Sarah Owens, who won a James Beard Award for her first cookbook, Sourdough, is back to change our understanding of bread with her latest cookbook. In Toast & Jam: Modern Recipes for Rustic Baked Goods and Sweet & Savory Spreads (Roost Books, Aug.), Owens, who is an accomplished gardener as well as a baker, explains how home cooks can get beyond traditional flavors with this humble snack.
Toast & Jam offers a number of recipes for rustic breads, along with bagels, pretzels, and scones. What are some of your favorite breads?
Spiced Carrot Levain is a favorite. I love bringing vegetables into bread for flavor and nutrition. The toasted spices (cumin, coriander, and caraway seeds) add a surprising complexity. That and Black Bread [which resembles pumpernickel] are the ones I probably make the most. The Buckwheat Milk Bread [inspired by Japanese-style milk breads] is very different than the breads most people know me for. It’s lighter, and it fills the kitchen with a nice scent.
Your book is geared to the beginning baker, but you recommend stone-milled flours? Do you have any special tips for working with this ingredient?
The tricky part about sourcing stone-milled flours is that they don’t perform as consistently as other flours. But the digestive value and the flavor are worth it. It does take repetition and seeing the cues. I try to encourage people to choose one recipe you like, and to make it several times. Bake it through the seasons, and take notes. Was it humid outside? What was the temperature? What flour did you use? People don’t understand how much variation can be in flours. One of the most frequent questions I get is, 'Why is this dough too sticky?' If it’s too sticky, knock the hydration back.
The fanciest version of toast these days seems to be the variety topped with avocado. Is there a future for toast with other spreads?
I didn’t really want to highlight avocado. It’s so ubiquitous. [When it comes to] toast and its toppings, I encourage people to think seasonally...and really build out your flavor. It can be as simple as flavored salt with leftover herbs to make a spice mix. You can fry an egg and put some spice mix on it and put it on top. [In the book] there are a lot of traditional jams and jellies that use some nontraditional ingredients.
What are some easy ways to develop flavor in toast toppings?
I’m really trying to get beyond the traditions. I tried to introduce how [home cooks] can ferment their vegetables. Quickles [or quick pickles made from vegetables], fermented grainy mustard, infused honey, and Harissa are super easy. And there are so many different variations. Kimchi is another gateway recipe that lets you use cabbage and think beyond Sauerkraut.