Homebaking: the Artful Mix of Flour and Tradition Around the World

by Jeffrey Alford, Naomi Duguid
ISBN: 0679312749

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A Review of: HomeBaking: the Artful Mix of Flour and Tradition Around the World
by Sarah Sheard

The husband and wife team of Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid already have three award-winning cookbooks under their belts and this fourth one will likely win honours as well. Their first collaboration, published in 1995, Flatbreads and Flavours: a Baker's Atlas (James Beard Cookbook of the year Award), was a compendium of different unleavened breads around the world. The peripatetic couple documented their gastronomic travels throughout Asia, the Mediterranean, Europe, North Africa and North America. Along the way, they interviewed the locals, sampled their wares, photographed them in situ, then returned home to modify their recipes for North American cooks and kitchens. It turned out to be a winning approach for the cookbook crowd. Alford/Duguid produced cookbooks that people take to bed to read.
HomeBaking: The Artful Mix of Flour and Tradition Around the World inevitably crosses some of the trails they cut globally, researching their earlier books. Once again, Alford/Duguid have tapped into ancestral memory-or our fantasies of it-in evoking the sensuality of making and baking and breaking bread together.
Food and travel naturally combine. Often a traveler's most pungent memory of a place will be of its local cuisine. The recollection of a New York City calzone, sprinkled with red pepper flakes and Parmesan cheese transports the traveller as readily as any airplane. More often than not, what's most memorable about a place is its casual fare, eaten at a roadside stand, ideally beside the field where part of the meal might have been grown.
Alford and Duguid clearly understand the connection between a culture and its signature foods. After all, what's more intimate than what goes into our mouths and has been fed to us since infancy? In every way, it has become inseparable from who we are-and who we aren't. Crossing a mountain might mean encountering differences between one valley's bread and another's. Yeasts change character; grains and spices change too. Even the shapes of a particular people's bread have evolved to represent their own particular patch of culture. Crossing the border from Hungary into Austria, for instance, Duguid and Alford walked into the nearest bakery to discover that the varieties of bread and sweet baked goods had changed utterly.
There is something poetically pleasing in attempting to recreate in a North American kitchen, fresh-baked bread stuffed with lamb, sprinkled with salt, oregano and roughly chopped tomatoes-typical fare of a Middle Eastern shepherd, whether from Turkey, Syria or Jerusalem. Okay, so maybe here a food processor replaces the mortar; and a modern oven, the open fire or the tandoor. The taste is similar enough to evoke a sense of connection to elsewhere or nostalgia for a time before our own, of a country our forbears might have left behind.
HomeBaking divides into four main sections: Pastry, Big Breads, Smaller Breads and Flat Breads, Cakes and Cookies. Within these are mini-travelogues, personal anecdotes and foody reminiscences, numerous photos taken by the pair in their travels, of peoples, terrains and foods. The instructions are detailed and clear and often a recipe will be followed thoughtfully by a sub-recipe for a filling or topping referred to in the main recipe.
Despite their evident passion for the exotic, I found their spicing and flavouring on the timid side and soon quadrupled the recipes' suggested quantities of the herbs, spices and other seasonings. I wanted fewer photos of hands kneading dough and more of actual food. Smiling faces with no food in evidence seemed of greater significance to the authors than their readers. Those sour pickles aside, HomeBaking is another gorgeous sit-down reading experience from a personable couple who've brilliantly combined their loves of travel and handmade nosh.

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