Update: I've lowered my rating from 4 to 3 stars. Having more experience with the book, I still think that with some adjustments (lowering the yeast aUpdate: I've lowered my rating from 4 to 3 stars. Having more experience with the book, I still think that with some adjustments (lowering the yeast amt, prolonging the initial rise, waiting until at least the 3rd day to bake), this yields phenomenally tasty bread. MUCH better than the stuff bought at a US supermarket. The peasant bread (which includes a small amount of rye flour and whole wheat flour added to the white AP flour) is our favorite, as far as taste is concerned. The olive oil dough is our favorite for pizza and pitas.
Unforunately, with less flat shapes (such as boules, batards, baguettes, and loaves), it is difficult to get the texture correct. The crust is delicious, but never as crispy as the bread I make with traditional methods. The crumb is open, airy, and flavorful, but always a bit too moist and chewy. Still, as I said, this yields much better bread than supermarket bread, and much cheaper bread than from the local bakery. I suspect that I will continue to use it during the times that I am exceptionally busy, but still long for homemade bread.
I'm not ready to rate this book yet, as I've only tried a couple of recipes, but I will share my experience with those recipes and the tinkering I've done.
First, the method is EASY! I was skeptical at first, having been making bread the old-fashioned way and loving it. Surely something so easy couldn't produce a loaf with a good crust, crumb, and taste. I was mistaken. Many people will say "Oh, it's much longer than 5 minutes." Well, I guess that's all in how you look at it. Zoe and Jeff admit that mixing the recipe may take up to 15. For me, it takes about 5, and that's the longest part. I use the refrigerator trick so I don't have a long second rise: the day I want to make the bread, I spend 40 seconds shaping it FIRST THING IN THE MORNING, let it rest in the fridge (loosely covered) on a piece of parchment paper. When I'm ready to bake, I take it out when I turn the oven on to preheat. By the time the oven is ready, the dough is ready too (since I haven't handled it since taking it out of the fridge.) The key is to handle it gently. During the initial rise and time in the fridge, a lot of gases build up in the dough. Keeping the gas inside the dough is integral to having a light, airy, and delicious loaf. So when you're shaping it, don't press or smash or knead or thunk.
Secondly, the book calls for a lot of yeast, and a relatively short initial rise. With any non-enriched bread (no eggs, milk, etc), it's cheaper and even easier to decrease the yeast. With a typical 4 lb dough, rather than 1.5 TBSP of yeast, I use .5 teaspoons. Rather than the 2 hour rise, however, I let it rise 8ish hours. So, basically, I mix the dough before I go to bed, then put it in the fridge when I wake up. My family participated in a blind taste test to see which taste they preferred.. more yeast or less? Unanimously, we agreed that the low yeast, long rise version had a better, more complex flavor.
Thirdly, I've noticed some complaints about the saltiness of the bread. Notice, however, that the book calls for kosher salt. If you use table salt, it WILL be salty. Using the recommended amount of kosher salt, I can't taste salt in the bread at all (which is just how it should be). My SO, who is salt-sensitive, agrees with me.
So far, I've made only the freeform loaf and the pitas. The freeform loaf turns out just as it should. With the pitas, it says to roll the dough out to 1/8 of an inch so that it expands to form a pocket. I have to admit, with the boule dough, I was only able to roll out to 1/4 of an inch. With the olive oil dough, only about 1/3. However, I was making one LARGE pita instead of multiple smaller ones. Happily, the dough still expanded both times and was delicious. I preferred the flavor of the olive oil dough for the pitas, though there is only a subtle difference in the flavor of the boule and olive oil doughs. I made the pitas for an appetizer at a Christmas gathering, and many people declared that they were the best pitas they'd ever had.
I will probably update this review once I have more experience with the book, but if you're having any trouble with the recipes the best thing you can do for yourself is to visit their website, look through the FAQs, read some comments from previous posters on their blog entries, or leave your own question. The authors seem to be pretty speedy in their responses....more