Bake It Yourself: Yeasted Breads

By Kathryn Matthews

I was surprised when I finally held a copy of Simply Great Breads by Hudson Valley baker Daniel Leader (with Lauren Chattman) in my hands.  I figured it would be a hefty coffee table-type paean to artisanal bread baking.  Instead, I found myself thumbing through a slim volume the size and weight of an iPad.

Leader, a certified organic baker, began baking European-style breads at his Catskills bakery, Bread Alone, in 1983. 

What started as a desire to produce hearth-baked breads as part of a healthy lifestyle for his family has since expanded into a full-fledged business that includes an online shop; an ongoing presence at farmers’ markets throughout the Hudson Valley and in NYC; and three bakery cafes with restaurant dining upstate–in the Catskills (Boiceville and Woodstock) and in Dutchess County (Rhinebeck), which inspired my recent restaurant review for Rural Intelligence.

Then, I got it.  This wasn’t about baking rustic Old World breads that required a long-fermenting sourdough starter from scratch. (Besides, Leader has been there, done that with his previous IACP award-winning book Local Breads.)

Nope. Simply Great Breads is devoted to bake-it-yourself yeasted treats.  Think crumpets. Cider donuts.  Beignets.  Even pancakes and waffles.

I had met Leader at an artisanal bread baking seminar at the French Culinary Institute over a decade ago.  His passion about baking was evident then, as it is now in his newest book.

Try your hand at homemade Parker House rolls

The chapters are focused, abounding with tips (The first? “Buy organic ingredients.”  Here! Here!), and each recipe is limited to two pages with an enticing photograph of the end result.  In addition to English muffins, bialys and bagels, the “Classic Breakfast Breads” chapter includes a sophisticated twist on cinnamon rolls—chestnut cinnamon sugar spirals made from brioche—as well as brioche muffins.  Leader offers how-to’s on his version of an “Ideal Bread Basket”, one that includes Parker House rolls, angel biscuits, and ham-and-cheese-filled crescent rolls (NOT Pillsbury, I promise you!).  He gives a primer on savory yeasted dough, too—for pizza, flatbreads and a classic onion and olive tart.

For these breads and pastries, you can use store-bought instant yeast, though Leader will recommend his preferred brand.

The kitchen is calling….I’ve got my eye on Leader’s recipe for yeasted coffee cake topped with almonds.

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