Let's Make Bread Review

By | Tuesday, June 11, 2024 Leave a Comment
Let me get this out of the way right off: I am rubbish in the kitchen. I can't cook. I can't bake. Even following directions, I just have a knack of putting things together in a way that isn't good. It's edible, but it's not good. I don't know if I'm no good because I don't enjoy cooking, or if I don't enjoy cooking because I'm no good at it. So why did I even pick up a book called Let's Make Bread?

On its face, the book is a cookbook focused on bread. Straight-forward enough, right? Plenty of bread-themed cookbooks over the decades. A major difference here, though, is the comic book aspect of it. Most cookbooks will list out ingredients and have written directions, maybe a photo of the final product. What that doesn't do is show you what things should looking like during the process of making it though. There are some books that include in-process photos as well. These, I think, are helpful for showing a person how they're doing with their progress. How lumpy is "lumpy"? How sticky is "sticky"? Pictures help to literally illustrate that.


The problem with photos is that they can easily become too complex. All of the various colors and textures and nuances of lighting, particularly after shrinking a photo down to fit several on a page, even a well-composed photo can still be hard to showcase exactly what something should look like. Switching to line drawings can simplify those elements and make distinctions that might be too difficult to parse from a photograph. And when you're relaying instructions, you want/need to break down those images into a series of steps. "Juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information" in the words of Scott McCloud. Comics as instruction manuals is a blindingly obvious connection -- particularly when the artist(s) helping to develop them are training in sequential art -- that I'm genuinely surprised we don't see it more often.

That is why I'm looking at cookbook. I'm familiar with artist Sarah Becan's work (I first reviewed The Complete Ouija Interviews waaaay back in 2010) and I've seen her do comics on individual recipes, but I was interested to see what she does with A) an entire book of them and B) ones that were actually written by someone else.

Writer/baker Ken Forkish approaches the reader with a casual tone, which melds very well with Becan's style. Not just Julia Child's "anyone can do this" attitude that she first popularized back in the 1960s, but Forkish and Becan come across more as friends who stopped by to do something cool and fun with you, and not your slightly eccentric aunt who wants to help you prepare a full meal. The directions all seem clear (as I said at the top, I am rubbish in the kitchen so I didn't try any of these recipes first-hand, but they make sense outside of direct experimentation at least) and Becan's illustrations do a good job of showing what you should be doing and where to focus the reader's attention.

The book is also more conversational in approach than many cookbooks. Forkish and Becan are characters in the book, talking directly to the reader as well as each other. This offers a nice mix of illustration opportunities as it's not just an endless series of pictures of people's hands working with dough or just two talking heads. And again, by using drawings instead of photos, they can do things like not having backgrounds so the reader can exclusively focus on the critical elements without getting distracted with unnecessary information; a much under-appreciated aspect of instructional comics.

All in all, I thought this was a great approach to a cookbook. I'm not personally going to attempt any of the recipes in here, but it was done well and I've long been happy to support Becan's work. (Although I notice that she's also got Let's Make Dumplings! and Let's Make Ramen! books that I did not know about; I'll have to pick those up now too.) Let's Make Bread! came out last month from Ten Speed Press and retails for $22 US. A great example of how cookbooks should be made, and if you even just want to try baking your own bread, it will undoubtedly be a great resource.
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