Book Discussions


Bibliobites in January: Soup’s On!

love soup




To paraphrase cookbook author Ken Haedrich, in winter only serious soup will do!  We gathered post-blizzard to discuss Anna Thomas’ Love Soup, a collection of vegetarian soup recipes.  Reviews were generally mixed: definite high points, but some lows as well.  Many recipes were tried; among those that were liked best are Pickle Soup (yes, it does have pickles in it!), Vegetarian Onion Soup Gratin, and Spicy Butternut Ginger Soup.  People also enjoyed Old-Fashioned Cream of Mushroom Soup (“better the next day”), Caramelized Cabbage Soup (“better the first day– cabbage didn’t age well!”), and Kale and Sweet Potato Soup with Cumin and Lentil.  High praise was given to the stock recipes, if you have the time to attempt them.  Most of the soup recipes were hearty, complete meals-in-a-bowl loaded with healthy veggies, grains, and beans– appreciated by our post-holiday waistlines!

On the negative side, many of the recipes seemed to be pretty labor-intensive, involving numerous steps, lots of chopping, and multiple pots.  To be fair, many recipes made a large amount; but still, substantial time had to be set aside to make the soup.  The book also had no pictures, which made it harder to visualize the finished product– we wanted some drool factor!  A few ingredients would be hard to find in New England (the author lives in California), such as epazote leaves.  Many recipes used the same ingredients; for instance several soups contained greens, or sweet potatoes, or cabbage.  Three of the bread/scone recipes were flavored with fennel and orange– delicious, but it would have been nice to have some variety.

Though we had our complaints, overall this title is worth a look, and most of us came away with at least one new favorite, or a new variation on a soup we’d been making for years.  Especially in winter, there can never be enough soup!

Since sweet potatoes and/or yams appeared in many of the recipes, the question arose as to what’s the difference between the two:

What is the difference between a yam and a sweet potato?
Answer: taken from The

Sweet potatoes are not a type of yam, and yams are not a type of sweet potato. They are both tuberous root vegetables that come from a flowering plant, but they are not related and actually don’t even have a lot in common. You probably have never eaten a yam.
Here’s an interesting little history lesson to explain why there’s so much confusion. There are two types of sweet potatoes — “firm” and “soft.” The firm variety was the first to be produced in the U.S., so when “soft” sweet potatoes began to be produced commercially, there was a need to differentiate it from its firm counterpart. Since the “soft” sweet potatoes slightly resembled true yams, they picked up the name and became what you see labeled as “yams” in most U.S. grocery stores.
Common U.S. Grocery Store Labeling
• Yam — Soft sweet potato with a copper skin and deep orange flesh.
• Sweet potato — Firm sweet potato with golden skin and lighter flesh.
Ironically, when you want a classic baked sweet potato, with a crisp skin and fluffy orange flesh, or sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving sweet potato casserole, what you should buy will be probably labeled yam. Even though it’s not a yam. It’s a sweet potato. The soft kind.

No Cookie Left Behind… December Bibliobites Meeting

Bibliobites Notes 12/5/14 – 14 people attended!

There was a palpable sense of excitement in the air as Bibliobites book group members set their plates and plastic tubs of cookies on the table near the fireplace. What kinds of cookies did folks make? What would become a new holiday favorite? More importantly, when could we start eating them? As one group member said – “There is a lot of butter on that table – time to bring out the SPANX!”

But before the tasting– came the book discussion. Highlighted books included the following:


Cookie KAcookiesRcookiesMHcookiesV

Thoughts on the King Arthur book

  •  It was a solid cook book with familiar, reliable recipes for the most part. Many tried and true –
  • One baking glitch though – One member tried the two-bit monsters recipe which was a mix of condensed milk and coconut. Unfortunately the doorbell rang and then the dough stuck to the cookie sheet. The second batch never firmed up – nix on that recipe
  • Apparently if you have a kitchen question you can call or email the King Arthur website and they will troubleshoot the recipe with you – good to know.
  • You can also order parchment paper from King Arthur and it comes as pre-cut sheets
  • One member had their daughter bake the fudge coated dip sticks – they found the chocolate hard to work with for dipping.

Thoughts on Rosie’s cookie book:

  • It included good tips on how to modify a recipe
  • It had very detailed instructions
  • Good recommendations on equipment and supplies
  • Negatives- not enough pictures
  • Recipes made were: Pecan Crescents and Peanut butter topped brownies – (A new favorite dessert!)

Thoughts on the Maida cookbook

  • Very good recipes but again – not enough pictures
  • Also the pages did not lay flat and often were continued onto a page that had to be turned
  • The layout seemed dated and the table of contents was sparse
  • Did include the famous Nieman Marcus cookie recipe – (a large chocolate chip cookie version with a combo of regular and oat flour)

Thoughts on the Vegan cookie book:

  • Graham cracker recipe was great and they proved addictive
  • The homemade fig bars were also delicious and fought over
  • Many of the recipes substituted ground flax seed for the eggs and used rice milk instead of regular etc.

Other topics that came up:

There was some reminiscing about the Boston Globe Confidential Chat column and the shared recipes – one group member remembers the Jordan Marsh blueberry muffins highlighted there. For an article about those famous muffins – click here and scroll down the page -

The group discussed the benefits of using the website as a convenient collator of recipes. One member commented that she used to subscribe to Bon Appetit but now all of the magazine recipes are online as part of epicurious. Folks thought the online comments from cooks who had tried the recipes were both helpful and flabbergasting. There was some joking about the cooks who drastically changed a recipe when they test it and then rate the recipe low or wonder why it did not turn out.

Some folks really enjoy Christopher Kimball’s emails from Cook’s illustrated- others think he is too pedantic – but most think his radio show and TV show are enjoyable – check all three out if you have not! – scroll down to bottom and you can sign up for the free newsletter by entering your email. The radio show is on WGBH radio 89.7 on Sundays from 3-4 PM – and the TV show is also on WGBH – channel 2 on Saturdays at 3 PM – you can also watch the show or listen to the radio show on the test kitchen site.

Penzey’s website was mentioned again as a fun place to visit– the closest one is in Arlington but has short hours- and limited parking –

*Side note from last meeting – one member did try the recipe recommended at the last meeting – the Apple-Berry Galette from “Baking with Julia” and said it was a great success – highly recommended.


Baking/cookie tips –

Some non-bakers were fans of the efficiency of the “slice and bake” or ice box cookies. They don’t spread much and you can bake lots at a time so that means less time in the kitchen.

Talked about cookie scoops- Pampered Chef has a nice one and the cooking store in Acton – Kitchen Outfitters in Acton – has a nice selection of all sizes.

Silicone cookie sheets were not that revered but the silpat for rolling out pie crust is awesome- 1st and 2nd place pie winners both use one.

When you make thumbprint cookies – you make an indentation with your thumb – but one member said – what if you have man-thumbs? :) It only makes sense to use another smaller finger tip – but an even better way to save your hands from getting dirty is to use a ¼ tsp measuring spoon to make the thumbprint.

The group discussed freezing cookies and unfreezing them – many have had good luck with baking at Thanksgiving time or a little later and freezing cookies for several weeks in tightly closed containers layered between wax paper or parchment. One member says she even refreezes with no significant detriment to the cookie.

Tip for gifts- as you make cookies – freeze 8-10 balls of the cookie dough – give parents small batches so they can have a warm cookie when they want but don’t want the fuss of mixing up dough or ending up with too many cookies. (Is that possible? To have too many cookies???)

In addition to recipes made from the featured cookbooks, recipes shared were family favorites or made from Deb Perelman’s Smitten Kitchen website ( – Better Homes and Garden Magazine, Betty Crocker Recipe Box File, the Penzey’s website and Relish Magazine – an insert in the Lowell Sun.

Here are some recipes that were brought for this month’s meeting:

Apple Walnut Cobbler

Aunt Lucy’s Cookies

Dark Chocolate and Orange Cookies

Italian Chocolate-Spice Cookies

Pistachio Thins

Slice-and-Bake Cookie Palette

Tiny Almond Biscotti Cookies

If you do not see yours posted, please be in touch and we will add.

In addition, there was some talk of an excellent chocolate covered cherry cookie recipe – can the member who was raving about it share it with us? In the meantime, perhaps this one will do.

love soup


Our next book is Love Soup by Anne Thomas –

winter is a great time for cooking up a bowl of comfort.


Bibliobites in October: Let Them Eat….Pie!

Image of item

Pie turned out to be a topic that generated a lot of interest— and a great deal of pie-baking!  Ken Haedrich’s book is an exhaustive compendium of all things pie.  His explicit and extensive instructions help to allay pie crust fears, and he provides tasty filling recipes for every conceivable category of pie, whether fruit, custard, ice cream, or any combination thereof.  Most everyone made at least one pie, and several members brought samples to our meeting, which were enjoyed by all!  And for at least one of our group members, all that pie practice paid off: at the library’s apple pie baking contest Pat ‘s apple pie took second place.  Congratulations Pat!

We had a lively book group with lots of good ideas shared:

  • Using a Kitchen Aid mixer to make a pie crust helps to keep the pie dough cold.
  • Leave a little bit of the peel on the apple for taste and color.
  • Frozen fancy mixed berries from Trader Joe’s make a good pie.
  • Frozen blueberries from Wegmans are good but it helps to add more flour.

Pies baked from Ken Haedrich’s book were:

  • Cranberry-Apple-Orange Freeform Pie, pg. 273 –  a lattice top was added, the crust was the combo of butter & shortening pg. 31.
  • Shaker Lemon Pie, pg 582 – interesting it was made with the rind of the lemon – definitely tart.
  • Chocolate Cream Pie with Cinnamon Meringue, pg 567 – a definite crowd pleaser.
  • Liz Smothers’ Sugarless Apple-Berry Pie, pg 243 – amazingly good considering the lack of sugar. Apple juice was used as the sweetener.
  • Honey Apple-Currant Pie in a Whole Wheat Crust, pg. 208 – the whole wheat crust did not stand out – it was just a good pie.

Favorite apples for apple pie :

  • Cortland – preferred by some of us and recommended by Carmella from La Bella Dolce .  Carmella led a pie baking workshop for the library in October.
  • Cortland / McIntosh – a mix of apples
  • Macoun -a cross between a McIntosh and a Jersey Black was said to make a better pie than a McIntosh.
  • Nothern Spy – Ken  Haedrich writes, “spies are for pies….this apple is perhaps the quintessential pie apple. ”
    ( see “pie Apples at a Glance on pages 232-233 for a more complete list)

Pies recommended from other cook books:

Other resources:

Next month we continue the baking theme with cookies.

Bibliobites in September: What’s for Lunch….and Dinner!








In Beating the Lunch Box Blues J. M . Hirsch recommends  “leftovers by design”.   Cook extra for dinner and you’ll have the makings for some quick and delicious lunches.  If you like this concept, and/or are looking for lunch inspiration, the author also has a blog by the same name:

Some dinner ideas suggested by the author and enjoyed by the group were:

Lemon- Paprika Roasted Salmon        p. 56
Bacon- Cauliflower Mac and Cheese    p. 120
Hoisin-Raspberry Pork Tenderloin      p. 90 – “really good”
Baked Breaded Haddock                        p. 60
Rosemary-Garlic Roasted Chicken       p. 36


High Flavor





Some group members explored J.W. Hirsch’s other cookbook, High Flavor Low Labor and all gave it excellent reviews. Everyone found many recipes to try and people who hadn’t previously checked out the book  took it home with them.


Recipes tried were:

Stir-Fry Ravioli with Ground Turkey and Peppers    p. 175
Chili Balsamic Marinated Sirloin with Fettuccine and Sun-Dried Tomatoes pp. 92-93
Creamy Sun-Dried Tomato and Thyme Soup  p. 62   –  “family loved this soup”
Child’s Play Spice and Brown Sugar-Rubbed Pork Tenderloin pp. 78 -79 – “good cold”
Chinese Pie (Shepherd’s Pie) pp. 133 – 34
Brown Sugar and Ginger Pumpkin Bread   p. 250
Ginger Fig Crumb Bars     p. 245


As an extra this month we shared: What’s your favorite kitchen gadget?  There were a great variety of answers!

Super Peel – Great for transferring any dough from one place to another.



Corningware handle
corning handle














Y-shaped potato peeler

Y shaped potato peeler







Grapefruit spoon: it’s not  just for grapefruits! They are great for removing seeds from a cucumber or zucchini or any member of the squash family.

grapefruit spoon

Bibliobites in August: Vegetables


The recommendations and the recipes were flying fast and furious at the August Bibliobites meeting.  Everyone seemed inspired by summer’s bountiful produce to try new things, as well as new variations on old favorites.  We did not read a specific title; each person checked out a book from our collection that related to the theme.  Among the recommended cookbooks:

Vegetables Every Day by Jack Bishop:  Though the book had no pictures, it had lots of good recipes.  In particular P. raved about the Sicilian Cauliflower, braised with tomatoes, onions, and raisins.

Asian Vegetables by Sarah Deseran: T. enjoyed shopping for Asian greens at the Lowell Farmers’ Market.  She’d never seen most of these items before, but took along her book as a guide to what to purchase.  One favorite was jap chae, a Korean noodle dish made with sweet potato noodles.  She also tried a water spinach dish which contained shrimp paste, a highly fragrant ingredient!  The photographs in this book were especially appreciated, as they enable the newbie to buy and use unfamiliar produce with more confidence.

River Cottage Veg: 200 Inspired Vegetable Recipes by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.  G. loved many of the recipes in this book, and brought in a sample for us to try: Beet Ice Cream!  This was an intensely purple concoction of beets, chocolate, and cream.  Even beet haters would have loved it!

Taste of Home Farm Fresh Favorites by Sara Lancaster; Go Fresh: a Heart-Healthy Cookbook by American Heart Association; Vegetable Harvest by Patricia Wells.  Though L. admitted she’s not that big on vegetables, she changed her mind after trying recipes from all three books!  The Taste of Home book won points for its lavish illustrations and nutrition info for each recipe, and Vegetable Harvest had great tips on cooking with vegetables.  L. enjoyed the  AHA book’s spaghetti sauce (with turkey sausage) recipe, as well as a simple saute of corn, onions, and red pepper.  L. also brought us a sample of a nontraditional zucchini bread she had tried: not too sweet, with nuts and dried fruit.  A great twist on an old favorite!

Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes For the Single Cook by Joe Yonan; One World Vegetarian Cookbook by Troth Wells.  D. was in an eggplant frame of mind, and tried the eggplant parm from Joe Yonan’s book, which made tidy little stacks of eggplant, cheese, and sauce.  The eggplant was roasted, rather than breaded and fried, a time- and calorie-saver.  From the One World book she made ratatouille, which she had eaten but never made before.  Some of the ratatouille wound up in the freezer, so we’ll stay tuned to see how it is in a few months.

One member (another D.!) tried some vegetable recipes from her book of traditional Greek recipes.  One she enjoyed is called toulou, a layered dish of potatoes, eggplant, zucchini, tomato sauce, garlic, and parsley.  Like a lasagna, all the ingredients must be cooked before baking, which made it time-consuming.  However the recipe makes a large panful, and is so delicious it’s worth the effort.

Food to Live By: The Earthbound Farm Organic Cookbook by Myra Goodman.  C. brought in a recipe she especially enjoyed from this book, Black Bean and Corn Salad, which she served as a salsa-like dip with tortilla chips.  It was delicious!  This book has an extensive collection of recipes using both vegetables and fruits.  Though produce is the focus, there are chapters devoted to main dishes both vegetarian and carnivorous.  Many beautiful photographs complement the text.


Bibliobites in July: Barbecue Addiction by Bobby Flay






We thought summer might be a good time to explore the thrill of the grill, so this month found us knee-deep in smoke boxes, rubs, and hot fires!  People found the book visually pleasing (with lots of drool-worthy photos) and well laid out. Our experienced grillers were motivated to try new techniques, such as using a smoke box.  Newbies found lots of helpful tips, including charts to let us know “When is it Done?” and “Where There’s Smoke, There’s Flavor.”  Most people strongly agreed with the basic (but often ignored) tip to let grilled meats rest after cooking.

Recipes that the group tried and liked included:

p. 117 Tuscan rosemary-smoked whole chicken – a first attempt at using wood chips turned out great. Tip -Remember to read the recipe all the way through before starting to get the timing right.
p. 128 Peruvian chicken
p. 159 Italian sausage hoagies – “Delicious”
p. 182 Grilled strip steaks – were very good and the garlic aioli sauce was highly recommended
p. 199 Pimento cheese-bacon burgers – we all got to try a sample of the pimento cheese – YUM
p. 241 – Grilled tuna with caramelized onions – a quick dish with a very good relish

Non-grillers focused on the excellent sides.  Top marks were given to:
p. 54  Grilled asparagus with figs and cabrales – a tasty side for a steak or burger
p. 57  Guasacaca – guacamole with texture and an attitude
p. 90 Grilled peppers with feta and dill – delicious,not too spicy and can be made ahead
p. 91  New potato-corn chowder salad – mixed reviews- you need to like the tang of a German potato salad to appreciate this one.
p. 99  Brown sugar-rum grilled sweet potatoes – very tasty

Join us next month as we enjoy the bounty of summer vegetables – check out the book display near the Reader Services Desk,  and come to the next session on August 29th at 11 AM.










Book Discussion – The Summer Shack Cookbook by Jasper White


Summer Shack



June’s Bibliobites title was The Summer Shack Cookbook by Jasper White. Reviews were decidedly mixed! People mentioned that they liked some of the recipes they tried, but not enough to make them again. Some participants also said they already had recipes they loved for some of the classic fish dishes in the book (for example, baked scrod or fried fish). One person took the trouble to make the dried-cod fishcakes—a time consuming recipe that she felt wasn’t ultimately any better than fishcakes made with fresh cod. But a worthwhile attempt with a historically important ingredient (try reading Mark Kurlansky’s fascinating The Cod’s Tale for more information on the economics of dried cod from the 17th-20th century. This is a children’s title; for a longer treatment of the same subject, by the same author, see Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World). One person mentioned that the book’s sides were excellent, specifically a green bean and blue cheese salad; she also gave a thumbs-up to a basic vinaigrette and a soy-ginger sauce. We thought many of the desserts sounded summery and delicious—cobblers, pies, and the like—though no one had tried them out.
One deficiency noted was the lack of photographs; there were some, but not enough for most people. The recipes themselves were easy enough to follow; in fact some were amazingly simple. White points out, and participants verified from their own experience, that the quality of the fish is the most important factor in the success of a dish. This book seems worth a read for an overview of seafood in general, with many simple, classic New England recipes. But no one in the group was ready to run out and buy a copy. Sorry Jasper!

BIBLIOBITES IN MAY – Eating and writing!

May’s Bibliobites group read Garlic and Sapphires by bestselling author and former New York Times food critic Ruth Reichl.

Everyone said they loved the book and many revisited her two memoirs – Tender at the Bone and Comfort me with Apples. Some even went on to read her new fiction title Delicious – published in May.



It was great fun to read about little-known and soon to be discovered restaurant gems in the Big Apple along with tidbits about famed restaurants such as Daniel’s and Tavern on the Green – Many of us were fascinated by the NY food scene where restaurant critics are celebrities and recognized on sight. Reichl’s undercover disguises and her zany methods to remain undetected added to the fun as she chronicled her dining adventures in the city for us. We were all drooling over the food descriptions and eager to test our new-found critic’s eyes as we tackled our “homework” visiting both new and familiar restaurants. Some of us stayed in the area, others ventured as far as Maine to sample the culinary fare. We heard a variety of opinions as we ate our way across New England — some glowing, some so-so and some positively negative. But one thing was crystal clear from the discussions – this Bibliobites group likes to eat! And we like to talk about what we eat too!



Group members visited and reviewed the following restaurants:

Good for Lunch:
110 Grill - Chelmsford
Family Affair Restaurant & Catering located at The American Textile History Museum in Lowell

Family and Comfort Food
Aldo’s Café – Stoneham
Bonefish Grill – Burlington
Centro –  Lowell
Evviva Cucina –  Westford
Not Your Average Joes -  Acton
Red Heat Tavern – Wilmington

Specialty Restaurants
Bison County Bar and Grill – Waltham
Fishbones – Chelmsford
Margaritas –  Nashua

Out to Dinner
80 Thoreau - Concord
Earth at Hidden Pond- Kennebunkport, ME
Season 52 – Burlington
Sportello – Boston

Some of the group members’ restaurant  reviews are available in the comments section.  Do you have some restaurant suggestions or comments?  Add them in the comment section. – Bon Appetit!



Book Discussion – Nigella Lawson

April’s Bibliobites group focused on the Italian-inspired cooking of Nigella Lawson. Lawson is homegrown chef with no formal training. She has worked as an English journalist, broadcaster, television personality, and food writer. She is known for her flirtatious way of presenting recipes and has affectionately been dubbed the “Queen of food porn.” Our group members had a chance to look at two of her cookbooks: Nigellissima and Nigella Kitchen

Of the twoNigellissima books Nigellissima was by far the favorite, as it was more conversational, the recipes were straightforward and the photographs were appealing. Yet those great full page photographs did not inspire us to immediately begin cooking. Many shared that if it hadn’t been for the book club they would have moved on to a different cookbook. When we did try a recipe though, we were often pleased. After our group shared their experiences, others were inspired to check the book out again to try new recipes. Nigella Lawson intentionally crafted simple recipes to accommodate a busy lifestyle. Her friendly writing style and her practical cooking hints empowered the cooks to adjust a recipe when needed or desired. Once we got cooking we found many recipes that were keepers.

Not as many tried cooking from Nigella Kitchen as it was a larger text-filled compendium of recipes without the great photographs. It was difficult to get inspired by this book.


Here are comments on the recipes we tried from Nigellissima:


Pork Loin with Parma ham & oregano – pg 62 Very good cold

Meatzza – pg 72   Nigella posted that this was the most requested recipe from the book and it was a favorite in our group also.

Roast chicken with bell peppers and olives – pg96   Excellent

Tagliata for two – pg 70   “This only took 15 minutes and was really, really good.”

Shortcut Sausage Meatballs pg. 75 – Simple but not inspiring. Tasted better on the second day.



Curly edged pasta with lamb ragu – pg 9 –Pasta was expensive but good. Well-Liked.

Farro risotto with mushrooms – pg 44-47   (2 tried) Very good – a lot easier to make than regular     risotto. It does not require constant attention and the farro has a nice nutty flavor.

Gnocchi Gratin – pg 131 – Some felt it was heavy – others suggested gnocchi is best when it is fresh

Quick Calabrian lasagna – pg 16 Liked a lot – but it is an unusual lasagna – using the strained tomatoes gave it a fresher taste.

Mini macaroni & cheese All’Italiana – p.15  Made with a twist on the traditional roux- grated cheese is mixed with constarch and then whisked into chicken broth. A real time-saver.

                Do not make ahead – as the pasta will absorb all the liquid – and you will have to reconstitute with scalded milk or cream…


Broccolini with parmesan & lemon – pg 123 – Simple but tasty

Green pasta with blue cheese – pg 10   Very good

Gorgonzola &cannellini dip with a tricolore flourish – pg. 200 – This was fine but not one that we would repeat.

Sicilian cauliflower salad – pg 124   (2 liked)

Spinach baked with ricotta and nutmeg pg 115 – Mixed reviews – one person liked it a lot and even ate leftovers cold ( like a quiche ) — another found it bland.

Roast red onions with basil pg. 112 – Onions were tasty but the amount of basil was overwhelming.



Parmesan shortbreads – pg. 204 – Very buttery with a nice bite of Parmesan – but heavy on the calories…

Chocolate olive cake – pg 186 – Two people brought this for sampling. Some thought it needed something else. Suggestions were: raspberry sauce, coffee in lieu of water in the recipe- and of course everything is better with ice cream. Others thought it was good as is – not too sweet and very satisfying chocolate ending.

Yogurt Carton Cake – pg 182 – Yum! A big hit. Good for children – it has a lovely texture, almost velvety because of the cornstarch – you can really taste the lemon zest. Would be a great base for strawberry shortcake.


Recipes tried from Nigella Kitchen were:

Butternut, arugula and pine nut salad. — Pg 94 –A nice side salad for a meat meal. Nigella suggests leaving the peel on – our recommendation is that it would have been better without.

Chicken with Greek herb sauce – pg 102. The chicken is a simple cut up roasted chicken. The Greek sauce (Tzatziki) is excellent and a recipe keeper.

Irish oaten rolls – pg 86. – Quick and easy – baked for 15 minutes. Froze well and makes a great snack on the go.

Swedish summer cake – pg 264

Places to find more about Nigella Lawson and her recipes on the web::

Pinterest pins: you can access some of the recipes mentioned above by following links from Nigella Lawson’s Pinterest site.

Book Discussion – Bread Baking

Becky Bread



The third meeting of both our morning and evening Bibliobites group found many of us leaving our comfort zones and trying new things. Bread baking is not part of every cook’s repertoire and some of us found it intimidating. “Why is that so?” asked a new member who joined us on Thursday night to share his expertise and experience. He owned and worked at a bakery in the North End and also taught classes at the Le Cordon Bleu – (He also brought sourdough flax seed bread and wonderful baguettes featuring masa harina plus an amazing braided bread sculpture to share with group members.)

Group members explained that bread baking seemed more hit or miss than other cooking projects. One loaf will not rise, one will be perfect, and one will not taste as good as the last time. It is unpredictable and it can take up your whole day. If the results are less than stellar, it isn’t an experience you are apt to repeat.

But it is the practice that makes it perfect. The feel of the dough, the correct kneading techniques, how to know when the dough has doubled in bulk, recognizing when a dough could use an extra turn – this is all knowledge that comes with trial and error. So we encourage everyone to practice, again and again and fill your homes with the heavenly aroma of warm, baked bread.  And if you bake too much bread, you can always start bringing it to the library – the staff will be happy to eat it up!

Initial conversation in the evening group centered on the time-honored tradition of creating bread before the advent of commercial yeast. There are many traditional techniques methods that aid in the dough rising – Italians use the biga – Polish the poolish and the French are fond of the pate fermentee. Sourdough starters such as what they use in the famous Boudin bakery in San Francisco are so valuable that they are sometimes kept in a large vault.  When the original Boudin bakery was affected by the Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906, Louise Boudin saved the original “mother dough” by placing it in a bucket. We talked about the value of using a Banneton for shaping and molding when making a sourdough bread and the importance of using the right amount of salt in a bread recipe. It was mentioned that the Italian make a Tuscan bread pane toscano or pane sciapo that is traditionally made without salt as a staple for the poor.

We also discussed what and when our first attempt at baking bread was – One of us recalled using Beard on Bread to make a classic French-style loaf – another remembers a Pillsbury prize-winner with poppy seeds, cheese and onion (could it be this recipe? and another member recalled a Portuguese sweet bread made with cinnamon as her first attempt.

Here are the books we took a look at along with some comments in red:

From the basics:

  • Beard on Bread by James Beard
    Becky’s favorite bridal gift to give, a real primer

To ethnic breads:

  • The Italian Baker  by Carol Field
    The whole wheat bread did not rise on the second rise but still tasted good with soup.

To artisan loaves:

To cooking flat breads –

  • Flatbreads and Flavors: a Baker’s Atlas by Jeffrey Alford
    The reviewer enjoyed learning how to make flatbreads and about the many different cultures where flatbreads are cooked. Also enjoyable were the side dishes suggested to go along with the breads.

To cooking gluten free breads:

  • Gluten-Free Baking Classics by Annalise Roberts.
  • Gluten-Free on a shoestring Bakes Bread by Nicole Hunn
  •  The gluten-free gourmet bakes bread: more than 200 wheat-free recipes  Bette Hagman
  • Healthy Bread in five minutes” by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francoi
    Gluten free bread baking requires special flours and has a different texture from wheat breads. The breads tried were tasty.  The person who baked the gluten-free loaf found in “Healthy Bread in five minutes” was pleased with her loaf and thought you might not notice the difference if you didn’t know it was gluten free.  She also tried the basic recipe in this book which makes enough dough for four loaves which can be stored in the refrigerator for 2 weeks.  The first loaf she made was good and as the flavor changes as it ages, she has promised to tell us how the next loaves turn out. Hint: you can store the batter in plastic bags in the refrigerator so it doesn’t take up so much room.

To quick breads:

Some of us pulled out our old favorite cookbooks :

The best find was:

  •  The Carriage House Cookbook compiled by the Chelmsford Library staff in 1979 as a fund raiser. (Available only in the history room at the Chelmsford Library. )
    The highly recommended recipe for Julie’s Irish Soda Bread will be posted in the comment section of this blog, along with Dorothy’s beer bread and any recipe you would like to add.

Some bread baking websites, stores and resources mentioned were:

For Middle Eastern Products:

Armenian market and Bakery  in Watertown
Olive Tree at 1270 Westford St. Lowell (near Drum hill) a local source


Ken Haedrich’s website on pie making including lots of how-to videos
National Honey Board,  for tips on storing and substituting honey in recipes.
Penzey’s spices catalog.   for unusual spices