There are many good things about Daniel Leader's new book, Simply Great Breads: Sweet and Savory Yeasted Treats from America's Premier Artisan Baker. He features a nice selection of breads that don't take 18 or 24 hours to produce and most of them sound downright luscious. He gives measurements in ounces, grams and cups. Simply Great Breads is not so big and heavy that it will be awkward to actually use in your kitchen. It is, in fact, quite a small volume. This is a book that for the most part I liked. But - and this is a big BUT - there are some problems. Let me tell you about them in the order I came across them.
1. Leader has done a nice job of laying out the recipes over a two page spread, with the first page containing a paragraph or two about the recipe in the left column and the ingredients in the right. Unfortunately, the ingredients list is not only in a fine blue type, it uses a font that is smaller than the accompanying text - in blue. Like many older folks, I don't see fine type as well as I used to and blue type only exacerbates the problem. I got dizzy putting my reading glasses on and taking them off again.
2. When I first opened the book to the index I was surprised to see a recipe for Navajo Fry Bread. When I read the recipe, I was dumbfounded. One thing you might not know about me is that I spent a number of years living and working in the Southwest, specifically on the Navajo and Hopi reservations where I learned to make fry bread from Hopi women and Navajo women, young women, old women, and even a man or two. I've eaten Fry Bread at every restaurant on the reservations, from the vendors at every single one of the weekly markets, at community events, school functions, dances, pow wows, healing ceremonies and tribal fairs. Never once have I eaten Navajo (or any other American Indian) Fry Bread that had yeast in it. No milk either. I also happen to have a dozen or so American Indian cookbooks published in the last fifty+ years in my collection. No yeast and no milk there either. Navajo Fry Bread is made these days with flour, lard, baking powder and water. Very traditional bakers still use the Southwestern equivalent of baker's ammonia for leavening, made by burning a desert plant.
In fact, Daniel Leader's recipe for "Navajo Fry Bread" is so far removed from the historical dish that it simply isn't. What Leader has done is invent a recipe that is essentially a version of the Fried Dough one sees at eastern fairs and carnivals and then simply taken the name of the traditional Navajo Fry Bread. I consider this an insult to history and the Navajo, a theft of culture.
And this is not the only place that Leader shows a distinct lack of respect for historical accuracy. If you happen to know any of the history of Parker House Rolls, you are aware that what makes the rolls Parker House rather than something else is the shape. Leader discards the shape. His roll recipe is not "Parker House" rolls - just a recipe for what is commonly known as "pan rolls."
3. I was very surprised to see the specific brand recommendations for a number of expensive items from Leader in the opening pages of the book. This really seemed to me to be almost a version of the kind of product placement advertising you see in movies.
4. Sometimes, Leader is just out of touch. He gives kudos to Laurel Robertson of Laurel's Kitchen Recipes for the tip he gives about removing both the top and bottom from a can of tuna to make your own English Muffin Rings. It is pretty obvious, though, that Leader hasn't himself opened a can of tuna in some while. When Laurel's Kitchen was published in the mid-70s a can of tuna contained 7 or 7.5 ounces and was identical top and bottom. These days a can of tuna weighs 4.5 or 5.0 ounces and you can only take off one end - and you haven't been able to open more than one end in a decade or more. If you want muffin rings, you need to buy the small cans of pineapple.
5. Leader baldly states that those who do their own baking from scratch "do not get fat." Sorry, cooking everything from scratch and eating organically is absolutely NOT enough to keep you from getting fat.
All in all, for me, the cons definitely balance out any pros and the selection of recipes offered in Simply Great Breads is not all that much different than you'll find in either of my GoTO books - Secrets of a Jewish Baker: Recipes for 125 Breads from Around the World or The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread.