The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

The Ultimate Bread Book - what's missing from all the rest?

glasgowjames's picture

The Ultimate Bread Book - what's missing from all the rest?

Hello there!

I'm an owner of a great many books on bread, and in my view, even the best fall short in many areas.

What do you think is missing? What would you love to see included in your 'Ultimate Bread Book'? Where do you think a lot of books fall down flat?

Would love to hear some ideas from across the community, and create a resource that maybe could one day be consolidated by budding authors!

Personally, I think a lot of books are far too recipe focused - repeating the same dough over and over with different shapes, without actually showing you anything new. Mostly, I want to know how to make a bread really good, then I can put in it whatever I want. But that's just me!


Cheers for any ideas!


TonyI's picture


                 I have been making bread now for 2 years and whilst books are useful they are only part of the story.

For me its about practise, getting to know your ingredients, equipment and environment  and understandingthe role they play in your baking and the bread you make . No book can ever teach you that and it is by baking regularly that we as bakers gain a greater understanding of the flour, water, salt & yeast/starter alchemy that takes place.

So whilst the quest for the ultimate bread book may seem attractive, for me it is about learning to combing ingredients, handling the dough and mastering the bake which has helped me become a better baker.


clazar123's picture

I am a conceptual learner. I spen a lot of time trying to understand the concept of something in order to fully understand how to use the information.

My concept of loaf bread is this:

Loaf Bread is a matrix of a starchy gel and strands of gluten protein that capture the gas bubbles of whatever leaven is used.


 Both ingredients and technique are important in determining the outcome of a particular loaf. 

 Gel-netting-bubbles-technique. That's it.Seems obvious, doesn't it? Crust-crumb-texture-flavor are all included in the  3 basic components. The 3 basic components are determined by ingredients, ingredient's characterisitcs and techniques used to elicit different attributes from those ingredients. 

It took a few years of focusing on making bread to understand how all the ingredients impacted this simple statement. Books aren't set up to teach by simple concepts and relate how actions,technique and ingredients impact the simple statement. It took a long time to winnow out all the dis-information/mis-information and become familiar with ingredients and how they impact the idea of the loaf I am trying to create. 

Always learning! That is why I love this site!

So I think a book of concepts would be helpful. Walk a beginner through the process of learning about bread. Use 1 recipe and just change 1 thing each time to teach different concepts.  Focus the changes by asking questions after each loaf is created: "What component does this affect-gel,netting,bubble?" "How does this affect the component-more/less gel?Stronger/weaker/stretchier netting?More/less/bigger/smaller bubbles? ""How does this compare to using (ingredient x) or (technique x)".

Make it workbook style with bulletted points and single paragraphs and LOTS of pictures. THere are lots of ingredients and techniques and lots of things to learn so it may be a series of workbooks with different topics.

Nice format for a "How to" website or even an addon to this website.

My .02

proth5's picture

that the author of the book must be able to speak directly to your heart and mind.  The same information presented in different ways will have different impacts on your learning.  There are many people on this site who adore a particular author - whose book I found un readable.  Is the book a bad one?  No.  It just didn't speak to my heart.  The poster above has needs to make a book ideal.  I may have others.

What no book can teach, though, is hand skills.  Watching the hands (and other techniques) of a talented baker is worth all the books in the world.  This is, after all, a craft and involves hand (and eye and ear and nose) skills. 

As posted elsewhere SFBI has attempted to address this by creating videos to accompany the book Advanced Bread and Pastry.  Even those are not enough as they lack the ability to transmit the tactile skills needed to make good bread.

Then there is the tedious part - the learning of Baker's Math and some of the underlying principles (including the role of various ingredients and techniques) for formula design.  Standards must be used, thought must be given and many, many loaves must be baked, evaluated and "tweaked".  Authors write formulas because people want to move quickly to success and tested formulas are the easist way to do this.  The book that I have (and treasure) gave me the fundamentals of this knowledge of how to construct and evaluate formulas.  Repeating the same dough over and over with different shapes is one of those tedious skills that I have come to appreciate (and one does wonder about the fact that so many of your books are like that - perhaps you need to expand your search...) and admire.  To do a mix of one dough and have your "customers" perceive four or five different breads is not an unwelcome thing.  Doing the same dough hundreds of times with small variations (either on purpose or by accident) is how apprentices become masters.  Instant results are not a thing that bread bakers should crave.

And then, there must always be other bakers.  Someone tries something "crazy" (or has a happy accident.) Then the word gets out.  You try it (because you have the foundation to understand it) and the bread is better than before.  No book can do this.  The book is written and frozen.  A craft evolves (though some would say it does not) - techniques and tools are always refined and adapted.

So the ultimate book is the next one to be written - until the one after that is written.  Some will speak to you well and others not so much, but all will fall short because baking will always require bakers to teach and move the craft forward.

MangoChutney's picture

... to write THE ideal bread book.  Not only do different people need and/or want different information and different presentations of the same information, but one person may need and/or want different things at different times.  What follows is a list of the sources that I feel helped me the most to my current level of bread-making.  Other excellent sources, both printed and on-line, excited my desire to bake the bread that I now make, but were not helpful in achieving the goal.

Betty Crocker's cookbook, which introduced me to baking white flour yeast bread.
A government pamphlet, which introduced me incorrectly to making sourdough bread.  This was good bread even though not sourdough, thus the seed was planted for making true sourdough.
A blog describing how to make true sourdough from white flour.
A website describing how to make whole wheat sourdough, which taught me about resting dough.
An online word document on making desem whole wheat bread without the mystique which is unavailable in my kitchen.  This taught me about pre-fermenting and gave me the courage to continue attempting 100% whole grain sourdough bread despite sources who said I had to use either some white flour or some commercial yeast.
"Tartine Bread", which gave me the idea of pre-soaking all of my non-pre-ferment flour.  This led to my eventual success at making 100% whole grain sourdough sandwich bread.
Debra Wink's two posts here, which gave me some solid facts about sourdough biology and chemistry.
"Bread Science", which gave me some solid facts about bread biology and chemistry.

Both of the last two sources above gave me a much better feeling of what was happening in my culture and in my dough, so that I can now respond properly to changes in circumstance such as a kitchen 20 F degrees warmer in summer than in winter.'s picture

Ideal?  Ultimate?  No, never.  But is there fertile baking primer ground out there?  You bet.

This is a topic in which I have a particularly keen interest, having spent the past year learning, essentially from scratch, to bake artistan-style hearth breads.  The start of my journey's learning curve was made somewhat steeper than it might have been by my initial choice (dumb fate: it was a Christmas gift) of Tartine Bread as a guide.  As per Pat's message, Chad Robertson's romantic personal bread journey and implicit philosophy, not to mention his description of the enchanting boules I was expecting to generate under his guidance, spoke deeply to my heart and alluringly to my palette.  However, Mr. Robertson's pedagogy, for a novice such as me, was disappointingly inadequate.  After all, he titled his book Tartine Bread and indeed it represents a relatively narrow path through the forest of bread possibility.  He makes no apologizes for that and certainly doesn't owe anybody one.  We can be thankful that he bothered to figure out how home bakers could reproduce his vision chez eaux, and go to press with it in such an exquisitely designed and executed publication.  Perhaps readers such as me might have been better served had Mr. Robertson included a note in prefatory note, viz, "novices are advised to find further details about bread baking at" :-).  Alas, were it not for my inexplicable passion to develop these skills and my grudging decision this Spring to cut my losses and abandon Tartine for an alternative, more pedagogically sound guide in the form of (TFL+) Jeff Hamelman and his Bread, I'm not sure where my journey would have taken me today (which, for full disclosure, turns out to be making gloriously satisfying loaves twice/week now).

I am using Hamelman the way clazar suggests a proper, modern, pedagogically strong bread baking text might be:  stepping through it, viewing successive formulae as variations on a theme, with lessons to be learned from each variation, comparing it with others previous.  Unfortunately, Hamelman and his editor(s) only partially organized and presented the book for such an intended use (unlike BBA, despite its obvious strengths, which presents them in alphabetical order!  What were they thinking?).  JH does refer back to previous formulae now and then, almost casually commenting how the present one differs from it and how the outcome changes accordingly.  However, a book designed from the ground up to lead the novice through variations, demonstrating how changing a flour or preferment percentage here or extending a fermentation there, has an effect on the outcome and why -- now that would provide the hungry fisherman with the wherewithall to land his own catch and not just eat those dropped into his skillet.

Indeed, it would be a fascinating exercise (maybe someone's done it) to devise a progression of bread formulae, in which each is a specifically conceived variant on that preceding it in the sequence, demonstrating how this or that ingredient, time, temperature, etc. affects the resulting loaves such that, in the process, a respectable sampling of the major (yeasted) bread types are covered when one arrives at the progression's terminus.  What's the shortest possible route (read: fewest changes between successive recipes) that includes ciabatta, baguette, pan de campagne, rye, tuscan, altamura, sourdough, whole wheat, pan de mie, etc.?  Obviously it can't be done anywhere near perfection without concocting a slew of (possibly interesting!) 'transitional' formulae, but it would be fun to try to plot such a "course", so to speak.  Such a path might have some pedagogical muscle, no?

And of course, any modern approach to bread baking pedagogy would have to include an online video component.  TFLoafers learn so much from watching experts and fellow Loafers make things happen on YouTube and Vimeo.  Just links to selected videos would be a good start.


Colin2's picture

I really like the idea of mapping the "bread space" in this way, hopefully with a little more chemical/biological detail.  Such a book would probably not be best for most beginners, though.

Someone must have tried this ...  even a 2-dimensional map, with hydration in one dimension and length of fermentation in the other, could be clarifying.

spsq's picture

A less philosophic post than the above:

I agree with James - far too many books are a single recipe with variations - Peter Reinhart's Whole grain bread is a perfect example (almost ALL use a soaker and a preferment - overnight rest, bake in the morning).  Books dedicated entirely to sourdoughs.  Books entirely devoted to "no knead".  Books using a basic yeast method with tons of flavours/add-ins.....

I have seen recipe books that include multiple techniques (a beautiful one by the bread bakers guild of america, A few "breads of the world" type recipe books).  These ones tend to lack the "whys" of their techniques.

My "ideal" recipe book would have sections each dedicated to various methods/techniques.  Basic kneaded yeast.  Tangzhong.  Preferments.  Stretch and fold technique.  Delayed fermentation.  No knead...etc, etc.    Then each section would have several variations using each technique.  Basic white.  Flavours and add-ins.   Additions of part or all whole grains.

Obviously, each recipe  would include the "whys" of the variations.  The advantages of stretch and fold over kneading.  Effects of different liquids (eg:  water vs buttermilk vs potato water).  Hydration needs of white vs whole wheat flour.  Yeast vs sourdough flavours....

Also, I want the infectious passionate writing of say, Chad Robertson and Dan Leader.


Too much to ask?


ldsheridan's picture

when can we pre-order?

MangoChutney's picture

Add an appendix with the relevant chemistry and biology for each method/technique, something much more than just "wheat has gluten and yeast eat sugar", and you've got me sold.  *smile*

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

meaning, I see things easily 3-D and incorporate the information in rather abstract ways.  To me the perfect book would be transparent overlays, sheets of plastic in typing paper size, not so many pictures.  Transparencies like colored graphs of each variable with parameters,  all on separate see thru pages, then when I want to make a loaf, I pull up the sheets/parameters on rye, caraway, no knead, spelt, oven type (Let's see that's flour, method, flour, baking... enough for simplicity sake) stack the 4 sheets together and see where they overlap.  Narrow it down with a temperature chart and a hydration chart...   maybe add sheet/parameters for free standing loaves or soakers.    Can you see where I'm headed?  The darker the overlapping color, the better the chances for success.

ultimate mad scientist bread color book  

... then, hooks to hang combinations in my kitchen window...

Juergen Krauss's picture
Juergen Krauss

Thought about having something similar (after re-reading Debra Wink's articles):

Slides specifying the metabolic rates of homofermenters, heterofermenters and yeast. Considering all the variables ...

I wonder if 3 dimensions would suffice?

Juergen's picture

I think your visual, tactile 3D concept is super, and akin to the breadspace one above:  seeing where established and beloved formulae fall along intersecting continua, and why those vertices of 'dark overlapping colors' have become sweet spots for those with yeast infections (so to speak).   Too far down the curve of this continuum, crumb gets dense, or fermentation proceeds too fast, or flavor become sickly sweet, or sour.

Alas the 2012 version of plastic transparencies is an iPad app.  As for hanging combinations on the kitchen window, I think that becomes a screen saver in today's graphical landscape. 



Juergen Krauss's picture
Juergen Krauss


I found that DiMuzio's book had enough ideas to get me started exploring differences, and Hamelman has a nice set of pictures how different oven settings affect the outcome of baguettes.

In my experience the outcome is very stronngly dependent on flour, oven, technique and it is getting to feel and taste many doughs that brings me forward.

Here is a spreadsheet to play with:

 Export it into Excel and you cam manipulate the values. For a given set of flours, hydration and preferment% it will calculate the baking sheets for a given number of preferments (Poolish, bigas and flying sponge).

Happy Experimenting,


blacktom's picture

I agree, James - a long time ago I wanted a book that would explain the underlying principles and science of bread, along with the various techniques and terminology employed. There are some books that cover some of this ground, but I couldn't find any that brought it all together. I ended up trying to write my own, and it's online at . It's not complete, and I'm continually editing the sections that are available, but it's there and it's free and I welcome constructive feedback.

On the other hand, the posters on this thread are obviously pretty advanced and I imagine there would be a market also for an 'ultimate mad scientist bread color book' like the one proposed by Mini Oven.


carblicious's picture


Thanks for sharing! I read a few chapters and will definitely read more.

-Don's picture

What's hardest to convey in print is the sense of dough behavior one develops only from hands-on experience.  Purchasers of an effective bread baking primer would, imho, be best served by a book that not only acknowledges and facilitates this but incorporates it as a design principle, well beyond the usual "Your First Loaf" starting point.  So another approach to beginner bread pedagogy might be to market a book shrink-wrapped with two bannetons and prepare the narrative as a series of A/B comparisons, with each of the pair prepared slightly differently, proofed in separate bannetons and baked identically (or differently, if, say, the effect of steam or temp or stone/DO is to be demonstrated).  The user would see and feel differences engineered by the author's paired formulae at each turn.  Granted, it might be challenging to come up with very many pairs in which each loaf would be enjoyable.  Or maybe not.  One wouldn't want half to be intended for the compost from the start.  But at least the first third or half of the book could proceed thus, with the user ultimately cutting the cord and just baking two identical (or different, for that matter) loaves with the bannetons.  Discussion following each process description would troubleshoot unexpected outcomes and highlight A/B differences and underlying bases thereof, when outcomes are as intended.  And of course the science would best be woven into the exercises so that physical/chemical/biological principles would be hammered home with, and illustrated by, each pair of loaves.

Fun to think about.