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Tassajara Wisdom; Perfect Loaf Mastery

Maurizio Leo’s new bread book, The Perfect Loaf, is a masterclass in bread-making. Comprehensive, lavishly illustrated, full of inspiring recipes and clearly explained descriptions of the science of bread dough.

Maurizio’s a former software engineer turned sourdough bread baker based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He’s likeable, knowledgeable, and passionate about bread. He’s authored a bread blog, also called The Perfect Loaf, for years. His posts are clear, and he gives his readers clear roadmaps to bread making and lays out all the tools they need to bake a great loaf, if not a perfect one.

Maurizio brings his coniderable experience forward in this book and then some.

I’m so impressed with Maurizio’s achievement — 400+ pages of recipes, techniques, photos, links to videos (via QR codes), glossaries, and troubleshooting guides. It’s hard to imagine the need for another bread book in this world!

The book has been written

Lay down your pens, aspiring bread authors! Another one would be superfluous! The book has been written.

You’ll be riveted by this book. There’s something for everyone here! Comprehensive baking plans, how to succeed with whole grain breads, how to tinker with recipes, and high hydration dough tips.

It’s authoritative, well-researched, and backed by a strong foundation in sourdough bread science.

But for all its earnest striving to be the definitive book for serious home bakers, The Tassajara Bread Book is the one I think more about. When it first appeared in the 1970s , it was a far cry from the beautifully executed layout and design of The Perfect Loaf.

Maybe it was my pedigree at the time. I was 21, an editor for the student newspaper when I picked up the Tassajara Bread Book. I was counter-culturte, a dreamer and a romantic. The book was right up my alley.

Maurizio wasn’t even born.

Tassajara’s hippy ethos

The Tassajara Bread Book exuded a hippy ethos or, more accurately, a Buddhist ethos. It was loose with the measurement of ingredients, intuitive, and stressed the “feel” of the dough as you kneaded it, its smell. It offered the notion that there was more than just throwing ingredients together. The approach was mindfulness. You were living in the now, connected to the dough, the table, the kitchen, and the birds singing outside. Connected with yourself.

The book resembled a cheaply printed literary magazine — the cover made of coarse gold-coloured paper. It looked homemade, set in calligraphic type, circling a hand-drawn table scene — a loaf of bread and sunflowers. The text was printed in brown ink.

When it first appeared, there wasn’t much written about bread baking. You might have found a few recipes for “brown bread” or “white bread,” along with cursory descriptions of dough kneading or the differences between active yeast or fast-rising. Betty Crocker or The Joy of Cooking were authorities on everything. Bread was a mere footnote.

A loaf of bread and sunflowers

A young Happy Monk in the thrall of the Tassajara Bread Book

Despite its hand-made appearance, The Tassajara Bread Book was a landmark. It espoused the sponge method of creating a separate yeasted mass. Part of it was used for the recipe at hand, the other to fuel later bread projects.

Sponge was a basic dough, both yeasted and sourdough. It was the basis for multiple variations, including sweet products like cookies, muffins, and pancakes. Once the sponge was established, part of it was mixed with different grains, nuts and seeds, fruit, spices and dried fruit. When the system was mastered, the Tassajara-trained baker faced a seemingly endless array of possibilities.

The book was written by a Zen student who had worked for years in the kitchen of the Tassajara retreat centre, just east of the San Francisco Bay Area. Edward Espe Brown wanted to repay the institution for all it had done for him. His idea was to write a book about his kitchen, particularly the bread he made there.

He thought the book might bring money to the centre if it sold a few copies. Its publisher, Shambala Publications, paid a $100 advance and the book’s initial run was 3,000 copies. An estimated 800,000 copies are in print today. It’s a classic however you define it.

“Vastly all are patient with me …”

The Tassajara Bread Book had heart and soul, life and breath. It exuded humanity. Not many of the recipes worked for me; some were abject failures. But it was poetic and quaint and captured the spirit of bread, baking and the zen kitchen.

Here is the dedication, the first words after the front matter:

DEDICATED
with respect and appreciation
to all my teachers
past, present and future:
gods, men and demons;
beings animate and inanimate
living and dead, alive and dying

Rock and Water
Wind and Tree
Bread Dough Rising

Vastly all
Are patient with me

In many ways, The Tassajara Bread Book is the antithesis of The Perfect Loaf.

Maurizio’s book describes the kitchen tools and ingredients you’ll need to make a beautiful loaf of bread: an instant-read thermometer, kitchen scales, glass storage jars, bowl covers, combo cookers, and parchment paper.

Edward Espe Brown’s equivalent chapter is “A Composite of Kitchen Necessities.” It reads like a Zen koan (A koan is a paradoxical anecdote or riddle used in Zen Buddhism to demonstrate the inadequacy of logical reasoning and to provoke enlightenment.)

There are no mistakes

If you must cook,
please offer yourself
a substantial piece of emptiness.
Hold back nothing, 
until you experience offering,
“Eat me! And be nourished.”
Homage to the Perfection of Wisdom …

 … This means
there are no mistakes. You might do it
differently next time, but that’s because
you did it this way this time.

Here’s the truth, though: I never succeeded at the bread recipes I tried from The Tassajara Bread Book. After a few tries, I moved on to the scones and cookies in the book. Then I put it away. For a long time.

I was disappointed. I never fully grasped Brown’s imprecation that “there are no mistakes.” Despite the poetry and Zen aesthetic appeal, I still wanted a bread method that guaranteed success. The loaves tasted fine, but I wanted them lofty with beautiful colour, crusty crust and tender crumb. Ease and success, I wanted.

Handmade

I can tell you that your chances of success with Maurizio’s The Perfect Loaf are much more significant! But as I paged through this opus, I began to remember the Tassajara’s hand-made look and feel.

“Where’s the poetry?” I thought.

Thinking of it put me inside a 1970s kitchen with chipped bowls, wooden spoons, measuring cups and flour all over the floor. Tassajara captured the magic of working with dough, the miracle of transforming from a gloopy mass into something alive and responsive.

That old magic 1 that still gives me a thrill when I mix and shape dough, pull glorious loaves from the oven, loaves birthed in the intoxicating aroma and mystery.

A good companion

Despite all the roadblocks along the way, I found my way back to bread after moving here to Pender. And somehow, the loaves worked for me. 

Stick with The Perfect Loaf if you’re just heading out on a bread journey. There’s poetry to be found, though it’s hiding in some of the pictures and a few select written passages. It’s just out of reach, and you’ll have to work a little to find it. It will be a good companion.

As you work your way through the recipes, let Edward Espe Brown’s words be your guide:

“There are no mistakes …” “Vastly all are patient with me.”


Happy Monk Tidings - December 14, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Fruit Sourdough Pan Loaf; Happy Monk Blog: The Year in Bread ... and Gratitude! [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - December 14, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Fruit Sourdough Pan Loaf; Happy Monk Blog: The Year in Bread ... and Gratitude! [ See LinkTree in Profile ] ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - December 7, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choices: Fig and Fennel and Rye-Currants; BLOG: The Noble French Baguette; Last Bake next week! [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - December 7, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choices: Fig and Fennel and Rye-Currants; BLOG: The Noble French Baguette; Last Bake next week! [ See LinkTree in Profile ] ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - November 30, 2022 🍞 - Bakers Choice: Cranberry-Pecan Sourdough; BLOG: Tassajara Wisdom/Perfect Loaf Mastery; REMINDER: Happy Monk holidays fast approaching! [ See LinkTree in Profile ]
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#theperfectloaf #perfectloaf #perfectloaf #maurizioleo #tassajarabreadbook #tassajarabread #tassajaracookbook

Happy Monk Tidings - November 30, 2022 🍞 - Bakers Choice: Cranberry-Pecan Sourdough; BLOG: Tassajara Wisdom/Perfect Loaf Mastery; REMINDER: Happy Monk holidays fast approaching! [ See LinkTree in Profile ]
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#theperfectloaf #perfectloaf #perfectloaf #maurizioleo #tassajarabreadbook #tassajarabread #tassajaracookbook
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Happy Monk Tidings - November 16, 2022 🍞 - BAKER'S CHOICE: Spelt & Toasted Buckwheat Sourdough; BLOG: Mysticism and Bob Dylan; Extra: Happy Monk Search [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - November 16, 2022 🍞 - BAKER'S CHOICE: Spelt & Toasted Buckwheat Sourdough; BLOG: Mysticism and Bob Dylan; Extra: Happy Monk Search [ See LinkTree in Profile ] ...

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Just rockin’ the Olive Sourdough at 4:30 a.m. in the morning. Into Mildrith’s fire they go!
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#woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredovenbread #bread #realbread #naturallyleavened #baker #bakery #bakerslife #bbga #artisanbread #breadhead #breadmaking #breadmaking🍞 #sourdough #sourdoughbread #coboven #earthoven #earthenoven #olives #olivebread #olivesourdoughbread #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries #penderisland

Just rockin’ the Olive Sourdough at 4:30 a.m. in the morning. Into Mildrith’s fire they go!
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#woodfired #woodfiredoven #woodfiredovenbread #bread #realbread #naturallyleavened #baker #bakery #bakerslife #bbga #artisanbread #breadhead #breadmaking #breadmaking🍞 #sourdough #sourdoughbread #coboven #earthoven #earthenoven #olives #olivebread #olivesourdoughbread #penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery #happymonkbakingcompany #southerngulfislands #southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries #penderisland
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Happy Monk Tidings - November 2, 2022 🍞 - BAKER'S CHOICE: Cinnamon-Raisin Bread; BLOG: A Vancouver Neighbourhood; BOOK OF THE WEEK: The Philosophy of Modern Song by Bob Dylan [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - November 2, 2022 🍞 - BAKER'S CHOICE: Cinnamon-Raisin Bread; BLOG: A Vancouver Neighbourhood; BOOK OF THE WEEK: The Philosophy of Modern Song by Bob Dylan [ See LinkTree in Profile ] ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - October 26, 2022 🍞 - BAKER'S CHOICE: Apple Rye Bread; REPRISE BLOG: Out here the mind would empty. [ See Linktree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - October 26, 2022 🍞 - BAKER'S CHOICE: Apple Rye Bread; REPRISE BLOG: Out here the mind would empty. [ See Linktree in Profile ] ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - October 19, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Sprouted Kamut Bread - ORDER TODAY; Blog Reprise: Here's to the Homely Loaf!; EXTRA: Trapped in Bread! [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - October 19, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Sprouted Kamut Bread - ORDER TODAY; Blog Reprise: Here's to the Homely Loaf!; EXTRA: Trapped in Bread! [ See LinkTree in Profile ] ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - October 12, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: The Approachable Loaf; BLOG: The Gingham Tablecloth at Nick's Spaghetti House; NOTE: An Ordering Hack [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - October 12, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: The Approachable Loaf; BLOG: The Gingham Tablecloth at Nick's Spaghetti House; NOTE: An Ordering Hack [ See LinkTree in Profile ] ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - October 5, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Pender Island Apple Bread; Update: False COVID scare - back in business; VIDEOS: Pizza is Art; Or it isn't! [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - October 5, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Pender Island Apple Bread; Update: False COVID scare - back in business; VIDEOS: Pizza is Art; Or it isn't! [ See LinkTree in Profile ] ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - September 28, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: The Approachable Loaf; Blog: This Island of Apples; South Pender Growers and Makers Market [ See LinkTree in Profile ]
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#apples #applebread #applelove #approachable #approachableloaf #breadlabcollective #breadlab

Happy Monk Tidings - September 28, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: The Approachable Loaf; Blog: This Island of Apples; South Pender Growers and Makers Market [ See LinkTree in Profile ]
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#apples #applebread #applelove #approachable #approachableloaf #breadlabcollective #breadlab
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Happy Monk Tidings - September 21, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Harvest Bread; BLOG: Greetings from St. Francis and Mildrith; The Wood-Fired Oven's Back in Business [ See LinkTree in Profile]

Happy Monk Tidings - September 21, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Harvest Bread; BLOG: Greetings from St. Francis and Mildrith; The Wood-Fired Oven's Back in Business [ See LinkTree in Profile] ...

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Introducing this bread, Raven Ring Bread (a take on Hapanleipä, a Finnish bread) a recipe borrowed from @ravenbreads. The stand is made by my neighbour, Ken, a gifted woodworker. See you at the South Pender Growers and Makers Market, if it don’t rain too hard!

Introducing this bread, Raven Ring Bread (a take on Hapanleipä, a Finnish bread) a recipe borrowed from @ravenbreads. The stand is made by my neighbour, Ken, a gifted woodworker. See you at the South Pender Growers and Makers Market, if it don’t rain too hard! ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - September 2, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice : Volkornbrot (German Rye); Blog: The Golden Loaf of Gorsefield Rye; NOTE: We're closing two weeks for Mildrith Maintenance [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - September 2, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice : Volkornbrot (German Rye); Blog: The Golden Loaf of Gorsefield Rye; NOTE: We're closing two weeks for Mildrith Maintenance [ See LinkTree in Profile ] ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - August 24, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice this week: Spelt and Honey Sourdough; Blog: The Great Kind Mystery; SPECIAL NOTE: Mildrith needs an upgrade [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

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It was a dirty day, Wednesday. The sky hadn't been washed, the ocean was soiled, and the air was muggy and smelled oily. Then, moments before the rain started, the sun shone through and a glorious slash of colour opened up. And a rainbow! No unicorns, sadly.

It was a dirty day, Wednesday. The sky hadn't been washed, the ocean was soiled, and the air was muggy and smelled oily. Then, moments before the rain started, the sun shone through and a glorious slash of colour opened up. And a rainbow! No unicorns, sadly. ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - August 3, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Anadama Bread; BLOG: Dog Days of Summer; Special Note: No Bread August 19 [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - August 3, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Anadama Bread; BLOG: Dog Days of Summer; Special Note: No Bread August 19 [ See LinkTree in Profile ] ...

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Dog days. The beginning of summer mellowness. Baked in languor. But sometimes it's hard to let go. Shouldn't I be baking something? [See LinkTree in Profile ]
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#penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery
#happymonkbakingcompany #dogdays #dogdaysofsummer #southerngulfislands
#southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries #southerngulfislandsbc

Dog days. The beginning of summer mellowness. Baked in languor. But sometimes it's hard to let go. Shouldn't I be baking something? [See LinkTree in Profile ]
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#penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery
#happymonkbakingcompany #dogdays #dogdaysofsummer #southerngulfislands
#southerngulfislandsbakers #southerngulfislandsbakeries #southerngulfislandsbc
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Happy Monk Tidings - July 27, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Whole Grain White Wheat; Blog: Call Me Ishmael; Video: How the U.S. Ruined Bread; Announcements [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - July 27, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Whole Grain White Wheat; Blog: Call Me Ishmael; Video: How the U.S. Ruined Bread; Announcements [ See LinkTree in Profile ] ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - July 20, 2022 🍞 - BAKER'S CHOICE: Rye and Currants; BLOG: Blessed; EXTRA: World's Oldest Sourdough? [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - July 20, 2022 🍞 - BAKER'S CHOICE: Rye and Currants; BLOG: Blessed; EXTRA: World's Oldest Sourdough? [ See LinkTree in Profile ] ...

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Happy Monk Tidings - July 13, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Bird Seed Bread; Blog: Down to the Crossroads, Medicine Beach; Baking your own bread guides - [ See LinkTree in Profile ]

Happy Monk Tidings - July 13, 2022 🍞 - Baker's Choice: Bird Seed Bread; Blog: Down to the Crossroads, Medicine Beach; Baking your own bread guides - [ See LinkTree in Profile ] ...

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This is James Morton, my father, who would have been 100 years old today if we hadn't lost him 36 years ago. I've surpassed him in living age and spent more years without him than with him, yet he still whispers in my ear and is a great listener when I talk to him. Taken at 14th Ave. and Burgess St., Burnaby, 'round about 1955. Handsome devil, ain't he?

This is James Morton, my father, who would have been 100 years old today if we hadn't lost him 36 years ago. I've surpassed him in living age and spent more years without him than with him, yet he still whispers in my ear and is a great listener when I talk to him. Taken at 14th Ave. and Burgess St., Burnaby, 'round about 1955. Handsome devil, ain't he? ...

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  1. “That old black magic has me in its spell,
    That old black magic that you weave so well,
    Icy fingers up and down my spine,
    The same old witchcraft when your eyes meet mine …”
    — Written by Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer, sung famously by Frank Sinatra, 1961. Take a listen here.

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