At Long Last — “Modernist Bread” is Available
As reported here in the past, I was fortunate enough to have been invited by Nathan Myhrvold to contribute to his monumental book project, Modernist Bread, about five years ago. Well, what he originally suggested might be a two or three volume collection has at last been published. It didn’t take long for Nathan and his resident Modernist team of bakers and chefs to realize that it would take at least four volumes, and then, as the research and discoveries kept coming in, it grew to five volumes and over 2,642 pages, not to mention an additional workbook volume with all the recipes and formulas, printed on special stain resistant paper, that could be taken fearlessly into the kitchen or bakeshop. As a contributing editor (technically, they have me listed as “Acquisitions Editor”) my work included some research, writing, editing, reviewing, and talent hunting. However, compared to the overall contributions of the whole team, my work was a mere drop in a huge ocean. The heavy lifting was done by Nathan and his co-author Francisco Migoya, along with the baking and research team, as well as by publisher Stephanie Swane, senior editor Maggie Wheeler, and a large team of writers, editors, designers, and marketing specialists. Producing the book was tantamount to producing a movie, with an endless scroll of hundreds of credits going to many people known only to each other and to those who open to the eight pages of contributors listed in the back of Volume 5. It is, indeed, an impressive village of talent. (My apologies to all the folks I personally met and worked with during my short time in Bellevue, Washington, where it all happened, for not listing you here by name, but your photos and titles are on display in Volume 5, and all of you were pretty awesome!).
But even more awesome is the book itself — it’s really 5, no 6 books, but, since they all come in an impressively designed stainless steel box, with the cutout letters MB carved into the frame, I will refer to it as a single book in six volumes, including the bonus 400 page “Kitchen Manual” volume. It weighed about 60 pounds when it arrived, safely packed in a shipping box nestled within another shipping box (I’m impressed with attention to details like that, which is a level of care rarely found anymore in today’s mail order world). Anyway, that’s a lot of book!
Okay, so yes, on the outside it’s all pretty impressive but what about the content? Does the substance match the sizzle? Is it worth the approximately $600 that it lists for? Oh yeah! But, then again, I’m not an objective reporter here, just a proud participant, so you will have to judge for yourself. All I can say is that when I first heard about this project, nearly five years ago, I nicknamed it, “the bread book to end all bread books,” and the final product proves that I was right. After all, it covers the entire known history of bread, the key personalities, and a very in-depth explanation of the science of bread, including background on all the ingredients, and descriptions of every imaginable tool and technique, Just as he did with his earlier Modernist Cuisine six volume book set, Nathan Myhrvold has established a new benchmark about what a book can be. This is comparable to the publication of an Encyclopedia Britannica of bread, and the level of vision, and the investment of financial resources and risk to pull this off, is unprecedented. There are already some heated discussions on the web regarding the findings reported in this book, amplified by Nathan’s recent interviews in the New York Times and other journals about the efficacy (or lack thereof) of whole grain versus white flour. And some of the book’s other pronouncements about the effects of or the ideal amount of steam, and other misunderstood truisms and accepted myths about bread, are bound to stimulate lots of chatter.
Here’s a link to some notable press about the book: Click here and, of course, you can read all about it and see more photos if you go to the Amazon page by clicking here. There are 1,200 hundred recipes and formulas (that’s not a typo) and, yes, “Modernist Bread” pretty much covers it all but, of course, it will not be the end of all bread books. That would be like saying the gluten-free and the low carb grain-brain movements ended bread. Not gonna happen! Yes, more bread books will inevitably come but, after this book, all bread authors will have to raise their game.
If you have a loved one who, like me, is a serious bread head (and there are many of us), and if money is not an obstacle in expressing that love, this is the gift for him or her! Just be sure to tell them to, “Protect your back and lift with your legs when the box arrives!”
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