The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Which book to start with??

raqk8's picture

Which book to start with??

Hi all,

I've been baking bread for a few months and am looking to get more experienced. So far I've been using the King Arthur Flour website, TFL, and various other blogs and sites for recipes and such. I bought ABin5 and tried a few recipes from there but didn't feel satisfied with the simplicity (which is nice for everyday stuff, but I like to get my hands in the dough). I feel like I'm just trying things out without starting from the beginning and building a strong knowledge base first. That being said, I do have an okay grasp on the basics and can produce some good bread, so I'm not a super-beginner.

So that brings me to my question - which bread book is the best to begin with? I am deciding between "Bread" by Hamelman or "Bread Baker's Apprentice" right now, but am open to other suggestions. As for these two, is it better to get one before the other? I would like something technical that explains why things happen as well as how, and what you can do to alter results. I want to start at the beginning of the book and bake my way through it.

Thanks so much!



Floydm's picture

Hamelman's book is great and his recipes are awesome but it has a higher learning curve.  The Bread Baker's Apprentice is the most approachable introduction to artisan bread baking and the "why" and "how", I think.

Dhull100's picture

If you have some experience, I vote for Hamelman. His breads are arranged in sections, and the text is really on point. Each section begins with an introduction relevant to the that "family" of breads, followed by recipes. If you go with BBA, I don't necessarily recommend baking through the book in order, as they are arranged alphabetically. Either would be fine, and both are excellent. I agree that BBA is more approachable and has plenty of introductory information to digest. Enjoy whichever you choose. Ultimately you can have both!


Calantha's picture

I would agree with most others - Reinhart's the Bread Baker's Apprentice is a great book to start with.  Informative, but not overwhelming with such a wide variety of breads to bake!

AnnaInMD's picture

or go ebay or amazon and see if you find used ones, so you can buy both :)


thomaschacon75's picture

I like both Hamelman and Reinhart. The only reservation I have with Hamelman is that he uses ounces for the Home (Baker) column. I tend to just use the Metric column and divide by 12. If you don't use a scale, brace for a lot of fractional conversion from 1 3/4 cups, etc.

Also, don't buy Hamelman used. There are a lot of printings and the older ones have a number of errata. He's diligent about maintaing an errata sheet, but it doesn't track the different printings.

The one thing I love about Hamelman is his attention to temperature. Every recipe tells you what temperature at what stage to expect. Reinhart does too, but with less stage specificity.


richkaimd's picture

I own the other books recommended here.  I think that, for a beginner, Hamelman is too complicated and that BBA isn't a good enough basic teacher.  I love them both, mind you, but I've been baking for 30 years.  For a rank beginner who is looking for a book that teaches basics, I now recommend DiMuzio's Breadbaking.  Check it out.  It takes a student through levels of understanding, using increasingly complicated test recipes.  And it's available used.  It's also less expensive than the other two. 

sphealey's picture

=== I own the other books recommended here.  I think that, for a beginner, Hamelman is too complicated and that BBA isn't a good enough basic teacher.  I love them both, mind you, but I've been baking for 30 years. ===

Agreed.  For a true beginner, my recommendation is always Rose Levy Beranbaum's _The Bread Bible_.  Her instructions have the extremely rare combination of well-written, precise, and detailed-but-understandable that they are IMHO perfect for building confidence.  Once th enew baker has that confidence and is ready to read Hamelman he/she will find that RLB's formulas don't always produce the absolutely best tasting bread and that there are other ways to approach things, but then again it is still very good.


thomaschacon75's picture

It's not a beginner text (and several of the recipes are difficult to the point of being unmanageable by even the best bakers), but the beginning of the book has a whole Q&A chapter on "What did I do wrong and how do I fix it next time?" It's a "If you have to learn something, learn it from someone with a magnitude more experience" chapter. He should sell it as a one off. It's beyond useful.


foodslut's picture

.... I noticed this part of your post:

I would like something technical that explains why things happen as well as how, and what you can do to alter results. I want to start at the beginning of the book and bake my way through it.

Based on this, even as a next step after H or R, I have to join richkaimd in recommending DiMuzio's book "Breadmaking":

It's a textbook, but explains clearly without getting too technical or simplistic.  When I retire and have more time, maybe I'll bake my way through the experiments straight through.  There's also a chapter on how to develop your own bread formulas that brings everything together well.

jcking's picture

Get more bang for your buck with "The Bread Bible", Rose levy Beranbaum. Her formulas and techniques are aimed directly at the home baker, which she is. You can learn a great deal from her book. I own those mentioned above and many others yet I feel for a first book you won't go wrong. Get thee to the library and compare.


raqk8's picture

Thanks for the quick responses! I looked online at Amazon and was able to get a preview of some of the books mentioned here. I read a few pages of each and this, in addition to your suggestions, led me to purchase BBA. It should get here Tuesday, so I'll get baking right away! I plan on eventually gathering up a bunch of books, including "Bread" and "The Bread Bible," but as I'm a starving college student just BBA will have to do for now. Thanks again!

Stuart Borken's picture
Stuart Borken

I make ABin5's New York Style Deli Rye regularly and have a waiting list of folks who request it regularly.  It is fantastic.  I add a flavor notes by using 2 tablespoons of dry onion flakes in the recipe and extra carraway.  

HokeyPokey's picture

I bought BBA after reading a lot of review on this site and google, but to be honest I haven't used it that much. Yes, the explanation on ingredients and different processes is interesting, but the recipes don't look particularly exciting to me.

My next book was Nancy Silverton's Breads from the La Brea Bakery, and I am in love with that book, I've tried out many recipes from it and was pleased with every single one of them. One thing that I love about La Brea book is that most of the recipes take around two days, using cold fermentation, meaning that it is very easy to fit around my work life

thomaschacon75's picture

I love this book something fierce. The walnut bread, olive bread, and fig-anise are truly spectacular loaves (even if the fig-anise is sometimes infuritating).

It's not, however, a beginner's book, and many have been critical of her sourdough maintainence advice (mostly because it's overly wasteful). That said, when I build a new white starter, I go to this book first. 

joyfulbaker's picture

Maggie Glezer's Artisan Baking Across America.  The pictures are inspiring, too!

GSnyde's picture

...and I found the formulas and explanations in Bread Bakers' Apprentice to be just detailed enough to help me grasp what I needed to know, without information overload.  

I also learned in just a couple months that the friendly and knowledgeable feedback right here on The Fresh Loaf was at least as important to my baking advancement as the various books I quickly collected.

Good luck and happy baking!


dmsnyder's picture

I think you made a good choice, Raquel.

Bread books can be "good" in different ways: For information about ingredients and process, for good recipes or for entertainment.  

BBA is written in a very approachable style. It does not assume the reader has much prior knowledge of bread baking, yet doesn't talk down to the reader. It has lots of good information and some that is too superficial. Although I own an embarrassing number of bread books at this point, BBA is one of 3 that I use frequently. (FYI, the other two are Hamelman's "Bread" and Suas' "Advanced Bread and Pastry.") When I go to BBA, it's not for information anymore. Hamelman and Suas have more and better technical information. It's for  2 or 3 recipes I really love and make often - especially the 100% WW bread and the Cinnamon-Raisin-Walnut bread, loaves of which are proofing as I write. 

Hamelman's book is less approachable in that it is primarily aimed at the professional baker and much of its information is in the introductions to chapters and in sidebars. You have to know where to look for it. That said, for the somewhat experienced baker, it is a treasure chest of reliable and delicious bread formulas. It's section on rye breads is unique among the popular baking books.

Suas is, as the title suggests, more "advanced." It is an outstanding source of technical information. If you want to know "why" as well as "what," Suas is for you. Besides that, it is quite  comprehensive (pastries, cakes, chocolates, frozen desserts, not just bread), and the recipes are excellent. But you need a good deal of basic knowledge, skills and experience to get the most out of it. 

There are many other good books available, but these are my favorites.


dstroy's picture

While it isn't nearly as comprehensive at Hamelman or Reinhart's books, I think the The Fresh Loaf Pocket Book of Bread Baking would be of interest to some starting bakers.

It's about the price of  fancy loaf of bread - so not a huge investment, but I think it is a really good deal and in the end a pretty substantial read for someone like me who had never actually baked any bread before and who often glazed over at some of the terminology that often gets used on the site by the folks who've had a lifetime of experience baking.

It is meant to be an introductory  ebook which should be a really great place for anyone wanting to get a basic fundamentals starting lesson to bread baking. We've spent a lot of time distilling the information that can be found on this site to a concise little book which should stand on it's own - and it is meant to give folks enough of an understanding to be able to start playing and experimenting on their own, as well as to feel armed with the sort of vocabulary and understanding that will make reading the sorts of interesting discussions that we find here on these forums more informative to the new baker.

The ebook is for Kindle, and can also be viewed on the iPad, iPhone, Android phone, or Mac or Windows desktop machines running the Kindle app. There's a Nook version that should be out within the next couple of days too.


(I promise we won't flog the new book to death here, but we just put it out today and are excited about it!)

kylelindstrom's picture

I too like the Beranbaum "Bible," but let me suggest two others.  "Beard on Bread" is a good, simple but complete explanation of the elements of working with yeast, dough and all the mysteries, with a good series of recipes.


I also think "Baking with Julia" is a splendid book overall and highly recommend that.

Doeyo's picture

Take a look at any of the Bernard Clayton Bread Baking Books.   There is a reason they have stayed in print for over 40 years.   They are GREAT.    Just MHO here.... Doeyo