Bernard Clayton Jr., 1916-2011: An Appreciation

Bread-baking doyen Bernard Clayton Jr. died! At 94, and on my birthday last month, as it happens, according to his New York Times obituary.

Clayton’s 1978 way-ahead-of-its-time “The Breads of France,” especially, was influential and important for me, but also the essential tome, “New Complete Book of Breads,” in print since its 1973 publication, and rightfully so. A lot has changed in the world of bread since I got my 1987 revised reissued edition—formerly odd or esoteric bread-baking ingredients and supplies are now easy to obtain, and artisan bakeries put decent bread (at a price) within reach of anyone who’d rather not go the homemade route. But Clayton’s books are not just a nostalgia trip. They remain useful tools, thanks to his incredibly detailed research and writing.

It’s kind of funny that what makes them seem most relevant today is that they are not solely concerned with crusty, hearth-baked, rustic loaves like most new bread books. Oh, there are rustic breads represented, but it’s more all types of bread—sandwich, sweet, his mother’s soft  rolls. The variety is inspiring. For instance, on my counter I have sunflower seeds left over from my last granola batch (yes, Eric Ripert’s Honey Granola, subject of a December ToOC post, remains a staple in my house—and will be in yours, too, once you make it). Just this morning, before reading of Clayton’s death, I was contemplating using them in the utterly fabulous whole-wheat-honey-buttermilk-sunflower seed Max’s Loaf I’ve made so many times from NCBoB. Now I will for certain, in homage.

The Pain Italien recipe (which Clayton actually got in Monaco), which appears in both “The Breads of France” and “New Complete,” was for years my go-to regular bread on the days I didn’t have ready Madeleine Kamman’s three-day starter. A fantastic, delicious, versatile bread, makes a big loaf, very brown on the outside, with a heavenly white interior. Guess I’d better make that too.


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