Bringing a cookbook is a little like birthing a baby.
There’s the initial period when you know you’re writing a new cookbook but you can’t announce it. There’s the part when you grow giddy, telling everyone about an event that won’t happen for what feels like a very long time. Then you settle down into the months of working and waiting, trying to make it all feel real. And then, before it happens, time slows down inexorably. Why can’t that day come now?
Our third cookbook (and my fourth book), American Classics Reinvented, is being born tomorrow. We’re giddy and nervous and so ready for this book to be out in the world.
For years now, I’ve been a little bit obsessed with bread.
The funny thing is, I don’t really care much about eating it anymore. I enjoy the bread we make, like the loaves of gluten-free sourdough bread you see above, in moderation. Certainly, I taste bread when I’m testing a recipe, even if it’s the fourteenth time I’ve made it in 2 weeks. Sometimes I’ll tear off a hunk of bread to eat with a good cheese and a side of kale salad for lunch. That’s a good meal. However, I never crave bread anymore.
Instead, I’ve been fascinated with investigating the nature of long-fermented, old-fashioned bread. Bread is a living thing. Let a wet dough, made in the right ratio of flours to starter to water to salt, sit overnight in a pleasantly warm kitchen, and in the morning it’s a workable, kneadable bread. Put it in a hot oven and it becomes something crusty and soft at the same time. The starches in bread still keeps cooking long after you take it out of the oven, which is why a bread you cut into 20 minutes after you have pulled it from the Dutch oven will feel a little underdone, even slimy in the middle. Wait the requisite 5 to 6 hours after it is finished baking and that crumb is light and toothsome, maybe even with air holes.
I never thought I could make gluten-free bread with air holes. Or a crust so crunchy it shatters on the teeth.
The first few years I was gluten-free, the recipes I created for bread were….earnest. I tried. I wanted them to be good. However, I looked first to other gluten-free bread recipes as my inspiration, assuming like everyone else that great gluten-free bread couldn’t be made the same way as traditional bread.
When we started creating American Classics Reinvented, more than two years ago, Danny and I spent weeks sifting through the hundreds and hundreds of suggestions that the crowd of readers requested. The most-requested recipe of the entire book? Red velvet cake. (I do love our recipe for it now.) The second-most-requested recipe? Sourdough bread. Now this? This was a challenge I loved.
For months, I dove in. I studied every source on sourdough bread, artisan bread, and long-fermented bread I could find. I had a stack of bread books in our cooking studio at the time, in the corner. I’d study one, assiduously, take notes, make loaves of bread, then set it aside to study the next one on the list. Of all those, the most interesting to me were The Tassajara Bread Book, Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, Beard on Bread, Tartine Bread, and Flour Water Salt Yeast by Ken Forkish. That last one was my favorite for more than a year until I started reading the new Della Fattoria Bread. After diving into that one, I do sometimes have dreams of building a wood-fired oven on a piece of land on Vashon someday and spend my days making great bread for people. (It’s just a dream, really. But maybe?) Samuel Fromartz’s learned book on the history of bread making, In Search of the Perfect Loaf, is filled with my inked notes now.
I’m a bread geek.
For two years, Danny and I posted photos and videos of sourdough bread in formation on Instagram and Twitter. Every time, many someones would leave the same comment: Recipe?!?! We couldn’t give it out then, even though we felt a little like jerks. Good food is meant to be shared.
However, I know this now, after we have created three cookbooks together: there’s a reason a cookbook takes at least 2 years to create, edit, think about endlessly, tweak, and publish. Book editors and copy editors and proofreaders are gifts from the book gods. The recipes we first created for our gluten-free sourdough bread weren’t nearly as solid or clear or easy to follow as they are now. The recipe published in our new cookbook, American Classics Reinvented, makes me feel good about sending it into the world.
I’m still tweaking. I’ll always be playing. Great bread is a living thing.
(And maybe, within a few months, we can share some great news about gluten-free bread. I’ll leave it at that for now.)
Finally, finally, we can share this recipe for gluten-free sourdough bread with you.
We hope you enjoy the sourdough bread you make in your kitchen.
shauna and danny
p.s. Pre-orders are really important in publishing now. A big pre-order push is how bookstores decide how many copies of a book to buy and media decide what to talk about in cookbooks and food. We’d very much appreciate it if you would share this with anyone who is gluten-free. Besides, right now, American Classics Reinvented is on sale for half the listed price. That will go up to the normal price after September 1st.
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