The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Current Favorite Bread Books

breadbakingbassplayer's picture

Current Favorite Bread Books

Here's just a quick list of my favorite bread books:

A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes by Jeffrey Hamelman

Bread Baking: An Artisan's Perspective by Daniel T. DiMuzio

The Art of Handmade Bread: Contemporary European Recipes for the Home Baker by Dan Lepard

Good Bread Is Back: A Contemporary History of French Bread, the Way It Is Made, and the People Who Make It by Steven LaurenceKaplan and Catherine Porter

Artisan Baking Across America: The Breads, The Bakers, The Best Recipes by Maggie Glezer and Ben Fink


Thomas Mc's picture
Thomas Mc

Being an experimenter at heart, I am always suspicious of the "common knowledge." For example, many of the people here will tell you that you must preheat your oven, and bake your bread at high temperatures. Yet I've found that not only do you get much better oven spring starting with a cold oven, but bread also bakes and browns just fine at moderate (350F) temperatures - you just have to bake it longer (I can even provide an equation to determine the time/temerature differences), and no, despite what some will no doubt claim, the bread does not dry out. My bread is done when the internal temperature hits 190-195F, the temperature of the oven (rate of energy transfer) only determines how long it will take to achieve that. Since modern ovens are highly insulated, most of the energy usage is in raising the temperature (costs increasing with higher temperature, as the insulation is less effective at higher temperatures), much less energy is used in maintaining temperature, so using lower temperatures results in a considerable energy savings, and the bread produced is no different. I know this because I have actually tried it, whereas many people base their knowledge mainly on what they have heard and read, rather than emperical evidence they have seen for themselves.

To prove my point, consider how much the "common knowledge" changes over time. Thirty years ago, bread dough hydration levels were typically 50-60%. Anything more was considered foolish, you were just making a mess, and obviously didn't know what you were doing. Today 60% is generally considered to be quite low. Using Google Books, I read a number of books on bread baking that were written 80-100 years ago. They provided such "common knowledge" advice as using a much larger percentage of yeast than we do today, in order to "make the bread rise and bake as fast as possible, to avoid it developing that undesirable 'wheaty' taste." Today we talk of using soakers, and retarding fermentation, to draw as much of that taste out of the wheat as possible, and use as little yeast as possible, to prevent it from developing that undesirable "yeasty" taste. Another example would be how they talked about how bakeries would go out of business if their breads developed any sour taste. The customers would stop buying, and they would have to essentially sterilize the building, replaster the walls, etc., in order to eliminate that "awful" sour taste. Sometimes bakeries would have to abandon their digs, because the sour taste would just keep coming back. Contrast that with the much more recent story about the bakery in San Francisco, whose sourdough was so popular that they abandoned their cramped basement location for a modern factory, so they could produce more bread. Unfortunately, the organisims that gave the bread that delightful sour taste did not thrive in the modern digs they way it had in the stuffy old basement, the bread lost its flavor, and the company went out of business.

I have a lot of books on bread making, but very rarely actually make bread using a recipe in one of those books. Every book I have makes "common knowledge" assumptions that I know for a fact to be wrong. I do regularly use techniques and other knowledge I have gleaned from these books, combining that with what I have also learned for myself, experimenting as I do with almost every loaf. The best bread book I can imagine would be all science and technique, and no recipes. It would not present just one method, but a rainbow of methods. It would ask more questions, and make less assumptions that it knew the answers.

breadbakingbassplayer's picture

These days I don't read them for recipes...  I read them for stories, ideas, and inspiration, and to reference things...  They also make for nice bedtime reading...

I usually follow the recipe once to see if it works, then I will deviate from it the next times that I choose to make that style of bread...