Try as I might, I simply can’t like the River Cottage marketing juggernaut. Its smug, ostentatiously wholesome, middle class aspirational branding leaves me cold. Gripes aside, once you get past the wholemeal-coloured cover and the introduction by HFW, this is a rather fine book, that covers the basic arts of breadmaking, without ever getting technical or patronising – just lots of detail about how and why it all works.
The basic bread recipe is a staggering forty one pages long, complete with pictures and troubleshooting information for every step. The section on kneading is useful, with none of the hysteria and theatre of certain other writers. (I suspect I may have to retract the kneading section in my bread recipe as a result.) However, the section on shaping is without parallel, as nobody else seems to cover this at all: no more mutant lopsided loaves for me.
After the initial whopping recipe, conveniently condensed into two pages afterwards, are the usual variations: pizza, foccacia, muffins, brioche, which are all handy to have. (Actually the pizza dough recipe looks very much like the one I had scribbled down years ago so I wonder if they share a source?)
There’s the obligatory chapter on the oh-so-fashionable sourdough (Grauniad readers only) and a few fairly pointless recipes towards the end. Beetroot homous or nettle pesto, anyone?
Of course, the River Cottage branding kicks in for the final section about making a DIY clay oven. I can actually envisage some of my A-List acquaintances getting busy in the backyards of their country lairs, before phoning up John Lewis to order one.
If you’re already a proficient baker, and are looking for the things to show off, I’d suggest aiming for Dan Lepard’s books instead. Likewise, if you’ve only recently graduated from boiling an egg, this might be a bit of a challenge, but get a copy anyway.