My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method by Jim Lahey and photographs by Rick Flaste. Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc. 2009

Jim Lahey’s book “My Bread” is one I’ve seen often credited with inventing the “no knead” technique for bread baking that so many of us use today. There’s no doubt from reading this cookbook that Lahey is an experienced bread baker and authority on bread baking.

Lahey’s much-touted method is the popular slow-rise fermentation baked in a Dutch oven as a cloche. This technique replicates a bread oven (something that many of us don’t have) Lahey offers a good example of this technique with photographed step-by-step instructions using a slow rise and hot oven to maximum and easily replicated result. No doubt it’s a good form to use, producing a chewy round thickly crusted loaf of bread.

Lahey spends much time at the beginning of the book with a long bio, going over his life as a baker and how he came to become a bread revolutionary and develop this no-knead process. It’s not a very interesting story but it’s not without its points. Lahey gives us the reasons he came to be a baker and how he came to have his own bakery (Sullivan Street Bakery) producing his bread for restaurants and the public. I’ve seen this formula in many cookbooks, and where many of them succeed or offer an idea of who the author is, this context just became irritating for me. But, at the end of the day, this is a cookbook, not a memoir so I’m really here for the recipes and the content.

My problem with this cookbook is not the author’s gravitas, nor is it the technique used. It’s not just for me a very good cookbook. There are many recipes in this cookbook that made me think “Nah.” The “Nah” moment is a bad one for any cookbook. The idea of a cookbook is to offer ideas that I can use as a home cook in my day to day life cooking for my family. When I see recipes that are wrong-headed and brazenly bizarre if not frankly stupid. I have to wonder where the author is coming from and wonder at the competence of what is being written.

Many of the recipes in “My Bread” were inspired (says the author) by trips around the world. Here there is an unfathomable coconut bread that is inspired by a trip to tropical climes. (The recipe comes across as one that may have been done once and never repeated. If you are curious to read the cookbook and go to it, you will see what I’m talking about. The execution of the bread is one that is not common for yeast bread and I just don’t see it as something I or anyone else would want to try.) There is a Corn Bread recipe that comes across as ill-conceived, as is the one using of all things filtered sea water. (I live on the Pacific coast, that’s just not a good idea unless you want petrochemicals in your bread.

There are other grips I could have that seem petty. My biggest problem is the sloppiness (The Baguettes he touts are not at all baguettes but sloppy flat focaccia sticks. Nothing inherently wrong with the recipe but it’s not what he says it is and that for me is a problem. Ultimately I feel that the work was more about the author’s ego and not much about producing a good cookbook.

I like to feel that at the end of the day the cookbook was produced by someone who does not love cookbooks. I have a problem with that. If you want to give it a try, keep that in mind before you buy it. There are other no-knead cookbooks out there and many are much better.

The Good:
1. I did think that the technique used was good. You can’t dispute Lahey’s method and I don’t want to. This book was produced 10 years ago, so now this method has been well replicated and maybe improved by others in quite a few cookbooks that I will review.

2. The recipe for Irish Brown Bread is good and I did make it to some success. (We ate it quickly so sadly no pictures this time.)

The Bad:
1. The cookbook is just not one I enjoyed or thought I would use often. I would not purchase this for my home collection.

The Rating:
I would give this cookbook 2 out of 5 Loaves.

Below is a link to the “No Knead Irish Brown Bread” from the cookbook.

Kiss him, he’s Jim Lahey: no-knead Irish Brown Bread recipe originally published March 11, 2010 at 9:40 am

Sullivan Street Bakery.

Dean Jones is a Librarian, Cookbook Reviewer, and writer. Dean makes his home in the San Francisco Bay Area with his lovely wife Jennifer and their six kids. If you like this review please applaud!

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Dean Jones is a Librarian, Cookbook Reviewer, and writer. Dean lives in the SF Bay Area with his lovely wife and their six kids.