The Tassajara Bread Book, by Edward Espe Brown

The members of the linguistics department where my husband is pursuing his master’s degree are the most social bunch of academics I’ve ever encountered–not that I mind. Families are always welcome, and I have developed my own friends among the students and spouses. Besides that, there’s the great food…and the bread. At nearly every social and pot luck, a fresh loaf of heavenly homemade bread appears, courtesy of B’s adviser. As a bread lover and inveterate bread machine baker myself, I began to quiz E on his baking secrets.

E quickly directed me to The Tassajara Bread Book, which issues from a Buddhist monastery in San Francisco that he himself had visited while residing in the area a couple of decades ago. I obtained the 25th Anniversary Edition from the library and intend to purchase my own copy as soon as I have exhausted my renewals. This edition was published in 1995 and includes a note in the back from Ed Brown, along with a few additional recipes.

The book begins with detailed, step-by-step instructions for a basic loaf of bread, suitable for beginners and those like me with a moderate degree of bread baking experience. Brown then provides variations on the basic recipe, such as Sesame Bread, Potato Bread, Summer Swedish Rye Bread, Banana Sandwich Bread, Nut or Seed Bread, Cheese Bread and Focaccio (he includes another focaccio recipe in the 25th-anniversary addendum, which I have used successfully for pizza dough, at his recommendation).

The Bread Book also has a section on sourdough–instructions for creating a starter, a bread recipe, a pancake recipe, and an intriguing recipe for sourdough raisin rolls sweetened with fermented raisins. Other sections of the book include:

  • Yeasted Pastries (including kolaches, complete with a variety of fillings)
  • Unyeasted Breads (I didn’t know this was possible, aside from quick breads)
  • Pancakes and Other Things to Eat for Breakfast, Lunch or Dinner (including biscuits, popovers, bagels, cottage cheese pancakes, and O-konomi-yaki)
  • Muffins and Quick Breads (the Barley Flour Muffins and Blue Cornmeal Muffins look particularly interesting)
  • Compound Butters (i.e. Pecan and Ginger Butter, Coffee Liqueur Butter, Lime and Cilantro Butter)
  • Desserts (I am eager to try the Turkish Coffee Cake Cookie Bars and Nutty Gritty Cookies).

So far I have had good success with the basic bread recipe, Cream Scones, and Overnight Unyeasted Bread II, which incorporates cooked rice, oatmeal, or any other grain you have on hand. I have used quinoa and buckwheat.

In the Ingredients section Brown includes some information about the various flours and other ingredients called for and the quality each contributes to the dough. I could wish for a little more information here on the science of bread baking, as well as more variation in flours, i.e. soy, rice, garbanzo, buckwheat, amaranth. But it isn’t a science book, and I suppose in 1970 these alternative flours were used even less commonly used than they are now. I appreciate the recipes that call for cooked whole grains and look forward to experimenting more with these.

The desserts aren’t necessarily low in fat or sugar, but some are, and others could be adapted, if desired. The recipes are a mix of traditional (Flaky Biscuits) and innovative (Mustard Gingerbread and Corn Sesame Breakfast Cake). They are earthy and healthful (what you would expect from a book that originated in San Francisco in 1970), without a lot of artificial ingredients. It doesn’t surprise me that the book is still selling after (now) 35 years.

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One Response to The Tassajara Bread Book, by Edward Espe Brown

  1. I remember this book on the bookshelf of my dad and stepmom when I was a teen in the 70’s. Thanks for this review! Breadmaking is so satisfying.

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