Italian Bread and The Bread Baker's Apprentice
Before I ever baked a loaf of bread, I read Bread Baker's Apprentice from cover to cover. It definitely provided me a great base of knowledge with which to begin my bread baking, but after a few months and much reading on this site, and many loaves of bread, I think there are 2 main issues that might throw off the beginner trying to make lean breads. First is the description of the dough textures, just what does "tacky but not sticky" mean? It's too subjective and I think that despite the occasional warnings, the beginner's urge to add too much flour to make a dough that is easy to handle will somewhat sabotage their crumb. Second, and related to the first point, there needs to be a bit more emphasis placed on the fact that doughs with hydrations in the higher end of the range given for the recipes yield much better results. I guess everybody figures this out through trial and error, but I was a bit disappointed with my first loaves and couldn't figure out why the recipe didn't produce breads with crumbs like the ones in the picture. I guess the lesson is stick with it, get more info, and experiment. Has anybody here had similar experiences?
I tackled the Italian Bread recipe from BBA again today making some modifications of my own. Making sure to include the maximum amount of water, and adding 2 stretch and fold maneuvers to the fermentation in order to help develop the gluten and make the dough easier to handle. The results were spectacular. Some of the best Italian bread I've ever eaten (and for somebody who grew up around New Haven, CT, where there is an Italian bakery every 7 feet, that's saying something). A nice chewy crust, and a moist, tender crumb that is out of this world.
-Darron from The Teacher Learns to Cook 
Italian Bread Loaf
Italian Bread Crumb