To produce bread of the highest quality, you need to step away from the fast-paced world of the 21st century and take your time, advises master baker Richard Bertinet in Crumb.
Alongside patience, all you need are your hands and your instincts. “The key to great bread,” he explains, “is learning to touch, feel and handle the dough with confidence”. Rather than look at the dough you are handling, “focus on really feeling the way it is responding”.
Then, rather than attack the dough harshly with vigorous kneading, Bertinet takes a gentle approach, preferring to incorporate as much air as possible to produce a beautifully light texture or ‘crumb’. Hence, whether you are aiming for an open, airy and soft bread or something that is dark and dense, Bertinet – in what is his sixth book – guides the reader in a technique he has honed ever since he arrived in England from his native Brittany in 1988.
Crumb provides a comprehensive insight into how to create the type of loaves that can be found in restaurants that really care about their bread, as well as in Bertinet’s shops, bakeries and cookery school, headquartered in Bath. Alongside clear and detailed explanations of the baker’s techniques, it also has step-by-step guides with accompanying photography showing how it should be done.
The sourdough and rustic breads include muesli breakfast bread, malted wheat sourdough, and fougasse with Gruyère, lardons and caramelised garlic, featured opposite. There are also enriched breads, such as gotchial, which incorporates crème fraîche, as well as salted caramel brioches, crumpets and flatbreads, including socca, made from chickpea flour.
For a finale, Bertinet offers a selection of recipes where bread is the ingredient, including the most impressive winter pain surprise, a wonderful riff on the French mountain dish of tartiflette with potatoes and Reblochon cheese in a sourdough loaf for a true winter warmer.
For any anyone who takes their bread seriously, Crumb is an inspiring and useful addition to the kitchen bookshelf.
Crumb by Richard Bertinet (Kyle Books, £25). Try Bertinet’s recipe for fougasse with Gruyère, lardons and caramelised garlic here