Baking by Hand, a new cookbook by Andy and Jackie King on making artisanal breads and pastries without a mixer, is a beautiful book. It reflects the King’s love and passion for baking and for one another. In the introduction, Andy writes about how they each purchased the same coffee table baking book for one another as a Valentine’s Day gift. This couple was made to be together and bake together.
The book is not only warmed with personal stories, advice, and anecdotes, it’s also a visual a work of art. The matte finish on the book’s cover and throughout softens the beautiful images and the use of fall accent colors—soft yellow, beige, nutmeg, pumpkin orange—makes you want to sit down with the book and a warm cup of tea and spend the afternoon savoring it.
The Kings run A&J King Artisan Bakers, in Salem, Mass., where they specialize in handmade breads and pastries. These bakers spent their first baking years learning their craft at Portland, Maine’s Standard Baking Company, one of the best in the country. And they bring a wealth of experience in making bread and pastries by hand to home cooks.
The authors start by telling readers the essential tools they’ll need for bread and pastry making—and how to adapt everyday objects that’ll turn the home kitchen into a bake shop. For instance, they explain how to use a baking stone and an old cast iron pan filled with water to transform any home oven (gas or electric) into the perfect hot, humid environment for baking perfect artisan breads. I have long believed to make crusty, artisan breads, I’d have to build one of those bee-hive ovens in my backyard. Now I find all I have to do is use a baking stone and a cast iron pan. That information alone is worth the price of the book!
Next, the Kings explain the science behind baking—how ingredients like different flours, yeast, and water work together to create bread. They explain the why behind the science of baking without making it too complicated. This section, like all of Baking by Hand, is accessible and easy to understand. I’m not a baker and yet I found the information they present makes perfect sense, is easy to understand, and perhaps most important, is really interesting.
The next chapter is all about the book’s premise: using your own hands to create breads and pastries. Realfoodtraveler.com Editor and Co-founder, Anne Weaver, who spent time as a bread baker in a natural foods bakery and makes bread only using her hands, often tells me, “You can feel when a dough is right.”
I don’t have Anne’s experience as a baker or her tactile sense for bread baking, but, after reading the “Your Hands” section that includes their “four-fold method,” I’m pretty confident I, too, can develop the baker’s sense of when my dough is “right.” As they tell readers, “Bake enough and your dough will tell you exactly how it’s doing right when you lay your hands on it.”
Baking by Hand is divided into the PM Baker and the AM Baker, breads and pastries made by the bakery’s staff in the evening or in the morning. In the PM Baker bread chapter, the authors unpack the mysteries of sourdough, including disspelling common myths about sourdough starter like never washing the starter container. They include how to make sourdough culture (it’s pretty easy). And explain (again simply) the fermentation process and how proper fermentation is essential to creating good bread.
A.M./P.M. Bread and Pastries
Throughout the book, the Kings offer plenty of delicious bread recipes, including poached garlic sourdough, toasted walnut sourdough, brown ale and barley bread, French baguettes, fougasse (holy hearth bread), fococcia and many more. For each recipe there’s an overview that includes yield, desired dough temperature, and fermentation, proofing, mixing, baking, and cooling times. They also include 12 Hours Before the Bake and Baking Day tasks and ingredients so you won’t be caught halfway through a baking project unprepared.
The pastry section is similarly divided into PM and AM sections with the AM portion offering recipes and techniques for croissants, sticky buns, and bread pudding; the PM section including crusts, seasonal sweets, and savory tarts. Pastry recipes include delectable treats like almond and chocolate croissants (pain au chocolat), cinnamomy sticky buns, caramel-bourbon-pecan bread pudding, pear-caramel pie, chocolate-coconut-macadamia tarts, and savory pancetta and asparagus tarts. The pastry recipes have a more simplified layout that incudes yield, ingredient list, and instructions.
Between the bread and pastry sections, they offer a chapter called The Baker’s Lunch: Sandwiches and delicious, from-scratch fillings, on creative sandwiches. It includes recipes from the Vietnamese banh mi, to the classic cran-turkey, and roast beef with pickled onions and oven-dried tomatoes. They also offer a scattering of recipes for making pickles—dill-mustard, spicy garlic sours, bread and butter, smoky-sweet-spicy, and sweet lemon-basil.
I usually prefer photo-centric cookbooks with an individual photo for each recipe and Baking by Hand doesn’t have that. They do have plenty of photos for techniques so you have a real sense of the how-to’s. And they have scattered enough photos—gorgeous photos from Eric Laurtis Photography—throughout the book to make me want to fly to Salem immediately to buy their bread and pastry goodies and try their many recipes and techniques myself.
Real Bottom Line: If you want a book that will empower you to create your own handmade artisan breads and pastry, look no farther than Baking by Hand by veteran bakers Andy and Jackie King. This book is amazingly accessible and easy to understand. The lay-flat book binding means you won’t be fighting to keep this book open as you try these recipes. Taking the time to work through Baking by Hand and bake some of their recipes like I did will make you a better baker. It’s a delicious journey you’ll love. – Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor