"Crust & Crumb" by Peter Reinhart
“Crust & Crumb”, Master Formulas for Serious Bread Bakers by Peter Reinhart “Crust & Crumb” is published by Ten Speed Press, (P.O. Box 7123, Berkeley/CA 94707; http://www.tenspeed.com). 1998. ISBN 1-58008-003-0, 210 pages, hardcover, $29.95 plus shipping.
No sooner did I buy this book from amazon.com (for, I should add, a few dollars less than the list price) when the publisher came out with the 2006 edition. I am nevertheless reviewing the one I have as I am assuming that there are still valid points in such an effort compared to the latest edition. Checking out the “look inside” preview on amazon, not much seems to have REALLY changed, just the photograph on the cover is a little darker and more close-up than the prior edition; the content seems to be roughly untouched.
“Crust & Crumb” is the book I started bread baking with, that is, started it in earnest. I had been looking for a book that would give me the fundamentals of good bread baking, along with a few doable recipes. I did not even look for “world-class”. This one does both, albeit with some caveats.
But first things first.
Over the course of nine chapters, Peter Reinhart lays out the fundamentals of bread baking. He starts out with what he believes the characteristics of a good bread are, then moves on to discuss types of bread and their appearances and tastes. While I, having grown up in one of the world’s foremost bread countries in the heart of Europe, bordering other countries with great bread – Germany – was familiar with all of them, I know from my experience talking to others here in the Midwest that many people could not tell a focaccia from any other flatbread, even if their lives depended on it.
More important to me and any other baker is what he lays out next, the crucial concepts and master techniques of bread baking. These are
1. There is a difference between “yeasted” and “leavened” bread. “Leavened” breads in Reinhart’s lingo are those leavened without the addition of commercially available yeast, such as sourdough breads.
2. Nearly everything that a professional bakery does can be replicated, to some degree, at home. I know this to be true, because I used his books at home first, then “translated” them to commercial equipment, and now I am baking at home once again with those same concepts.
3. Bread machines are tools that simulate in one device steps done by many machines in professional bakeries. Again, point taken – a bread machine is at the same time a kneading, proofing and baking device, and for those without time and/or space a perfect tool to making good bread without the hassle.
4. There are many ways to make world-class bread. When we started to develop our own recipes and methods, based among others on Reinhart’s books, we built on some of his and other people’s concepts and methods, but they all arrive at the same product if done right: awesome bread.
As far as the techniques, Reinhart first discusses ingredients, then moves on to kneading and shaping, proofing and scoring, and lastly baking the bread. My take on ingredients is that the BAKER must find the ones he/she is comfortable with, and this part at first is a little overwhelming. However, Reinhart gives a good overview over what is available, and I ended up using whole wheat flour whenever the recipe called for unbleached all-purpose flour, and with extremely good results.
Chapter 2 discusses the three fundamental pre-ferments – poolish, biga and pâte fermentée – and gives a few recipe examples using each. The French Bread II using pâte fermentée is what I started with, and it is truly the best bread I have ever had. I now make two loaves from this recipe, proofing them in bannetons or “brotforms” (available at http://www.brotform.com) and baking them according to Reinhart’s hearth oven method. They turn out great every time.
The rest of the book is devoted to sourdough (chapter 3), multigrain bread (chapter 4) and other popular breads. In the middle of the book the reader will find some color photographs of bread made from recipes in the book.
The bottom line:
What I like about this book is that it is relatively accessible. Reinhart explains in layman’s terms the fundamentals of bread baking, as well as the connection between them and the bread the baker will see when using a recipe. This is important if a bread does not turn out as expected, be that in appearance, texture or something else. For a consummate autodidactic like me, this is indispensable. I also found that the recipes are easy to follow and most of them give good results (with a few exceptions, but I do not own ONE recipe book where absolutely all of them are fool-proof). Most importantly, it contained the formula I ended up using successfully for a sourdough barm.
For me, however, the negatives prevail and had I to do it over, I would buy “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice” instead. The “Apprentice” basically gives you everything this book gives you, but better.
The book is laid out in an awkward two-column style that has not changed with the 2006 edition. I find it harder to follow than the “Apprentice”, which is laid out in one large column, with everything not immediately concerning the recipe in the sidebar. This book also uses drawings for illustrating basic techniques, which I find harder to discern than the photographs in the “Apprentice”. Lastly, some things do not compute for me, such as the measurements for the recipes. It is not that the base recipe for, say, the pâte fermentée gives you almost a pound of pre-ferment more than needed for the recipe, but not enough to make one more entire recipe.
When I weigh out, for example, the ingredients for the French Bread II, according to Reinhart I am using 3.5 cups of bread flour, which he equates to 16 ounces (or one American pound or 453.59 grams), but which, in actuality, weighs 508 grams. Depending on how you measure it, you consequently end up with three different recipes. That may sound anal-retentive – after all, what is 50 grams - but depending on the recipe/ingredient and equipment it CAN make a crucial difference.
Last but not least, there are some inaccuracies here and there that I would not have expected from somebody with such big a stature in the bread baking world. The major one for me is that Reinhart recommends misting the proofing baskets, should you use them, with cooking spray (page 42). I have to assume that he means plastic ones, as the wicker bannetons or brotforms we own would most certainly be ruined by such a treatment. Yet, he does not make that clear.
So, my recommendation is to skip this book and acquire the “Apprentice” instead, if you are looking for a comprehensive book to start with. There is on the one hand too much overlap between them, and too many negatives with this one to make it worth buying both.