan. I decided we’d join in. But I wasn’t crazy about the chosen recipe adapted from breadtopia’s Sourdough Naan Flatbread. It’s probably fine… but there’s {gleeps} no butter in the ingredients list except for “Oil or butter for your rolling pin” and “Optional: Minced garlic and cilantro or other herbs to […] combine with melted butter and brush on the flatbreads after they are cooked…“.

  • No butter or ghee in the dough?! Optional butter only if it’s combined with herbs or garlic? :stomp: :stomp:
  • Rolling pin?! For naan? :stomp: :stomp: :stomp:

Also – and again, there’s probably nothing wrong with the bread – breadtopia’s naan are round. And, of course I know that naan has been baked throughout Central Asia for centuries. But when we hear the word “naan”, we automatically think of India.
(continue reading )

Our latest obsession: Naan Sangak

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summary: recipe for wild Naan Sangak (Persian Pebble Bread); using our trusty Jane Mason whole wheat starter created in July 2017; it turns out that measuring carefully IS a good idea; store-bought river stones are filthy; our expectations might be too high; all’s well that ends well; we made another video!

There was a little girl,
            Who had a little curl,
Right in the middle of her forehead.
            When she was good,
            She was very good indeed,
But when she was bad she was horrid.
– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Okay, I’m not so little any more. But Mum always told me that Longfellow’s poem was written specifically about me….

Because the summer has been so hot, in our attempts to not be cranky that people are misusing their AC units by keeping their houses ridiculously cold, we have been embracing our barbecue to make naan. Suddenly, as we realized that we had a.) run out of yoghurt and b.) the milk in the fridge had gone sour (again!!) because of the excessive heat and humidity, we remembered reading about making Iranian bread. It doesn’t call for anything but flour, salt, and water. (We loved Barbari Bread whenever we make it!) We reminded ourselves by looking inside Naomi Duguid’s lovely “Taste of Persia” again:

There’s a kind of reverence surrounding two of the breads of Iran. One is the classic breakfast bread called barbari, with a ridged browned top, and the other is sangak, the chewy, textured “pebble bread” that most often accompanies lunch and supper. […] The traditional oven of a sangak bakery has a tall, narrow opening and inside the cavern of the oven is a wall of gravel sloping upward toward the back. Sang means stone or pebble in Persian, so sangak refers to bread baked on a bed of stones. […] It’s possible to make reasonable versions of both sangak and barbari in a home oven if you have a baking stone and, for making sangak, a supply of small stones […] If you have a starter going, use it rather than the yeast and lengthen the proofing times as necessary.
– Naomi Duguid, “Bread in Iran”, Taste of Persia: A Cook’s Travels Through Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, and Kurdistan, p.258

Naan Sangak (Persian Pebble Bread)

Since childhood, we’ve known about stone soup. But Stone bread? We neeeeeeded to try Stone Bread! (continue reading )