The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

Bread: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes

Jeffrey Hamelman's Bread: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes is an solid baking book, but not one I would recommend to everyone. Read more to learn why.

Simply put, the intended reader of this book is the professional baker. Here and there Hamelman makes a nod to the home baker, but it doesn't take long for the amateur baker to realize that Hamelman is not all that interested in his or her plight. The continual references to steam injectors and oven vents, proper posture when lifting 75 pounds of dough, and potential injury from improperly holding 7 to 8 foot long peels while unloading dozens of loaves of bread quickly make the amateur realize this book was not intended for him.

That said, Hamelman is a world class baker, and this is a serious bread book, full of a ton of information that the home baker could use to improve his or her understand of baking and the quality of his or her bread: all of the recipes I've tried from this book have been solid; the diagrams and instructions for shaping loaves are meticulously detailed and helpful; and the final hundred page section of the book on braiding and other decorative techniques is without rival. It is easy to see why Hamelman is one of the coaches of Team USA in the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie.

I'm perplexed as to why the editor of this book didn't send the manuscript back to Hamelman and tell him to add more tips for the home baker (or just hired an intern to put more such tips in if Hamelman wasn't willing to). The blurbs on the dust jacket repeatedly mention the "seasoned" or "serious" home baker; I think it is clear that the publisher wanted to sell this book to more than just professional bakers. But as the reviews on Amazon show, many buyers who consider themselves decent bakers get this book home and are flummoxed by how advanced it is. Thus they rip the book on Amazon, which I'm sure has had depressing effect on sales. Simply a few more sentences here or there stating things like "Home bakers can skip the lye bath and just boil the pretzels in water" (see my pretzel article for more information on what I'm talking about) would have made a huge difference. Instead, the home baker must use his or her own judgement to figure out how to adapt each recipe to work in his or her own kitchen. Yes, the recipes include the quantities scaled down for the home baker, but rarely are the directions simplified.

There was a thread in the forums here a week or two ago about whether this book is suitable for a beginning baker. Absolutely not: it would intimidate the begeezes out of a beginner. But it is an excellent bread book for the advanced bread baker who has experience and other resources to fallback on and one I'll probably add to my bookshelf in the near future.

Update: A year later, I have added this book to my shelf. I like it a lot, but I do also have a half dozen other baking books and a couple of years of baking experience under my belt. I still would not recommend this book to a new baker, but it is an excellent resource for a seasoned baker.

Bread: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes