Last year, Alexandra Stafford published a very good book about bread. It sprang from a recipe for the peasant bread her mother made often when she was growing up. When she shared it on her site, it went viral, which is no surprise given that it’s no-knead, comes together in under five minutes, rises in about an hour, and after a brief second rise, you bake it in buttered bowls that form it into a blond, buttery crusted bread that she boasts is “the antithesis of artisan.” Because there are no hidden tricks; no steam ovens, special flours, lames to score the crust, or bannetons to shape the loaves. Her central tenet is that “good bread can be made without a starter, without a slow or cold fermentation, without an understanding of bakers’ percentages, without being fluent in the baking vernacular: hydration, fermentation, biga, poolish, soaker, autolyse, barm.” (None of those words appear in the book.) She knows that there are a lot of no-knead breads out there, but this is the only one that can be started at 4pm and be on the dinner table at 7.
I realize you’re thinking, as I briefly worried before I read it, how does one write an entire cookbook based on one recipe? But Stafford is a gifted recipe developer, and there isn’t a thing in this book — one part breads (with all types of flours, grains, and shapes, including pizzas, flatbreads, rolls and buns), one part toasts (including sandwiches, tartines, stratas, panzanellas, soups, summer puddings and so much more), and one part crumbs (a celebration of crunchy gratin toppings, stuffing, burgers, eggplant parmesan, fish sticks, meatballs, and brown bettys) — that I didn’t want to make. (I suspect that having four kids to feed ensures that these recipes were vetted by the most finicky of reviewer classes.) It’s also a gorgeous book, with a focus and format that my inner, long-surrendered organized person finds deeply pleasing.