I recently found a copy of Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads at the local library. I've only baked three or four of the recipes in it, but I definitely like this book.
Most interesting is how much this book reminds me of Beth Hensperger's Bread Bible: it is a collection of 300 hundred or so recipes; it's much more a recipe book than a technique book and doesn't really get into bread chemistry; the recipes run from quick breads to yeasted breads to crackers and biscuits. But, unlike Hensperger's book, this book doesn't annoy me, which puzzles me.
Looking back at my review of Hensperger's book, I see that some of the issues I had with her book are clearly absent in Clayton's book. For one, the typography and page layout is simple and clean. This book won't win any awards for beautiful design and, like Hensberger's book, it lacks photos, but the recipes are well laid out and easy to read.
I also find Clayton to be much more willing to suggest substitutions than Hensberger is. As I mentioned in her review, the vibe I get from her is one of disappointment every time the reader dares to sully her recipe by substituting an inferior ingredient. Clayton makes numerous substitution suggestions and goes out of his way to make it easy for the reader to find all the ingredients he or she will need to bake one of his recipes. I appreciate that.
Overall, I also have to say that the recipes in this book are more appealing to me. My impression is that many of the recipes in this book begin with anecdotes along the lines of "I met these two little old ladies who told me about this bread they had been baking for 30 years." Most of these recipes feel and taste like they are time-tested, daily breads. I, personally, am much more interested in the types of breads that people can eat day in and day out than I am interested in breads created by professional bakers or cookbook writers to push the limits of genre. It's like the Lord's Prayer says: "Give us this day our daily bread," not "Give us this day a pumpkin brioche that'll really knock the socks off our brunch guests."
I'd be remiss if I failed to mention one other possible issue I have with Hensberger: gender. Hang on! Before you throw your rolling pins at me (male and female readers alike... we are all bakers here, right?), please hear me out.
My wife and I have often joked about how interesting it is that the artisan bread movement seems to be largely a "guy thing." There are only so many types of cooking that it is cool for guys to be into: barbecuing is one, chili is another, and artisan bread seems to be another. Brewing beer too: I don't think they even let you do that professionally unless you have a great deal of facial hair.
Much of the language used to describe artisan breads reeks of masculinity: these are robust, hearty breads. They crackle and crumble, and require heavy punchings down, beatings, or work outs. The descriptions are blunt and heavy, the books pervaded by earth tones (as is this website), and the recipes are not not cloaked in frippery like much other food writing, Heck, some of the language you encounter reading about "capturing wild yeasts" make baking sourdough bread sound more like a rodeo than a day in the kitchen.
Now I'm not saying gender should matter in a cookbook. But I do think that encountering a recipe that is described as "the breadmaker's 'little black dress'" ends up distancing male readers like me from the author. Yes, I understand the metaphor, but it fails to make the intended connection with me.
This tangent has gotten me far off the original topic: Clayton's book. In general, I am very fond of it: there are a lot of interesting, simple recipes in it and the book is easy to read. It occasionally shows its age (first published in 1973), but it is easy enough for today's reader to figure out on his or her own when 30 seconds in the microwave can be substituted for 5 minutes heating in a small saucepan. And it really doesn't teach you about how to experiment and create your own recipes, instead providing the reader with a wide variety of time-tested formulas. But, overall, it is a solid book, and one that is more up my alley than Hensberger's book is.
What do other folks think? Have others been annoyed by gender specific language in cookbooks? Would you agree with my assessment that, by and large, the artisan bread movement is a guy thing? Or am I just being too hard on Hensberger because I find the fonts in her book annoying?