Two foodie book events are on the menu this week:
- Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François will kick off the promotional tour for their new cookbook, “Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day,” with a signing at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 28, at Borders in LaGrange.
- David Sax will give a talk and reading from his book, “Save the Deli: In Search of Perfect Pastrami, Crusty Rye, and the Heart of Jewish Delicatessen,” at 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 29, at Manny’s in the South Loop.
Both events are free.
Since I mentioned Sax’s book last week, I’ve had a chance to read it, and it’s definitely a book any deli lover should have. He profiles a variety of delis across the country and overseas, missing a few good ones, like Max’s in Highland Park, but finding many great ones, and describing them with great affection.
Sax is a deli aficionado, but not foodie. His book focuses more on people and places than the minutia of how meals are made. He profiles great Deli Men, describes the workings of delis and dwells lovingly on hand-slicing, but rarely gets into the nitty gritty of ingredients.
Where he details preparations, his focus is mainly on meats — corned beef, pastrami, tongue. He doesn’t delve into the differences between real lox and Nova, or talk about the way authentic kosher dill pickles are made. He touches briefly on bread — confirming my own opinion that the best Jewish rye in the country comes from my hometown of Detroit — but doesn’t get into the distinctions that separate Jewish rye bread from other ryes. He never mentions “corn bread,” the dense, chewy sour rye breads that contain no corn.
Sax postulates a variety of reasons why traditional delis are disappearing, ranging from Jewish upward mobility to the Holocaust. He notes that it can’t all be attributed to health concerns: “They’re not forgoing deli for the salad bar. They’re ditching it for burgers and BBQ.”
I’m not so certain he’s quite on target when it comes to Chicago, though. Jewish delis haven’t disappeared from the City of the Big Machers so much as they never existed here. In his 1931 guide to “Dining in Chicago,” John Drury described a handful of Jewish restaurants, but applied “delicatessen” only to one: Deutsch’s, 28 N. Dearborn St.
When I moved here nearly 25 years ago, Jewish delis were still relatively strong everywhere that had a significant Ashkenazi population. But the situation here was not good then, compared to other Midwestern cities like Detroit and Cleveland. The losses since (Sam & Hy’s, Barnum & Bagel) have been more or less offset by the gains (Eleven City Diner, Steve’s Deli). Sax quotes Vienna Beef VP Bob Schwartz, who also found the deli picture grim when he came to Chicago from Cleveland in the mid-1970s: “It’s a hot dog town, primarily.”
The new book from Hertzberg and Francois, authors of “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day,” offers 100 new recipes based on whole grains, with breads that incorporate fruits and vegetables, as well as gluten-free recipes. The charm of their method is that you mix up your dough once, let it rise and then store it the fridge and pull off hunks for baking whenever you want over the next two weeks. You can freeze the dough for longer storage, too.
The new volume, incorporating suggestions from fans of the authors’ Web site, is more of a baking fans’ book than their first cookbook, which was bent on showing beginners how easy their method makes baking crusty loaves. While the master recipe of “Artisan Bread” needs only yeast, salt, all-purpose flour and water, “Healthy Bread’s” whole-grain recipes nearly all require vital wheat gluten and other ingredients.
Rising and baking times are much longer, too. The “five minutes a day” of the title seems something of a misnomer when many of the recipes call for more shaping than a quick balling up of the dough, and a resting time before baking of 90 minutes. Unless you eat late, these mostly aren’t recipes you can plan on baking after work in time to have fresh bread for dinner.
That said, there are still plenty of easy recipes here, for everything from 100-percent whole wheat bread to Algerian flatbread, and the method is still much simpler than most traditional techniques: No proofing, no kneading, no punching down required. If you’ve mastered the first book and are looking for new challenges, if you want a simple and inexpensive way to eat more whole-grain foods, or if you’re a baking fanatic looking for new ideas, “Healthy Breads” offers a relatively simple way make good-looking, great tasting breads at home.
And there are some great recipes for rye bread, too!