Subtitled ‘Show The Dough Who’s Boss’, Crumb by Richard Bertinet is the distillation of over 30 years spent as a baker, pastry chef and expert consultant for restaurants and food businesses. Hailing from Breton in France, Bertinet now lives in Bath where he runs his cookery school, The Bertinet Kitchen. There he teaches hundreds of eager amateur bakers how to handle dough every year. The strength of this book lies in Bertinet’s highly detailed instructions, explained with a clarity clearly borne of teaching students for so many years, and supported by excellent step-by-step photographs.
Cooking from Crumb
Many many years ago, we took a completely unplanned road trip through France—not my usual style of travel (I’m an advance trip planner through and through) but the arrangements we’d made to spend two weeks in Bordeaux fell through. We meandered our way back up from Bordeaux to Calais over two weeks, using printed directories for table d’hôte and gîte accommodation, phoning on the day for availability the same night. Somewhere along that route—most likely in or near Bretagne (Brittany)—I remember encountering a simple pastry that I fell in love with; layers of bread interspersed with a rich sugar-butter filling in the form of a simple round cake. Having failed to clarify at the bakery I remembered only that its name was “queen something”, so it wasn’t until several years later that I identified my mystery treat as none other than kouign amman, a signature Breton recipe created in 1860 by a baker asked to make cake. This buttery bread-cake is what he came up with.
Of course, the kouign amman recipe was the first Pete made from the book, a resounding success that shall absolutely be made again. It is a lengthy recipe, and one to attempt only when you have the time and patience needed, but the simple, comforting and delicious result is worth the effort.
Following that, we made Bertinet’s Summer Pain Surprise (summer surprise bread), in which proscuitto (ham), fresh mozzarella, ripe tomatoes alongside sliced onion, garlic and herbs are pushed between slits in a loaf of bread before it’s wrapped and baked. The beauty of this recipe is that you can either make your own bread, or use a good quality loaf from the shops, as we did. The cuts are in the style of hasselback potatoes—not quite down to the base of the loaf—allowing it to be concertinaed open to insert the fillings. We both agreed that we’d up the volume of filling, but we loved the simplicity and wow factor of the recipe—so much more impressive to serve to the table than individual slices of topped toast under the grill.
Next to be made was the Fougasse with Gruyere, Lardons and Caramelised Garlic. Again, we’d up the ratio of filling to bread, though it still worked well as written. The combination of flavours was delicious, and I could eat that caramelised garlic all day long! The recipe made three good sized breads—next time we’ll scale it down, as it’s best enjoyed fresh from the oven.
What all the recipes have in common is that instructions are explicitly detailed, with accompanying step-by-step photographs throughout. These help the reader to learn Bertinet’s signature techniques for making and handling bread dough, and exactly how to shape it.
This is not Bertinet’s first bread book—he’s previously published Dough (2005, covering simple and achievable breads) and Crust (2007, sharing more complex recipes, with a focus on a great crust). In Crumb, he responds to the frequent lament of home bakers that the crumb of their breads is too tight, too dense, too doughy, or otherwise not what they were aiming for.
In Crumb, he showcases a variety of bread recipes with varying textures, from open and airy to more compact. There are also recipes featuring the use of soakers, ferments and sourdoughs, as well as enriched doughs to try.
Although he has adapted most of the recipes to work in a food mixer, he starts the book with a journey through his time-honed techniques for mixing and working dough by hand, explaining just how the dough should look and feel at each stage.
Bertinet provides a rundown on useful tools, listing many but advocating too that a baker can get along fine with just their hands, their instincts and patience. Next, in a chapter titled ‘All about the crumb’, Bertinet lays out in detail his personal method for working with dough, eschewing “the harsh idea of kneading vigorously or knocking back”. I am enchanted to read about the origins of his technique, one that he tells us has its roots in the evolution of French baking. In this history we find the root of Bertinet’s preference for a wet, sticky dough. It is etirage, in which the baker repeatedly stretches and folds the dough, that he uses to incorporate air and structure, rather than the violent pummelling of kneading that is advocated in many bread recipes today. This process takes time, hence the need for patience.
The next two introductory sections look at ‘Flour and water’ (in which the type and protein content of flour is discussed), and ‘Bread and health’ (in which you’ll find a heartfelt plea to remember that “good bread is a staple that should be available to all”, and that whilst gluten-free and sourdough breads have become more popular, that there is still very much a place for ordinary bread made with flour, yeast and water). I am on board as well with the reminder in ‘Bake and repeat’ that once one has become proficient at making bread, there is still much to learn and that the repetition of practice is what ensures consistently great results.
Next, Bertinet defines the terms ‘rest’ and ‘prove’ as he uses them—resting occurring after the dough has been worked into a smooth ball, and proving after it’s been put into tins or shaped; followed by a few words on mist, heat and timings in the baking of bread.
Moving on through the book, the next topic of discussion is whether to use hands or a machine to make and work your dough. And then Bertinet shares his foundation dough recipe, laid out across a whopping 15 pages and illustrated with 52 step-by-step photographs!
The recipes start on page 54, divided into chapters for ‘Rustic and sourdough’ (including recipes such as Rustic baguettes, Apple and cider rolls, Porridge honey and raspberry loaves, Sourdough crackers, Sourdough pizza, 100 per cent rye sourdough, Rustic miche), ‘Enriched’ (which has treats such as Gotchial, Multi-coloured buns, Brie in brioche, Plum tart, Petits pains with Gruyère, English muffins, Leopard bread, Almond and cherry slices and rolls, Cinnamon knots, Cheese twists, Salted caramel brioches, Russian plait, Panettone), ‘Flatbreads and batters’ (a smaller chapter with recipes like Green pea flatbread, Cornbread with manchego cheese and chorizo, Seeded loaf, Pain d’epices), and ‘Cooking with bread’ (smaller again, including Croque monsieur, a variety of tartines, and Brioche ice cream).
Each chapter page lists all the recipes within it, and there’s a good index at the back too.
A well as the step-by-step images (of which there are many) there are plenty of bright, colourful images of each finished recipe. I like the consistent styling of often-golden breads and bakes against dark grey backgrounds – trays, worktops, tables, perhaps even flooring—they create a slightly industrial vibe yet at the same time, everything feels very much at the level of a domestic baker.
There are so many bread books on the market that it can be hard to know which ones are worth the space on your bookshelf. For us, Crumb has earned its place courtesy of the wide variety of recipes showcasing breads and bakes with many different textures, the way in which Bertinet takes us through the recipes so carefully with his instructions and step-by-step images, and the delightful joy of our efforts turning out so deliciously well.
His understanding of the kind of difficulties beginners experience, and the points within each recipe where bakers need most guidance really sets this book apart; the level of detail is what makes Crumb a realistic and achievable alternative to attending one of Bertinet’s classes in person—though if you can, by all means do that too!
Sharing Richard Bertinet’s Kouign Amman Recipe
We are delighted to share the Kouign Amman recipe we cooked and loved from the book, with permission from publisher Kyle Books.
Note that Bertinet has picked up a few errors that crept into the text just before printing, and provides an errors list with corrections on his website. I recommend printing this out and slipping it inside your copy of the book.
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Kavey Eats received a review copy of Crumb by Richard Bertinet from publisher Kyle Books (part of Octopus Books). Book photography is by Jean Cazals.