The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

A Poll: If you could only have one...

davidg618's picture

A Poll: If you could only have one...

breadabook what would it be?

I'm asking this for a personal reason. I have a big interest in all things cooking, and have shelves (and boxes) full of cookbooks on a wide variety of subjects. Since the maturation of the Internet, I've learned I can find recipes, formulae, techniques, equipment reviews, hints, opinions, misinformation, and downright lies on any cooking genre, including artisanal baking. With one or two exceptions I hadn't purchased a cookbook since 1997. Until...

I developed this renewed interest in breadbaking--to be honest, an obsessive interest! In the past three months I've purchased three bread baking books.

I'm retired, and we live on a comfortable, but budgeted income, with some modest additions from my writing, and Yvonne's webmastering, and vintage jewelry sales.

And our house is small; to paraphrase an old saw, "So many books, so little shelf space."

This website is higher-power sent, but it is also repleat with BBA, Rienhart, DiMuzio, Crust and Crumb, Flatbreads of Northern Mongolia, and on and on. Temptations to buy are in every thread!

Please give me a considered answer. I've made a resolution: I will only buy ONE MORE baking book!

Thank you,

David G

P.S. I'll compile and post your responses.


ClimbHi's picture

Just one? Sheesh!

FWIW, I have about every Peter Reinhart book and I've noted that the real "meat" in his books, the "hows & whys" of bread", has developed and matured over time. If I was limited to one, it would be one of his, but I'd be tempted to wait a few months until his new one comes out since I have no doubt it'll have some new insights.

Pittsburgh, PA

ehanner's picture

I like the straight forward tone of the author. I like the personal nature of his writing. I like that all of his recipes/formula are well covered in side bar info. His work flow is easy to understand. And most of all every bread is wonderful.

With this book you will soon need it less and less as you understand the process.


Radicalkat's picture

If I were a new baker (which I was just a few years ago), I would have to say "Bread BAkers Apprentice."  I've got a bunch of Peter Reinhart's books and can't wait to get his new one that's about to come out.  I couldn't have learned to bake artisan breads without them! However, If I had to keep only one of the books that I currently have, it would be "Bread" by Jeffrey Hammelman.  It's more of an intermediate to advanced book IMHO.




MaryinHammondsport's picture

Not to pile on, but I vote for Hamelman too, unless the reader is a real beginner. It's the one I turn to most.



Soundman's picture

To pile on, I'd jump on Hamelman.


Yerffej's picture

I have been asked this question more than once by novice bakers and found that I was unable to come up with a simple answer.  There are books for beginners and books for the more advanced and some books work well for you but not for me or vice versa.  Also I simply have not read ALL of the books on bread and baking.  I realize this has been no help with regard to your question or maybe it has.


ejm's picture

I'm afraid that like Jeff, I can't choose just one. Under duress, I can narrow it down to three that have been particularly useful for me:

  • The Italian Baker by Carol Field
  • The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum
  • Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book - A Guide to Whole-Grain Breadmaking by Laurel Robertson


drhowarddrfine's picture

I also vote up Hamelman's book. I had too many problems with Reinhart's books. All of them.

plevee's picture

Hamelman every time! I've never baked anything from his book that didn't turn out well.

This said, I had the book for a year before I baked from it - it looked somewhat intimidating. TFL users got me over that!


ejm's picture

I couldn't even get past the intro in the library copy of the Hamelman I had. So many of you swear by Hamelman though, I'll put it back on hold and try again.


Dragonbones's picture

David, you're a very experienced baker, so you'll probably want feedback from more experienced bakers. My feedback is more suitable to beginning bakers like myself, but they will probably read the thread too, so here goes for them:

I've got Rose Levy Beranbaum's Bread Bible, Peter Reinhart's Bread Baker's Apprentice and Nancy Silverton's Breads from the La Brea Bakery, but I've only had a month or so to be reading and trying them, so my feedback is of limited value and depth. I find Silverton's sourdough starter recipes intimidating. Beranbaum's Tyrolean Ten-grain Torpedo is excellent.  Her errata are available at her blog, which is nice. Overall, the easiest to get into for a beginner is PR's BBA. He teaches you a lot of the background, the recipes have measures to get you started, and ounce weights once you've been convinced to use them (too bad no grams), and there are lots of nice color pics. The style is friendly and informative, and the book is attractive. I wish there were a broader variety of recipes in it, though. But it's a good place to start.


xaipete's picture

Thanks for posting the site for her errata.


Dragonbones's picture

Hi Pamela, no problem! By the way, you can even post questions about her recipes on her blog, and she'll answer them. It definitely increases the value of owning her books.

PaddyL's picture

The Great Canadian Bread Book by Janice Murray Gill.

xaipete's picture

You said it, David: "So many books, so little shelf space."

I say pick about 10 or 15 bread books and throw out some novels. I go through phases with bread books--work in one intensely for a while then switch to another. Each book has its merits, favorite formulas, explanations. I'd be hard pressed to pick just one.


LeadDog's picture

If "I" could only have one book on baking bread it would be "Local Breads".  Now if there was only one book that I would suggest a person to buy it would be "Bread".

Floydm's picture

Yeah, the Hamelman is great, though I do really like Local Breads too.  I think the Hamelman has a broader range of recipes in it though.

xaipete's picture

In spite of its flaws, I'm very partial to Local Breads too. Some of the best stuff I've ever made has come out of that book.


suave's picture

Hamelman's book is impeccable and gets my vote.  The next best baking book out there is Artisan Baking by Maggie Glezer. 

hansjoakim's picture

It feels like we're having this discussion on a monthly basis. At least ;-)

suave's picture

And I have no problem expressing my unchanged opinion on the matter every time.

proth5's picture

As if no one could guess - it would be "Bread, etc" by Hamelman.

Although I was no beginning baker when I got it, I wish it had been the first book that I had gotten.  More than recipes, this is the book that taught me to think about bread, introduced me to baker's math, taught me some things (but not everything...) about flours and finally brought my years of baking into focus. If a question is not answered (and many aren't) you are at least given a context to conduct future research.

To save shelf space you can buy the on line edition of "Bread, etc" and then you can buy Suas' "Advanced Bread and Pastry" so you can have some pastry techniques, too... (Although I woun't advocate AB&P for a beginner)

jleung's picture

I don't own many bread baking books since like you, I have a very limited income (graduate student) and recipes posted here are keeping me busy as it is.

My vote is for Hamelman's Bread, hands down. If I were to only have one bread book on my shelf, Bread would be it.

I suppose it depends on how comfortable you feel baking bread though - Bread might look a bit too complicated at first but it's a fantastic book both to read and bake from. If you're more interested in an "easier" book, I'd say Reinhart's Bread Baker's Apprentice instead.

By the way, you mentioned that you purchased three bread baking books recently. Maybe it would be helpful for us to know which ones you already own, so our recommendations won't overlap with your current collection?

- Jackie

subfuscpersona's picture


I'd rather peruse lorem ipsum
Than go to the bookstore to buy some.
The library's fine,
But the 'net is sublime!
So I'll just read the TFL forum!

:) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :) :)


PS Don't know what lorem ipsum is? Go here

Stephanie Brim's picture
Stephanie Brim

BBA is the only one I have as of yet. I like making up recipes now that I know about dough hydration, dough enhancements, and I'm not afraid to make so many mistakes. I do admit to liking to tweak recipes to suit my own ends. :)

Janknitz's picture

I, too, have a limited budget.  I checked out all of the Reinhart books the library had and liked them, but the library did not have the Hamelman book and I was on a waiting list for the Rose Levy-Beranbaum book.  I checked out several other bread books as well, including Laurel's bread book. 

I liked the Reinhart books, but . . .

I found the Hamelman book at Borders and was very impressed.  I made several "visits" there to look at it, and finally decided that was THE book.  I bought it last week (with a 40% off Borders Rewards Card coupon--YAY!). 

Then the Levy-Beranbaum book became available at the library.  I must say that if I'd seen this before buying the Hameman I would have a very hard time choosing.  Personally, I find the Beranbaum book a little more "user friendly" for the home baker as opposed to the professional baker.  She has formulas in both ounces and grams, and the formulas were designed using home equipment and techniques, not adapted from professional equipment and techniques.  Information and instruction-wise, I think she's right up there with Hamelman.  The illustrations for shaping are very clear and precise and I think give more detail for the beginning baker than Hamelman's.  I know some of the professional bread authors make fun of Rose Levy-Beranbaum's hubris in writing a bread "BIBLE", but something like  "Comprehensive Book on Home Bread Baking" is just not a very catchy title. 

So, personally, I actually would choose Beranbaum over Hamelman if I'd been smart enough to wait for a look-see at Beranbaum. I don't think it's a case of "the grass is always greener . . . ", I really do find Beranbaum a little more user friendly, though I love the Hamelman very much. 

I have a feeling I will have to keep checking this book out of the library and put it on my birthday wish list. 

Everyone's taste and appetite for information differs, so I recommend you do some "test driving" at the library before making a final decision. 

Judon's picture

hands down...Bread by Jeffrey Hamelman. All the others I rotate out of our terrific library system


kgpowell's picture

I got hooked, and own two of Reinhart's books, Hamemlman's, Suas's, and three others not mentioned yet:

  • Hitz = Baking Artisan Bread
  • Di Muzio = Bread Baking
  • Leader = Local Breads

Each has its own strengths and weaknesses.  Hitz's was the first I bought, and has a lot of great things about it (including a DVD with demos of shaping etc.) although it has some errors in it.  Leader's book has some neat recipes I haven't seen elsewhere.


Overall, though, Hamelman is the one that gave me the best overall sense of baking bread, and the one I find myself turning to by default.


Ken Powell

deblacksmith's picture

It is interesting to think about this in terms of what has improved my bread making the most.  It is interesting that I learned a lot more from Hamelman on the second reading after I had been baking for about 2 plus years.  On the second reading I understood much more.  Right now Di Muzio is on order -- we will see what this book fills in.  When it is all said and done the thing that has improve my baking the most turns out NOT to be a book -- but  has come from right here  --  The Fresh Loaf.  (The books got me started and gave the real ground work.)


davidg618's picture

Dear TFLers,

I'd intended to simply count the votes, and declare the winner.

I did the count, but after also reading all your comments, to merely count and declare a "winner" would do you all, and the many bread book authors a disservice, including the ones not mentioned. Many of you of made that point crystal clear!

Many of you pointed out we come to this web page, and join its commuity collectively bringing a range of experiences that span never having baked a loaf, to years of professional baking, to being the authors of some of the most popular books. Your point: different books serve different experience levels.

Many of you have different areas of interest within the broad category "bread". Your point: different books stress different aspects of bread baking.

We live in diverse countries around the world, and love, and work from books unknown and inaccessible to most of the rest of us.

Many of you are Loyal (capital "L" intended) to specific authors, relying on their many books to inform you.

Many of you refused to play the game, politely explaining your reasons, while probably wanting to tell me "Why are you wasting your time and mine asking such a silly question?"

One of you assumed I am an experienced baker.

In my years working in science and technology, I learned the men and women I worked with generally had two kinds of experience: years of experience, or one year of experience repeated many times.

My own bread baking experience spans more than fifty years of frequent baking, but represents only two or three years of real growth in knowledge and improved techniques--and those growth spurts were many years in the past. My more recent references were Beard on Bread, Bread Alone, and The Village Baker. My earliest reference was The Boy Scouts Handbook. I mention it because it was the only book that inspired me to learn to bake. It's been The Fresh Loaf that's inspired me to grow again, to learn to bake bread better. Truth is, like many of you I've become obsessive about baking bread.

That was only two or three months ago. In that two months I've tried many new things, learned many new things, and had confidence building successes, as well as an equal share of instructive mistakes or downright failures.

And I've purchased three new bread baking books,and lava rocks, and, after dumping a sourdough boule on the oven's door, a Smart Peel, and a dozen brioche pans, and a new bread knife (that makes four I own) and a Tomato knife, and...well, you get the idea.

My reason for running this poll was sincere. I want to buy one book more that best meets my needs for now. From reading your comments, and reviewing four of your recommended books on Amazon and Google books, I've decided: J. Hamelman's Bread.

Thank you all,

David G





Yerffej's picture

Thanks for doing this poll.  Hamelman's Bread is one of those books that I have not read but will now as a result of this poll.


Soundman's picture

Hi David,

I enjoyed reading your results, which were far more interesting than a flat declaration of a winner would have been. Your self-deprecation brought a :-)

The witty remark about "one year of experience repeated many times" gives us all something to think about, and bears on endeavors beyond bread baking.

Finally, as a Hamelman Loyalist, I have to compliment you on your choice of essential reading material. You won't be disappointed!


subfuscpersona's picture

If I'd agreed to nominate one bread baking book, I too would have chosen this book.

However I chose to nominate a combination of the library plus the web as my resource of choice. In particular, I recommended this forum

Why Is This Forum So Important?

Many TFL members already own and have tried the best recipes from the most popular books on artisan baking. They post the ingredients, amounts & baker's percentage (all of which is legally OK) plus their process for mixing, bulk fermentation, retarding, bench proof and baking. In addition, many post photos of the process and the end product, both loaf and the crumb. Some even provide links to videos for tips on mixing and shaping bread. You will seldom find this level of detail in even the best bread baking books.

Many TFL posters are home bakers and a dedicated few are obsessive home bakers who take on the most challenging breads and post the results. If you are a home baker you will find many tips for home baking for a range of interests (and a range of geographical locations).

Hamelman Book Section I Available on the Web

... for bakers interested in Hamelman's book, the complete Section I (which covers artisan breads using preferments, including recipes) is still available from Download and save it.


suave's picture

I see a problem with relying too heavily on web resources. First, it develops mob mentality, where instead of selecting recipe based on their tastes and preferences people jump at whatever's posted on the first page. That's why Rustic Bread gets baked by everyone and his uncle while Pain Rustique sits unnoticed in the book just a couple pages away.  It is also worth noting that despite the fact that the general level here is quite high, every now and then you see statements here that are as ignorant as they are believable.

I too rely heavily on libraries, but when I feel the author earned my money, I do not hesitate to buy books.

davidg618's picture

...if I were to, it would be every TFLer that gained some insight or knowledge from reading the thread, and every author whose name and book titles were suggested, and me for finding, through your thoughtful replies, the one book I believe serves my current bread baking needs in the moment.

David G.

subfuscpersona's picture

You gave a well thought out reply. I appreciate it. I didn't mean to criticize your post. Thanks for starting this very interesting thread and for posting your conclusions

davidg618's picture

I just wanted to be clear for those that only read the headlines.

I would use the library too, if a decent one was available. I live in a very rural area of N. Florida, I look at cattle in my neighbor's pastures every day. The Library in the closest town is small, and badly underfunded. They can order books from within the state's system, but it takes weeks for an unpopular book. The next closest, in Gainsville, a college town, is 70 miles round trip.

I rely on the internet for most information I seek, but I've found there is a lot of misinformation, re bread baking on the internet--at the risk of offending, even on TFL. Let me hasten to add I think this virtual community is the finest I've encountered on the WWW. in the nearly two decade I've been roaming it. Nonetheless, I've found I must turn to my old favorites--books--to get the reliable information I'm looking for. I am blessed (and cursed) with an insatable curiousity.

I'm sorry my earlier reply sounded harsh.

David G

Yerffej's picture

I just finished reading Bread by Jeffrey Hamelman and it it simply great and a very worthy winner of this best bread book poll.  It may be a bit over the top for a novice bread baker but that is a minor point.  I strongly recommend it to anyone who as not yet read the book.


davidg618's picture

It's been approximately eight months since I asked for responses to this poll. I bought Hamelman's Bread, and for six months stuck to my resolve: I would only buy one bread book.


In the last two months I've bought two more: Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice, and Greentein's Secrets of a Jewish Baker. And I've got six more foodie book's (4 baking, 2 cooking) listed on my wish list.

So much for resolutions.

David g