2009 Book Guide (with 2010 update)
2010 Update: I can only think of one major bread book that came out this year, Tartine Bread. It is definitely a contender for bread lovers who live in the Bay Area. Other than that addition, I think this list is valid for 2010.
This fall we are blessed (or cursed, depending on your budget) with the release of three books about quickly and easily making artisan-style breads at home.
I've read all three and enjoyed each. Inevitably I've been asked which is my favorite and, frankly, I don't think I have a favorite. Even though they are purportedly about the same thing, they are quite different books. There are common techniques used in the three books, but the tone of the authors and the selection of recipes is different enough that they don't seem to overlap as much as one would expect.
So rather than try to pick a favorite or make a recommendation of a single book to give (or get) this holiday season, I thought about my various friends and family members and which book I'd give them.
To my parents I would give Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François's Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day. My father has already borrowed my copy of their previous book, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day and had pretty good success with the master recipe there. I think the healthier recipes in Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day would appeal to them and Jeff and Zoë's enthusiastic and encouraging tone is great for people who want to bake great bread at home but who aren't really foodies.
To my sister who lives in the Sonoma/Napa Wine Country and has easy access to great local breads, cheeses, and wines, I'd give Peter Reinhart's new book Artisan Breads Every Day. Peter's book has a great selection of recipes from his previous books adapted to use a quicker, easier technique that'd be perfect for a young professional who loves to eat well and make good food.
To my foodie friends who got into the no-knead bread technique when it spread around the internet a couple of years ago, I'd give Jim Lahey's My Bread. Jim's "bread-in-a-pot" technique got the no-knead craze started and is covered in more detail in the book, but it also contains a number of soup and sandwich recipes that would appeal to the foodie in your life.
To the aspiring culinary student or professional baker, Dan Dimuzio's Bread Baking: An Artisan's Perspective is a great new textbook about artisan baking. Jeffrey Hamelman's Bread: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes remains a favorite of many of the higher end bakers on this site, so it might be a good candidate too. I've also been told be reliable sources that The San Francisco Baking Institute's founder Michel Suas's Advanced Bread and Pastry is the most comprehensive book on baking in the English language.
To the bread geek who already has a number of bread books, I'd try to find a good bread book they might have overlooked. Dan Lepard's The Art of Handmade Bread (also know as The Handmade Loaf) is a wonderful book that hasn't gotten the attention in North America that it deserves. I'm also a big fan of Daniel Leader's Local Breads.
Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice remains one of the best introductions to artisan baking and was the primary inspiration for this site, so if you like what you find here and don't have a copy, I would certainly recommend you pick a copy up.