Associate Editor Sacha Madadian Has a Bread Obsession

This books editor discusses her favorites from our new bread-making tome (and why after five years in the test kitchen she still loves her gig as much as she did on day one).

Published Sept. 12, 2016.

Associate book editor Sacha Madadian has worn many hats during the five years she’s worked at America’s Test Kitchen. Before joining the books team, Sacha worked closely with our Tastings and Testings team, our social media team, and as an editor of Special Interest Publications. I caught up with Sacha recently to talk about our latest publication (and recent IACP award-winner!) Bread Illustrated, a book she logged long hours editing. We talked about the impetus for publishing a bread book, what sets Bread Illustrated apart from other bread books on the market, and and which recipes she didn't mind tasting over and over again. 

What was the impetus behind Bread Illustrated?

In the last few years, we've noted a surge in interest in all things artisanal, and folks are forgetting squishy supermarket loaves and seeking out local bread bakeries for their daily bread. But we've learned from many home cooks that while they're interested in good bread, they're afraid to make it themselves. There's something mysterious about yeast—maybe the knowledge that it’s a living thing—that scares people out of the kitchen. A bread cookbook was bound to be a challenge, but given the test kitchen's exhaustive approach to recipe testing and our commitment to education, we knew we were the right people to put bread into home cooks' ovens.

There's something mysterious about yeast—maybe the knowledge that it’s a living thing—that scares people out of the kitchen.

What do you think sets Bread Illustrated apart from other bread-baking books?

There are some great bread books, but most either assume a wealth of knowledge and so read like advanced placement textbooks or are from artisan bakers who don't quite adapt their techniques for the home kitchen. We wanted to extend information in a way that inspired confidence in home cooks. It's hard to picture how a pale lump of dough can turn into a beautifully browned loaf, so we photographed every step of every recipe and provided troubleshooting information to make the process feel intuitive for folks.

Lahmacun is a meat pie found in Armenian and Turkish cuisines and is unlike any other flatbread we've tasted.

I think it's interesting for readers to get an idea of what a book editor actually does. I know you logged a lot of long nights on this one, and I'm wondering what your day to day was like for this book.

Being a book editor at ATK is a treat, because you get to have your hands on every aspect of your project, from coming up with concepts and working with the book's food editor to nail down a roster of inspiring recipes, to providing information for marketing and sales teams. And every day is a little different. The process for Bread Illustrated and many other books can be broken into two parts: when a book is in the kitchen and when a book is out of the kitchen.

Each book has a team of test cooks who develops the recipes on a chapter-by-chapter timeline. I attended their recipe tastings, ripping apart crusts and crumbs, so we could analyze them over and over to make sure the end product was foolproof and fabulous. And all of those tastings helped me determine what findings were important to include in the book. When a test cook is done with a recipe, he or she writes about it, and I work with the cook to edit and rewrite, while also making the copy fit on the pages that the project's designer has laid out. At this point, I made sure the photography—more than 1000 process shots and styled shots of bread—worked to clearly illustrate the content.

Once the last loaf was fired off, I had the knowledge I needed to conceive what we call a book's "front matter." For Bread Illustrated, that meant writing 40 pages of bread science in a way that would interest readers who are already breadheads as well as educate those who are just getting started in a clear manner.

No book is possible without other super-important players, though! For this book, I had the pleasure of working with curious, hardworking, talented test cooks; a shining star of a food editor, Dan Zuccarello; a talented designer, Jen Kanavos Hoffman, who made the content come to life (and who even had her first baby during the process!); a photo team that baked, styled, and shot all of these magnificent breads (with no complaining); a production team that processed and beautified all these images; and more.

Madadian looks on as executive food editor Dan Zuccarello inspects a loaf of Stollen—a sweet German bread—during recipe development.

Do you have a favorite recipe?

Oh, man. The variety of breads in here is so vast. I love that we achieved a good-for-you whole-wheat quinoa bread that delivers light slices, English muffins filled with nooks and crannies, paper-thin lamb-topped lahmacun like the kind my family bought when I was a kid, a rustic French country loaf, pain de campagne, with a chewy, open, tangy crumb, and the ever-trendy kouign-amann. If I had to choose, though, it would be our towering Italian panettone, the holiday sweet bread, because the recipe development was so interesting. Leah Collins, the test cook who developed it, went through pounds and pounds of butter to determine how the heck something packed with decadent butter and egg yolks could also have a featherweight texture. (The secrets? Use bread flour, knead thoroughly, add butter gradually, and ferment it in the refrigerator overnight.)

A loaf of panettone, which is a tall, luxurious sweet bread filled with candied and dried fruits originating from Milan.

What's the most important takeaway for the home cook looking to make great bread in the comfort of their own kitchen?

Sure, bread baking is a science, but it's also an art and really isn't any more difficult than other kitchen tasks. As long as you have access to flour, water, yeast, salt, an oven, and time, you can make great bread; you just have to go for it. Repetition is a bread baker's friend. It's a lot like dancing. Once you’ve mastered how to make an easy loaf of classic Italian bread, you'll understand the rhythm of bread baking and know what every step is supposed to look like, and it will become second nature. Then, you can experiment with adding flourishes to those basic moves for more complex loaves. It's fun stuff.

Bake Beautiful Bread at Home

Bread Illustrated

Bread Illustrated—our first cookbook devoted solely to bread baking and recent IACP award winner—is a fully illustrated handbook with more than 100 meticulously tested recipes that will enable you to bake artisan bakery–quality bread at home. Each recipe is a hands-on tutorial with a timeline and photos that break down the recipe step by step, because seeing the process from start to finish helps make any recipe more approachable.  
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