Bread as a status food - it's no wonder

Bread, that most basic and satisfying of foods, is too often relegated to the edge of a soup bowl or used as a tool to soak up sauces or as a prop for cheeses. Or it's brought to the table to fill out a meal. Either way, it's usually secondary to the main meal.

But it doesn't have to be. Maybe man cannot live by bread alone, but with flavored breads that blend herbs and cheeses into one savory loaf, he can come close.

Long gone are the days when mass-produced, preservative-packed breads were all one could find on supermarket shelves. Now, fresh-baked breads, often called "artisan" loaves are readily available. One can easily find rustic country-style loaves or elegant French baguettes, brioches, or croissants. And breads incorporating herbs, vegetables, fruits, and sometimes meats such as ham or prosciutto are more popular and available than ever, according to award-winning chef Mark Miller.

In "Flavored Breads" (Ten Speed Press), which Miller wrote with Andrew MacLauchlan, he writes that flavored breads "provide a medium for creativity, they deserve time and respect, and they carry on a long-standing tradition. Best of all, they taste so good!"

Marginalizing bread as a side dish has never been much of an issue in Europe. In "Ultimate Bread" (Dorling Kindersley), passionate bakers Eric Treuille and Ursula Ferrigno write that in their native countries France and Italy, "A meal is not a meal without bread. There, bread is taken very seriously. The daily visit to the bakery is a ritual that punctuates the rhythm of life."

The "Ultimate Bread" celebrates this universal food, treats it with the respect it deserves, and inspires home cooks to start kneading and punching their way to fragrant and flavorful loaves.

Other bread books worth a look:

CRUST & CRUMB

By Peter Reinhard

Ten Speed Press, 1998

BREADLINE

By Susan Jane Cheney

Ten Speed Press, 1998

WHOLE GRAIN BREADS BY MACHINE OR HAND

By Beatrice Ojakangas

Macmillan, 1998

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