So, you've seen some sexy artisan bread pics...maybe on Instagram or Pinterest and you realize the loaves were all made by ordinary folks. You think, "Hey, that looks good. I want to make some bread, too." Here's my perspective on how you can get started with the least amount of pain. I'll tell you right now, it's not how I got started, which is why I know exactly what I'm talking about. I flew too close to the sun too fast, and it cost me quite a bit of angst, flour, and sanity. Here's the easier way for those interested in the hearth-style/artisan breads.
1. Make Jim Lahey's bread. Method and recipe found here: https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/11376-no-knead-bread
Start with this recipe because it requires very little knowledge, no buying of cookbooks, zero dough babysitting, and pretty much no specialty equipment (unless you don't have a Dutch oven). As simple as that is, it's still better than 99% of bread you can buy at a store.
Once you've made this bread, one of two things will happen. 1) Your bread-making soul will be fulfilled and you'll be happy to continue making this very easy and decent recipe for the rest of your days. Your friends will coo and bask in your baking glory, and you'll enjoy a life of lovely bread without the indentured servitude that comes with more involved methods. You will live happily ever after. Amen. 2) This will create an itch. You'll start to get curious about bread. Although this bread is tasty, you'll wonder how you can make it more complex, how you can add and alter things. You'll decide this is a hobby you want to dive into a little bit further and invest some time and research.
2. Read Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast by Ken Forkish. (You can get this from some libraries. I got mine at a discount used on Amazon.) I have consumed many bread books, but this is the one I recommend for taking the next step. That's because Forkish is writing for the home baker and he gives you a lot of fundamental information that will help you with your baking without going into too much detail. (You probably aren't interested on reading a treatise about the 20 different styles of commercial dough mixers at this point.) There are many other fine books out there (I didn't start with this one though I wish I had). But this one has the right level of detail and his recipes are charted beautifully. If you don't yet have one, get a digital scale that weighs in grams. You still don't need any specialty bread equipment at this stage.
You might ask yourself, do I need a book at all? I have the vast knowledge of the internet. To that, I would answer a resounding yes. Blogs and community information is great and I use it all the time (I mean, look where I am writing this)! But in the beginning, the authority of a professional baker writing for the home baker is helpful and more efficient/effective than searching the internet for nuggets of information. Can it be done without books? Absolutely. But this book helped me sift through the information and develop a systematic understanding.
3. (optional). If you're getting into this thing, now's the time you may want to invest in some additional equipment, which is all very cost effective. This includes a lame and a banneton. These items are really nice, particularly for beautifying your loaves. Just be sure your banneton size fits your cooking vessel. Neither the lame nor banneton is absolutely necessary. You can use a bowl instead of a banneton (which you've probably been doing up to now) and a sharp knife or razor in lieu of a lame. Or you can continue to go au natural as suggested by both Lahey and Forkish and just let the bread split however it wants.
4. Here is where things get interesting. If you've made it this far and you're interested in more knowledge, consider picking up Hamelman's Bread: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes. He will take you into even further detail about the bread baking process and offer lots of recipes for classic breads, like brioche. He also gives you some really great information on how to work with other flours like rye. If you're willing to read this one, you've graduated from hobbyist to enthusiast. Congratulations! Another book that you might consider because it goes more broadly than artisan breads and because it offers you some good information about transforming recipes and making them modular is Barenbaum's Bread Bible. I have that one, but I have to admit, I've yet to use it. I do enjoy that she helps you categorize the different types of bread, which my analytical nature really enjoys. However, I've yet to put information from that book into practice.
There are many other great texts that get mentioned on this site a lot. I'd be very interested to hear what other books folks have found useful. Reinhart's Artisan Bread Every Day gets frequent mention, but I haven't read it so cannot comment.
Please add your knowledge to this list. Thanks!
P.S. I started with Tartine. This was very aggravating for me. It wasn't until I read FWSY that I was able to make a gorgeous Tartine loaf. The principles explained in that book helped me to troubleshoot and understand where I was going wrong. Tartine does also have some fundamental information, but it wasn't quite enough to get me over the hump. Tartine loaves are lovely, so not a knock on the book, just my ability to use it as a newbie.
Subjects: Best artisan bread books. Which bread books to buy. How to start making bread.