The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads

Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads

I recently found a copy of Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads at the local library. I've only baked three or four of the recipes in it, but I definitely like this book.

Most interesting is how much this book reminds me of Beth Hensperger's Bread Bible: it is a collection of 300 hundred or so recipes; it's much more a recipe book than a technique book and doesn't really get into bread chemistry; the recipes run from quick breads to yeasted breads to crackers and biscuits. But, unlike Hensperger's book, this book doesn't annoy me, which puzzles me.

Looking back at my review of Hensperger's book, I see that some of the issues I had with her book are clearly absent in Clayton's book. For one, the typography and page layout is simple and clean. This book won't win any awards for beautiful design and, like Hensberger's book, it lacks photos, but the recipes are well laid out and easy to read.

I also find Clayton to be much more willing to suggest substitutions than Hensberger is. As I mentioned in her review, the vibe I get from her is one of disappointment every time the reader dares to sully her recipe by substituting an inferior ingredient. Clayton makes numerous substitution suggestions and goes out of his way to make it easy for the reader to find all the ingredients he or she will need to bake one of his recipes. I appreciate that.

Overall, I also have to say that the recipes in this book are more appealing to me. My impression is that many of the recipes in this book begin with anecdotes along the lines of "I met these two little old ladies who told me about this bread they had been baking for 30 years." Most of these recipes feel and taste like they are time-tested, daily breads. I, personally, am much more interested in the types of breads that people can eat day in and day out than I am interested in breads created by professional bakers or cookbook writers to push the limits of genre. It's like the Lord's Prayer says: "Give us this day our daily bread," not "Give us this day a pumpkin brioche that'll really knock the socks off our brunch guests."

I'd be remiss if I failed to mention one other possible issue I have with Hensberger: gender. Hang on! Before you throw your rolling pins at me (male and female readers alike... we are all bakers here, right?), please hear me out.

My wife and I have often joked about how interesting it is that the artisan bread movement seems to be largely a "guy thing." There are only so many types of cooking that it is cool for guys to be into: barbecuing is one, chili is another, and artisan bread seems to be another. Brewing beer too: I don't think they even let you do that professionally unless you have a great deal of facial hair.

Much of the language used to describe artisan breads reeks of masculinity: these are robust, hearty breads. They crackle and crumble, and require heavy punchings down, beatings, or work outs. The descriptions are blunt and heavy, the books pervaded by earth tones (as is this website), and the recipes are not not cloaked in frippery like much other food writing, Heck, some of the language you encounter reading about "capturing wild yeasts" make baking sourdough bread sound more like a rodeo than a day in the kitchen.

Now I'm not saying gender should matter in a cookbook. But I do think that encountering a recipe that is described as "the breadmaker's 'little black dress'" ends up distancing male readers like me from the author. Yes, I understand the metaphor, but it fails to make the intended connection with me.

This tangent has gotten me far off the original topic: Clayton's book. In general, I am very fond of it: there are a lot of interesting, simple recipes in it and the book is easy to read. It occasionally shows its age (first published in 1973), but it is easy enough for today's reader to figure out on his or her own when 30 seconds in the microwave can be substituted for 5 minutes heating in a small saucepan. And it really doesn't teach you about how to experiment and create your own recipes, instead providing the reader with a wide variety of time-tested formulas. But, overall, it is a solid book, and one that is more up my alley than Hensberger's book is.

What do other folks think? Have others been annoyed by gender specific language in cookbooks? Would you agree with my assessment that, by and large, the artisan bread movement is a guy thing? Or am I just being too hard on Hensberger because I find the fonts in her book annoying?


dstroy's picture

For the record, as his wife, I can definitely attest to the fact that Floyd is a font snob. :lol: You should have heard him turn his nose up at the packaging on a box of vitamins that I purchased this week:
"Oh for crying out loud! Couldn't they hire a decent graphic designer and use something other than Comic Sans MS for the box if they really wanted to be taken seriously?"

tori's picture

first of all, there's nothing wrong with being a font snob. working in the legal biz, i have eschewed the insisted-upon times roman for verdana for years now. i figure, the amount of time we have to spend reading in this field, i certainly don't need a footed font.

moving right along ... i first got this book from the library, and had to buy it after that. no, it isn't fancy, it has no pics, it isn't going to teach you all you ever needed to know about technique. it is a solid little book for those getting started, though. i gave a copy to my gf's mother for xmas, together with some good yeast and baguette pans. bread has always scared her, and i knew that this book would make it accessible.

i don't think i would like a recipe referred to as a "little black dress" either. now, i love a good little black dress, but in the kitchen? i am more likely to use bread-making metaphors as life lessons than to apply cutesy life stuff to bread. and i'm a girl, so go figure.

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi, could you sumbit a sample recipes from the book?


Floydm's picture

I've posted three in the past couple of weeks:

Pain Rapide au Chocolat

Maple Oatmeal Bread

Dill Casserole Bread

They have all turned out quite good.

rainbowbrown's picture

*In reply to the very first comment way up there ^:

Oh, that's too cool. Have you guys ever seen the documentary on Helvetica? It's great. I'm sure a font snob would find it quite entertaining.

holds99's picture

I was scrolling through some of the older postings (2005) on TFL and found your well written, interesting post on Bernard Clayton's NEW COMPLETE BOOK OF BREADS.  I too like Clayton's book very much.  I have used it for years.  In fact it was one of the first books I purchased when I became seriously interested in bread baking.  My only criticism of the book, and it isn't a serious criticism by any means, is that Clayton sometimes offers 3 methods of mixing/kneading (hand, food processor, mixer) and this adds a "hard to follow sometimes" factor during the baking process... until you've become familiar with the recipe and the mixing/kneading method (to eliminate the confusion factor I have edited my favorites and put them into MasterCook, an applications software cookbook, which I use to collect recipes).  BUT, having said that, I really like the book very much (it's an old friend just like my 1968 version of Mastering the Art of French Cooking Vol. I).  Clayton's book contains some of my all time favorite recipes that I have continued to bake through the years; Pain de Compagne Honfleur (pg. 246),  Pain de Compagne Madame Doz (pg. 249) Sourdough Loaf (pg. 286) and Loyalist Bread (pg. 498) are among a some of the recipes I have found to be just plain terrrific.  As you said, the stories he tells about how he found some of the recipes are priceless, i.e. "I towered over Madame Doz in height only, at ninety-nine years of age, she stood head and shoulders above me in knowledge of baking..." 

Anyway, I rate each recipe that I bake (regardless of author or cookbook) with asterisks (*= lowest rating and ****= highest rating). All 4 of these recipes I rated ****.

Sorry it took so long for me to get around to reading it but a belated thanks for posting such a well written review and also for confirming some of my thoughts and feelings about Clayton's terrific book.  It isn't one of the "hot" books these days.  As you pointed out, it isn't a "slick" book containing glossy photos, drawings, etc. but well written and fairly easy to follow.  It's results that count, not glossy photos, although they're nice too.  Clayton's recipes are, for the most part, rock solid in terms of providing formulas where the baker ends up with an excellent loaf of bread.


AnnieT's picture

Howard, oh, the frustration! I have an ancient copy of The Complete Book of Breads from 1973 which I inherited when a friend's mother died. I was thrilled to receive it because it has lots of notes and comments from a dear English lady. BUT, it doesn't appear to have the recipes you mention! So I may have to keep this old battered copy as a memento and buy the new one now that you have praised those recipes so highly. I do have a recipe for Madam Doz' Peasant Bread which I think came from Amy's Bread, probably the same one? A.

holds99's picture


It could be the same (Madame Doz) recipe.  I can't say for sure because I am not familiar with Amy's Bread book.  I checked the copyright dates in my Clayton book and it lists 2 dates 1973 AND 1987.  Mine is the later edition.  Yours is the earlier edition, which may account for the difference in recipes.  The Title of mine is: Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads - Revised and Expanded.   I presume you're in the U.K. so I don't know about the availability of the later version there.  Like I said, I really love the book.  Hope you can find a copy.  Best of luck in your quest.


AnnieT's picture

Nope, haven't lived in Jolly Olde since 1967, apart from a year taking care of a sister-in-law. I now live on Whidbey Island in Washington and I'm sure I will be able to find a copy of the new and expanded edition. I saw a copy of Beard on Bread in a local thrift store last week, the only bread book I have ever found in any of them - $1.50! Of course I had bought mine new some time ago. I was reading it last night and wondered what he would make of all the new ingredients and methods. A.

holds99's picture

I think James Beard would have a hard time understanding the whole thing.  I know he was friends with Julia Child, Simone Beck and a bunch of other food affecinados but I never understood his claim to fame.  I thought Julia Child brought America out of the stone age of culinary skills and into the light, so to speak.  As far as I was concerned she was a messiah and pretty much walked on water but Beard was always a puzzle to me.  He was pretty simplistic in his baking, as I recall.  i have Beard on Bread and Beard on Pasta but never really got into either book very deeply.  I did bake his Cuban bread once and it came out pretty good.  Didn't realize that you were in Washington.  I used to go out there a lot to Seattle on business.  Lovely area, expicially the coast and the Hoh rain forest.


Rosalie's picture

I believe there are other books with a similar problem - giving you several methods but leaving you confused about how to follow it.

For example, I just opened the book to page 441, Pesto Bread.  The paragraph titles in the left margin read like this:
Baking Pans
By Hand or Mixer 6 mins.
Kneading 8 mins.
By Processor 5 mins.
Kneading 50 secs.
First Rising 40 mins.
Shaping 15 mins.

If you're working by hand or mixer, you have to figure out that you do the first kneading and then skip the next two steps.

But it's great as a collection of recipes to play with.


holds99's picture

It is very confusing wnen Clayton and other authors give the recipe three (or more) different ways; by hand, with mixer, using food processor, etc.  each step of the way.  Incidentally, Rose Levy does this sometimes.  It's confusing and frustrating.  The recipes from Clayton's book (along with others), that I really like, I have recopied using M.S. Word and saved to a file folder for future reference.  I would prefer the baking books all be written using the hand method only or the mixer method only---not both or all three (food processor).  Experienced bakers are mostly the ones who will be using a book like Clayton's and they know how to use a mixer instead of kneading by hand or vice versa. 

Howard - St. Augustine, FL

Rosalie's picture

That's right, Howard.  They could just tell how to do it by hand and have a section up front explaining how to convert to these other methods, maybe giving one recipe each of the different ways.  Do we really need our hands held every step of the way on every recipe?


holds99's picture


I like your "...section up front..." idea very much.  Maybe the 3 different methods in each recipe was the "brainchild" of some of the "suits" in the executive suite at Clayton's publisher, Simon and Schuster.  Those guys probably don't know crust from crumb much less "method madness".  Anyway, it has all the markings of the work of an editing committee/department.  As Captain Louis Renault said, in Casablanca: "Round up the usual suspects".  :-)

Howard - St. Augustine, FL

Willy's picture

I agree  that the three methods can be a tad confusing and you have to pay attention to which ever method you are using but I disagree that it is only experienced bakers that will be using this book. I have owned it for years and have made many of the fine breads from it, but still do not in any way feel that I am an experienced baker. I still screw up like a rookie, occasionally.

In fact just last year I was making a bread on one page and as I turned to add an ingredient, the page flipped and I missed it and happily added the new ingredients until I realized I was in a mess. But I thought, what the !!!, lets see what we get. It became known as Dad's Wonder Bread, as in " I wonder what's in it".

I read that someone was pleased about the size of the book and it being priced at the under 300 page rate. I believe this is due to the fact that there are no colour pictures, a very expensive printing procedure. As much as it's nice to see what the finished item is supposed to look like, it's nice to see a book of this calibre available at an affordable rate.

 All in all a very great recipe book from a very knowledgable baker. A must for every kitchen library. It deserves it's place next to The Joy of Cooking. 

Polycolleen's picture

I live near Bloomington, Indiana where Bernard Clayton lives. He is something of a local celebrity and I am very proud of my copy of the revised book which is signed by the author. Occasionally he gives a talk or class and someday I would love to meet him. I like trying out a recipe that has a HISTORY and it is fun to try something "new" that is actually quite old... I enjoy the little intros he gives each recipe. 


Also, I have highlighted in this book using a specific color for the steps I will follow for one method... For example, I will color yellow all the steps for the mixer, or pink for the hand method... This has helped me follow along. 

berryblondeboys's picture

I was just at a used bookstore yesterday and I perused the cookbook section. There was not section for breads which I fould odd as they had about 20 feet long, 6' tall bookcases FILLED with cooking books. They had grilling and machine cooking (and no bread machine books there), but nothing on books.

However, when I was looking through the general section, I saw this huge, thick hardcover book and took a peek. it's the Revised version of Bernard Clayton's bread book. I usually hate buying books unresearched, but I figured for 2 bucks, how could I go wrong with a hardcover with a gazillion recipes? I would love pictures, but that just wasn't as common as it is now (I'm such a visual person), but I think this one will be fun to thumb through and I'm really happy to see it's one that gets thumbs up from folks here...

I also think it's funny that the original post commented on the gender of the writer as I had JUST started a thread last week about baking bread and men's interest in it. The comment on the little black dress cracked me up. I can defintely relate to robust and hearty much better... kinda describes me actually! LOL



                                     Sweet Melissa's
Custom cakes made from scratch using organic ingredients

rossb's picture

I bought Clayton's book to learn breadmaking after getting hooked by teh no-knead idea. Clayton presents so many breadmaking techniques, it's a wonderful learning experience! Unfortunately his tastes run predominantly to smooth, sandwich type breads, while mine are more for hearty grain breads. Still, I've made about 6 different loaves and I learn a great deal with each recipe. I do get tired of eating my less than perfect results, though! Apprentice baker's curse, I guess.

In this modern age, some photos would really have helped illustrate his techniques and results.

The intermixing of hand, mixer and food processor directions is a constant source of confusion. I hate it! Someone should have straightened this out prior to publication.

Kate_in_DC's picture

I bought this book in 1987, the year it was republished.  I was in Bloomington Indiana (he lives there) and was a undergrad on campus.  For some reason, I took it into my head to learn how to bake bread.  Keep in mind, I lived in a bedsit with a shared kitchen down the hall .... and I didn't know how to boil and egg ... but I was baking bread every week.  crazy days.  

The book was a great start to bread for me - I start all of my friends on his 'First Loaf" recipe because it really is a great, satisfying first loaf. Bread baking has been a way of life every since.