Jo Fairley is co-owner of Judges organic bakery and grocery shop in Hastings and co-founded and sold Green & Black’s chocolate firm, with hubby Craig Sams
For bakers, books about baking are a conundrum. Surely, we might think, anything that encourages home bakers to recreate tangy sourdoughs, crusty cottage loaves or hearty wholemeal buns at home is going to steal our business away never mind all those books now devoted, heretically, to the art of making bread using a bread-maker!
But I believe books about bread are a good thing even a business-booster for all of us. What fabulous volumes such as Richard Bertinet’s Dough: Simple Contemporary Bread, its sister volume Crust: Bread to Get Your Teeth Into, The Handmade Loaf by Dan Lepard or Andrew Whitley’s Bread Matters actually do is stimulate an appreciation of bread or even a passion for it. I’d go so far as to say that Andrew Whitley’s book is a must-read for anyone in the bread world, being subtitled: ’The Sorry State of Modern Bread and a Definitive Guide to Baking Your Own’.
Certainly for those of us in the artisan bread business, anything that highlights the differences between painstakingly hand-crafted loaves, using the highest-quality flours, and their mass-produced, even industrialised counterparts, has to be A Very Good Thing Indeed, because it adds an element of connoisseurship to the whole area of baking. There are wine aficionados, so why not bread connoisseurs?
The world of publishing seems to agree and is doing its best to nurture them, bringing out informative and often very beautiful, coffee-table-worthy books on the subject of baking, which while ostensibly showing you how to DIY on the bread-making front also serve to emphasise the huge amount of skill that goes into baking, as demonstrated (in lavish colour) by some of the bread world’s greatest doughmeisters.
Certainly, the reader may be inspired by these tomes to throw some flour, water and yeast around, have some fun, and may even create something tasty at the end of it although my husband, who opened the UK’s first organic bakery in 1972, has always maintained that you can’t make a truly great loaf from a batch of less than 50kg. But in reality, what they’ll really learn is how much hard work goes into baking and how much patience, compared to a stir-fry or even a soup.
As the better guidebooks turn people into travellers, rather than tourists, great bread books help create a new, more appreciative type of bread-seeker, happy to pay a little more for quality when he or she sees it and excited by filling their shopping basket (and maybe their freezer) wherever they encounter interesting, carefully-crafted, quality breads.
And we shouldn’t overlook the opportunities the publishing world’s new-found interest in baking offers us in the bread world: a way for an artisan bakery to raise its profile, without too much investment. The publisher actually foots the bill and almost certainly pays you an advance against royalties, into the bargain. Mind you, as someone who’s written a dozen books none, as yet, about bread I can tell you, there’s another price to be paid in the blood, sweat and invariable tears that go into the process of turning an idea into 256 turnable pages.
As a result, we’ll probably be seeing more glossy, mouthwatering baking books on the bookshop shelves in years to come. And if they help create a world full of bread-heads, I, for one, couldn’t be more pleased.