A few years ago all the great bread was baked in France. In the United States artisan bread bakers were a rare breed. Now we can choose among potato bread and sourdough, whole-grain and semolina, pepper bread and bread flecked with sun-dried tomatoes, olives, herbs and seeds.
All these breads are also appearing in boutique bakeries and in bountiful baskets, handed around to guests in restaurants.
Some chefs are baking their own signature breads and bread sticks as long as your arm and as skinny as a California waiter’s ponytail. Irresistibly, the appetite is seduced with a choice of grainy yellow cornbread, muffins, fresh from the oven.
On upscale tables, too, are feather-light, lily-white biscuits, sweet muffins with carrots and cranberries, or raisins and walnuts, along with hot scones flecked with melting morsels of white and dark chocolate. Soft focaccia, buttery brioches, crusty baguettes, crackling croissants, and hearty, healthy seven-grain breads.
Bread has become the icing on the cake.
There are surely many wonderfully satisfying culinary careers but being a bread baker rises to the top of the evolutionary ladder. Many professional culinary schools offer hands-on courses and many offer classes for hobbyists. There are even baking guilds to join such as The Bread Bakers Guild of America and bread baking competitive teams to root for.
Among the best of the best bread cookbooks are Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads: New Techniques, Extraordinary Flavor and The Bread Baker’s Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread by Peter Reinhart and Ron Manville. The ever-reliable, fanatically-accurate Rose Levy Beranbaum compiled her recipes in The Bread Bible.
As an aside here, I published Rose Beranbaum’s first cookbook, Romantic and Classic Cakes. Her manuscript subsequently evolved into The Cake Bible. At the time, she asked me what I thought of the title.
I was horrified. I told her any religious person would be shocked! — shocked! at the idea of linking the Bible with a cake. Every nonreligious person wouldn’t even think of buying any book that had the word Bible in the title.
Once again this proves how often I am wrong!