Mark Bittman and Kerrie Conan’s Bittman Bread: No-Knead Whole Grain Baking for Everyday is the best, but also so frustrating. I loved it, and it irritated me. Make your own choices.
The loaves of bread, the pizza, and the pancakes (sweet and savory) I made from this cookbook were delicious. Let me repeat the pancakes recommendation. THE PANCAKES ARE SO GOOD, BOTH THE SWEET AND THE SAVORY. I didn’t try every recipe, but every one I tried was A+. I now have a working sourdough starter in my fridge, something that has never ever happened before. I have enhanced my vegan chocolate chip cookies with this starter to the acclaim of many. I recommend this cookbook with some significant caveats.
My biggest complaint is the strong suggestion that the reader invest in a 2 quart Dutch oven. I really wish that cookbook authors would stop throwing up unnecessary barriers for their readers. Two quart dutch ovens are not common, you can’t easily get one from the grocery store. Requiring that your audience possess a two quart Dutch oven assumes that the reader has the money to buy one (the least expensive, oven safe 2 quart Dutch oven was about 35 US dollars), the space to store one and stable housing (not moving frequently). Frankly, that’s a lot to assume. I don’t have room to store a bulky item like a Dutch oven that I’ll only use for bread. For new bakers, being told they need a piece of equipment that’s not easily available is likely to make them give up. I truly do not know what is gained by scaling most of the recipes for a 2 quart Dutch oven.
I worked around this by putting a removable bottom 6 inch cake pan into my usual 5 quart Dutch Oven and it worked fine. It wouldn’t have been that difficult for the authors to suggest some work arounds for those of us who cannot buy or store specialty equipment. To be clear, I polled several different groups, non baking groups, general cooking groups, and bread baking groups about the 2 quart Dutch oven issue. Zero people had a 2 quart Dutch oven. A couple of people said they would buy the item, a few people said they would find a work around, most people said they would put the cookbook down and walk away. This is why I am so frustrated by this issue. The bread is fantastic and the authors are creating a barrier that does no one any good.
My other issue with the 2 quart Dutch oven is that it makes a small loaf of bread. That would be fine if I were the only one eating it, but in my house, that loaf was gone in 2 days. I don’t have time to make bread every three days, especially not a bread that requires my attention for a few minutes every half hour. My brain doesn’t function well that way. This is a me issue and not a general issue, but for I would still give it as a warning for anyone with ADHD.
The final issue I’m going to talk about is the whole grain issue. It’s right there in the title that it’s a whole grain baking book. That’s great, I like whole grain baking. What chaffed was the “I haven’t baked with white flour in x years.” Ok. Here’s the thing, there are no foods that are good for everyone. Please stop assigneing moral value to food. Whole grains are not good for people on low phosphorus diets (generally for kidney disease). Some people need a low fiber diet. And some people like the taste of white bread batter. All of those things are fine. It’s also fine to prefer whole grain baking to white baking. It’s not ok to imply that it’s inherently better, because, depending on who is eating the food, it is not.
When I buy a paper copy of this book, I plan to write all over it to scale up the recipes to fit my average sized cast iron Dutch oven. I recommend Bittman Bread for anyone who like whole grain sourdough, is willing to buy a small Dutch oven, or willing to do math, and has their ADHD under control and can devote a few minutes every half hour to folding bread dough. I also recommend it for anyone who hasn’t been able to keep a sourdough starter going and feels unfulfilled as a result. I do not recommend it for anyone who wants to mix the dough, dump it in a pot and bake it.
You can visit my Instagram, @rochellefiguringitout, to see some of the recipes I tried. I did not take pictures of all the pancake variations.
Thank you to NetGalley for the advance reader copy, My opinions are my own.