To be honest, there is not a bread book out there that I would not grab up in an instant. And there are many greats that I have yet to come in contact with such as Raymond Calvel’s The Taste of Bread or Nathan Myhrvold’s new five volume $500 set Modernist Bread. Perhaps I will find them under the Christmas tree this year, but for now, here are a few titles that have inspired and informed me.
The simple concept that makes artisan bread baking available to everyone every day is long-slow-cold fermentation. That means, mix up your dough, then put it in the fridge and let the magic happen. And it does!
2. Bread: A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes by Jeffrey Hamelman
Bread is the most worn book in my bakery filled with highlight, bookmarks, dough-crusted pages covered with marginalia. I can say without hesitation that without Jeffrey Hamelman I would not be the baker I am today. I can also say that many of the bread bakers across the country would say the same. Jeffrey shares his experience in classes, workshops and great videos, but this book is like having a Master Baker next to you in the bakery every day.
This book is slightly more geared toward the professional baker, but every recipe has amounts for two loaves for the home baker to batches of dozens for the farmers market. Mr. Hamelman has traveled the world baking in almost every imaginable situation and learning every technique he comes across. The descriptions give you just enough of the whys and hows so you can experiment on your own with confidence.
3. Beard on Bread by James Beard
With all of the new artisan bread books coming out each year it is easy to believe that techniques are being invented or re-discovered from ancient times, but Beard on Bread, originally published in 1973 reminds us that the knowledge and the techniques have been with us all along if you just take the time to find them.
James Beard has shared his passion for all things culinary with us and thankfully bread is near the top of his list. This book is a great introduction to the man and to bread baking in all of its forms. The biggest change that has occurred since publication is that we now have access to heirloom and regional wheat and other grains that he could only dream of at the time. There has never been a better time to bring to life all of the treats he describes for us. This book is a steal at $15 dollars and needs to be in your kitchen.
4. In Search of the Perfect Loaf: A Home Baker’s Odyssey by Samuel Fromartz
The thrill of baking your first baguette is only eclipsed by the excitement of how your next one will be even more perfect. Journalist Sam Fromartz knows this feeling and when the opportunity to indulge this obsession presented itself he set out on a journey that would take him around the world in search of perfection.
When people ask me how to make a baguette I like to say, “The first step is to make one thousand baguettes.” They laugh, but it is the truth. Now that I have accomplished that first step, I can get on to the next step which is endlessly chasing perfection. Sam’s experiences in this pursuit are enlightening, especially because I don’t know that I will ever find myself working the early shift at a Paris boulangerie.
5. Le Pain Poilâne by Lionel & Apollonia Poilâne
Before opening my bakery I wanted to know what the gold standard is. For many, that is the country sourdough miche made famous by Lionel Poilâne. The crust, the texture, the flavor, the ingredients all come together in the ultimate expression of bread. It is the envy of the world, and because of this, they make them available to the world! Yes, it is true. You can order a 4 pound miche baked in Paris and overnighted to you anywhere in the world. I got mine for just under 40 Euros: a bargain for the experience of a lifetime!
This book is the same kind of indulgence. It is all in French, so I digest one word at time with my dictionary in hand. Lionel researched every aspect of bread baking history in his attempt to perfect his loaf and it is all presented here. Now it sits on my bookshelf as the point on the horizon that I will make sure I am always heading towards.