The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

what was your first bread book?

ericb's picture

what was your first bread book?

Insomnia is out of the ordinary for me, but here I sit this morning counting the hours until my alarm rings at 6 am. As I thumb through my various bread books in search of inspiration (or perhaps hoping to relive the inevitable, instant slumber experienced when opening nearly any book in my college years), I find myself drawn to my very first bread book, Bread Alone, by Dan Leader.

I bought this book shortly after returning from my honeymoon in the French Riviera. This was truly a dream vacation, as we spent two weeks hopping from town to town with only our two small backpacks, like characters out of a Kerouac novel. Our days were filled with simple meals of bread, cheese, and wine, lounging in the sand of Ville Franche, rolling in and out of sleep as the yachts bobbed lazily in the harbor. We lived close to the earth with only a bit of money to carry us day to day, but we didn't envy the movie stars and millionaires hidden away in their Chateaus. Our only luxury was the bread, and at pennies an ounce, it was a luxury in which we happily indulged.

When we returned home to our jobs, house, and family responsibilities, we just could not let go of the bread. I looked all over our city for decent bread, but even the "French" bakery down the street had only stale, cottony stuff to offer. It didn't take long before I decided that if I wanted bread, I would have to learn to make it on my own.

One brisk, autumn day, I spent an hour at the bookstore leafing through the small selection of bread books. I don't know exactly what made me decide upon Bread Alone, but looking back, it's interesting to see how that one book has affected my baking technique and, for lack of a better word, philosophy. In case you haven't read this book, Leader is adamant about high-quality ingredients, and is a stickler for time and temperature.

I spent my first year of baking trying my darnedest to maintain my dough at precisely 78F, kneading for exactly 14 minutes, and in the process, wasting many pounds of expensive flour. Admittedly a bit pretentious, I decried any loaf made with sweeteners or fats. These were not, in my mind, real breads. They were somewhat more of a pastry, or maybe a cake.

Of course, now I know differently. There's nothing wrong with adding a little oil to the dough to help keep it tender. I don't buy the most expensive flours, nor do I obsess over temperature. And after years of practice, several more books, and hours logged at this website, I'm turning out some pretty decent loaves.

I still go back to Leader's book often. I absolutely love the 16 pages of color photographs showing Basil Kamir's bakery in Paris. The stories he tells of his own journey through bread are inspiring and beautifully written. And, while his strict techniques don't work for my lifestyle, I still choose almost exclusively to bake "lean" loaves made only of flour, water, salt, and yeast.

What was your first bread book? How does it continue to shape your baking habits? What do you do differently now than when you first started? Ah, 2:40 am... I think this little essay has just about put me to sleep. I hope it didn't do the same for others!


cdnDough's picture

I started with Leader's "Local Bread" and have recently found a used copy of "Bread Alone."  Both are great books, filled with enthusiasm.  My only critisism of the former is that it is riddled with typos and errors if you work in anything other than the metric weights.  I've borrwed a copy of the BBA from the local library and while certainly clear and precise in instruction, I prefer Leader's writing style.  I've spent the past month baking 2-3x per week which, in all honesty is a little too much for me.  I'm lucky enough to work from home, but my real work suffers when I bake this much.  I'm trying to scale down and baking one day per week these days.

karladiane's picture

I bought BBA last spring and have been checking off the loaves that I've tried - it has been a wonderful resource for the baking self-study course that I've made up for myself. 

Local Breads by Dan Leader has become my newest dog-eared bread book, because I enjoy my sourdough so much.  As a microbiologist, I just get very excited about "farming" microorganisms, and having them help me make wonderful bread.  My husband calls it "science you can eat".  I am wanting to round out my collection with Hamelman.  Any thoughts on that one, or is there another good general book to buy? 

I also recently read from the library "The Secrets of Jesuit Baking" by Rick Curry, and it is a lovely, thoughtful book with some lovely recipes.



SteveB's picture

Karladiane, if you are serious about baking good bread, then Hamelman's "Bread" is a "must have".


holds99's picture

There's an old saying, "Opinions are like noses, everybody's got one" :>)  So, here's my opinion FWIW.  If I could have one baking book...and only one, it would be Hamelman's "Bread, A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes". 

If you read, re-read and understand the first 92 pages of this book with emphasis on the 11 steps (pages 4-25) you will understand the systematic process of bread-making.  Once you begin to think of it as a systematic process made up of steps; Scaling, Mixing, Bulk Fermentation, Folding, Dividing, Pre-Shaping, Bench Rest, Shaping, Final Fermentation, Scoring and Baking, then it all comes together in a seamless process.  The recipes in Hamelman's book are, in my opinion, an added bonus.  Incidentally, I think the recipe for Hamelman's Vermont Sourdough and its variations are worth the price of this book.


EDIT: Almost forgot.  My first bread baking book was Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads.  My first loaf out of that book was Pain de Campagne, Madame Doz.

Soundman's picture

Hey karladiane,

How was your Thanksgiving?

I'm with SteveB on Hamelman: the book is all-around the best bread baking guide there is. And, since I know you are an avid reader, you'll find Hamelman's stories, whether about sending bread to himself at post offices along his "Grand Tour" route, or learning how to make pretzels in Germany as an apprentice, are the literary equivalent of the recipes he provides. You'll love it!

Soundman (David) 

cdnDough's picture

I should add that I find Leader's two books quite complementary.  There aren't too many duplicate recipes.  While Bread Alone spends a great deal of time showing you how to work with temperatures and ensure consistent rising/proofing times, Local Breads is much more relaxed and doesn't bother with this--  the windowpane and spring-after-poking are as technical as it gets.

gaaarp's picture

My first artisan bread book was BBA, which I bought not that long ago.  I purchased Secrets of a Jewish Baker at the same time, but since I haven't started reading or baking from it, I still consider BBA my first.

We just ordered all of our kids' Christmas presents from Amazon, and I slipped in an order for books 3 and 4:  Brother Juniper and Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.  I am planning to work (and bake) my way through BBA, but I know I will stray into the other books, too.  So many books, so many loaves, so little time....

Floydm's picture

My first bread book was The Brother Juniper's Bread Book.  I was working in the bakery and cafe when Peter wrote it, so I was intimately familiar with the recipe included in it.

pmccool's picture

My first bread book was Bernard Clayton's Complete Book of Breads.  Although I have been exploring other books in the past 2 or 3 years, I still find myself going back to it from time to time.  Even though all measurements are volumetric, there is such a broad range of good recipes that it is too valuable to leave gathering dust on the book shelf.


DerekL's picture

Elizabeth David.

Eli's picture

C & C was my first book.

dmsnyder's picture

My first bread book was also Crust&Crumb. It provided my introduction to how professional bakers think about the process.

I'm not counting Ed Woods' "Classic Sourdoughs," which didn't advance my thinking much. And I'm not counting the book that originally got me baking bread: "Julia Child's Kitchen," which made French bread baking accessible. I should also mention Marcela Hazan's "More Classic Italian Cooking," from which I also baked the Mantovani Bread. Julia and Marcela really started me baking bread over 30 years ago now. But I stopped after a few years and started again about 3 years ago.

Now, I have many books. There are about 6 from which I bake with some regularity.


Soundman's picture

I'm another baker whose start coincided with reading Reinhart's Crust and Crumb. There's still a lot of good information in that book. BBA came next, Bread Alone, Hamelman's Bread, and Glezer's Artisan Baking are all favorites.

Soundman (David)

breadnerd's picture

The first dedicated bread book I bough was a copy of Beth's basic Breads by (obviously) Beth Hensperger--that I got at an outlet store probably 10 or 12 years ago.  It has a basic white, wheat, dinner rolls, a nice honey cornmeal loaf, a rosemary potato bread. pita, etc.  All very good standard straight doughs, many of which I still use today. I think the "basic" part was very simple instructions that finally gave me a few good clues on getting succesful loaf. Oh and it's not huge--so there's not the overwhelming feeling for a newbie on which recipe to try. 

She also has one or two recipes with a simple preferment or sponge, which led the way for me into more artisanal breads.  I got a lot of books out of the library--but the one that clicked for me was Bread Alone--and I checked it out so many times I finally bought it! :)  That got me confident with preferments, and I started my first sourdough starter. 

I too now have WAY to many bread books, but I still use those two. Eric--I definitely go back to Bread Alone a lot too, and the pictures are indeed lovely.  And the most requested bread at my house is his plain ol' "country french loaf for learning", which is a recipe I know by heart!

PaddyL's picture

That's the book that was just lying around, so to speak, I didn't buy it.  The book that had the greatest effect on me, and the one I wouldn't trade for anything in the world, is The Great Canadian Bread Book by Janice Murray Gill.  It taught me almost all of what I know about making bread, and I've pushed it so often in so many places, that it is now out of print and very hard to find.  I've been in e-mail contact with the author who has given permission for me to post any of her recipes from that book.

proth5's picture

The book that first taught me to bake bread was "Betty Crocker's Picture Cookbook."

Mr. Hamelman was still in elementary school.

Amazingly, Betty taught me the fundamentals pretty well - although I don't know why they wouldn't teach us baker's percents.  I still like her method for shaping sandwich loaves better than any other. (Of course, as we have been recently reminded, women were able only to bake at home...)

If you want to count only books that are exclusively about bread, it would be "The Tassajara Bread Book"  If you were going to San Francisco - you needed to be sure to wear flowers in your hair.  It introduced me to different grains and different thoughts than Betty.  The times and the book are wrapped together in my mind.  I don't bake much from it any more.

Mr. Hamelman would wait many years after that to write the book that would change my bread baking life.

ryeaskrye's picture

The book that first introduced me to bread making was Charles Van Over's "The Best Bread Ever."

I like to cook and in addition to receiving a nice Cuisinart food processor one X-Mas, I also received this book on creating breads with my new toy. I haven't been the same since.

Though some may consider his process anathema to true artisan breads, I learned a great deal from Van Over's book about bread in general. I see it mentioned at TFL on occasion, but never really get a sense of where people think it fits in the pantheon of classic tomes by bread gurus.

I now own Hamelman's "Bread..." and Reinhart's new whole grain books. Between those and the inspiring recipes I find at different blogs, I don't think I have enough time left to get to much more.

Oh...the Cuisinart now sits a bit dejected in the corner, replaced by bread baking toys of a simpler nature. Maybe it deserves another spin.


eDogg - love your french tale of a crumby romance

Pablo's picture

"The Tasajara Bread Book" Ommmmmm..... %-)  Many miles ago.  I've baked bread off and on since then, never "seriously" until about 4 months ago.  I finally opened "The Village Baker" which I got from my dad's book collection when he died a couple of years ago.  The apple ferment got me excited and the results were great.  Poking on the web brough up The Fresh Loaf which threw me into warp drive. 

Current favorite books are "Bread Science" by Emily Buehler and "The Bread Builders" by Daniel Wing.  Both are about bread baking but not about recipes.  I seem constituionally incapable of following a recipe.  They give me more insight into what I'm doing and why.  From reading the posts here I'm excited to dedicate myself to the first 100 pages or so of "Bread" in the same spirit.

Flour Power!


Rosalie's picture

My first bread book was probably the Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book.  I also have Elizabeth David, which I would have bought about the same time.

These old books teach us technique, which eDogg reports following slavishly in the beginning.  The thing about technique is that, once you've learned it, it's like playing a piano - you extrapolate, interpolate, improvise, and have a gay old time.  You can take any ingredient list - like for a bread machine - and apply the technique of your choice, from one of your books or from your brain.

That's what's great about TFL.  I'd still be baking the boring old way if I hadn't found it.


mty917's picture

Have a paperback version that is a 1973 copyright.  Bought it new.  I always loved the Buttermilk White bread recipe.

mty917's picture

I have the same edition.  Pages are yellow, but it is a comfortable bread book.  Agree with the buttermilk recipe.

OldWoodenSpoon's picture

and it is still the only book I actually own.  Mine is the hardback of that yellow-jacketed edition, and it is worn, dog-eared and stained.  Despite my tiny "owned" bread book collection I'm an avid library user, and the bookmobile frequently brings me another treat.  I'm trying all of them that I can from the library first for evaluation, and am adding to my gifts wish list as I go along. 

I just read back through some of Beard's recipes recently and was struck by how many of his recipes he thought made "perfect toast" or "excellent toast" or "<insert superlative here> toast" to be enjoyed with "butter and <insert condiment here>"!  One could be forgiven for thinking James Beard could have lived on toast with butter, clotted cream, and preserves.   Baking from Beard on Bread first taught me to love bread baking.   After a few years of estrangement, TFL has renewed the romance in my kitchen, and I'm lovin' it.


rainwater's picture

My first bread book was the Tassahara bread book. This was written by a fellow who gave his knowledge and recipes that he used for a Buddhist temple setting. Using this book, I was able to bake my first loaves of bread that actually rose, and were tasty. I learned about a sponge in this book, which I always use now to some extent when baking bread.

bobku's picture

First time I ever got involved in making bread I was about 17 I'm 56 now so it's been a while It was a cook book published by by Double Day. It had a pretty involved bread section and a technique for shaping loaves that I havent really seen since, almost like a stretch and fold except after folding the final right and left sides over you would crease it in the middle long ways and then fold top down to middle and bottom up to middle creating lots of surface tension and fitting right into loaf pans. Those loaves came out perfect. I only recently got back into baking bread and the smell and feel of the dough brings back those memories everytime. My go to book now is BBA.

mty917's picture

It was Beard on Bread.  A simple paperback that I still go to occasionally.

Janknitz's picture

Anybody remember them?  There were actually two editions with some different recipes in the second.  They were soft cover magazine-sized books put out by Sunsent Magazine in the 1980's. 

Those books were great!  They had a wide variety of breads, clear, concise directions, and spectacular color photographs.  The first book dealt with hand and mixer made doughs, by the second edition bread machines were popular so there was a chapter on how to adapt recipes for your bread machine.  There is also a chapter on creating and maintaining a sourdough starter.  The only thing these books did not address was artisan style breads other than some French Baguettes.  Oh, and very few whole grains.  However, there were a LOT of recipes for sweet, enriched pastries. 

These books are still my "go to" for certain recipes, although I'm fascinated to learn that my tastes have evolved over the years and some of breads don't taste as good as I used to think they did.  They are both falling apart from much use. 

My next bread book acquisition was Brother Juniper's Bread Book and I loved reading Peter's prose.  We made the Struan and Wild Rice breads often "back in the day".  We were displaced from our beloved Sonoma County when the book came out, and enjoyed the book all the more because it was a little piece of home.  By the time we returned, Peter had left (boo hoo!). 

Rosalie's picture

Jan, my Sunset Cookbook of Breads is older than the 1980s.  It's the 2nd edition, copyright 1966, 8th printing 1971.


Janknitz's picture

I've never looked at the publication dates, to be truthful.  Will do that when I get home. 

When I looked on Amazon, it seems like they came out with a new edition every few years until about 1994.  Here's a picture of my edition

Too bad they stopped updating them, they were actually very good basic books and I still use many of the recipes, especially for pastry type yeast breads. My favorite  is a "Poppy Seed Braid" (the strips of dough are actually woven, not braided) that I make (sometimes with other fillings) whenever I want to wow people at a potluck type event.

Franchiello's picture

I started with Beard on Bread and the addiction continued.  The Baker's Apprentice really opened my eyes to the science of bread baking and I'm now into books such as The Italian Baker, Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day.   

ArieArie's picture

To this day, I still do not own a bread book..