Once upon a time, I took a boot camp at the Culinary Institute of America. It was the Hearth Breads Boot Camp, and it was taught by Chef Eric Kastel. If you read my cooking blog, Eat Real, you know I wrote about my experience there more than once. It was that significant. The boot camp was a one-day session, but the lessons I learned there that day have stuck with me since. Every time I form a round or oblong loaf of bread, I use the techniques I learned from Chef Kastel. Ditto for braiding a challah bread or cutting a perfect fougasse.
Back on that day, Chef Kastel mentioned a project he had in the works. He'd written a baking book, which was, at the time, making its way through the publishing machine ~ a long and somewhat convoluted process made up of a series of deadlines and precariously interrelated schedules. I made a mental (and, actually, a literal) note to keep an eye out for it as soon as it hit the shelves.
Well, I am very, very happy to report that, at last, Chef Eric Kastel's Artisan Breads at Home with the CIA has hit the shelves! And it is everything I'd hoped it would be. All those boot-camp techniques are here, and so much more. And as for the pictures? Well, let's just say that it's a good thing this book isn't scratch-and-sniff. There are nearly 170 full-color photos to complement the recipes and methods presented.
The day after I received a review copy from Wiley, I set about choosing recipes to test. First up, Ciabatta. Full disclosure: I'd made Chef Kastel's Ciabatta in the boot camp, so I knew exactly how good it would be. What I didn't know was if I'd be able to replicate it at home. Answer: The recipe produced 3 perfect loaves of flavorful, crusty Ciabatta with big gassy "eyes" in the crumb. Sorry ~ all three loaves disappeared before I could snap pictures. But here's some poolish for you.
This text covers the hows and whys with plenty of pictures of both finished product and process. Unlike many books that teach advanced breads (this one covers advanced artisan breads, breads with preferments, and enriched doughs as well as basic doughs and flatbreads), the language is straightforward and accessible, even for novice bakers. Chef Kastel ~ and I speak from personal experience here ~ is an excellent teacher. His discussion on the 12 steps of bread making (pp. 26 through 43) is superb.
More experienced and professional bakers will appreciate the charts accompanying each recipe, giving ingredient measures by volume, weight (metric and standard), and bakers percentage. Bonus features include a section on Sauces and Dips and an Appendix with diagrams showing braiding and knotting techniques.
Chef Kastel has provided a resource full of useful information, clear and insightful instruction, and a trove of compelling recipes. This one is a buy/don't borrow bread book.Artisan Breads at Home with the CIA by Eric W. Kastel (Wiley Hardcover; January 18, 2010; $34.95)