A friend recently asked me for recommendations for bread books for beginners. I wasn’t sure what to say, because I mostly learned to bake by trial and error (lots of errors). I have had Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads book for a long time, and have different favorite bread recipes that come in standard cookbooks, like The Joy of Cooking and Ina Garten’s cookbook. I’ve also read a lot of baking books along the way, but I didn’t start baking by picking up a book.
I decided to investigate. Maybe there were books I could recommend participants read after my Bread Camp. So I checked out all the books on bread I could find at our library. The first one I read was Bread Alone by Dan Leader.
The pictures are pretty amazing.
The book does touch on a lot of what the beginning baker would need to know, such as equipment and ingredients.
I also like how he breaks down each recipe’s cook time by what you will be doing for each step and how long each one takes. He also includes chapters about other bakers and their techniques.
I thought the recipes he includes were awesome and definitely the highlight of the book. While he does include recipes for basic breads like sourdough, I thought his enriched doughs had fascinating combinations of ingredients that I couldn’t wait to try out. I flagged so many recipes!
Andre LeFort is a mason who primarily services the legendary ovens that made his family name famous in France.
This paragraph called to me. Bread isn’t as precise and unyielding as people think, but you do have to start out being precise until you become comfortable with the feel of dough and don’t have to be precise anymore.
I loved this. He provides timetables for whether you want to bake a dough in 12 hours, 18 hours or 24 hours.
One small quibble I had was that he provides recipe measurements in volume and by weight in ounces but not in metric. I love metric- the math is so much easier. Also, he doesn’t provide baker’s percentages or dough hydrations. Sometimes I needed way more or way less flour than he calls for, and it would’ve been nice to get a general idea of what the dough’s hydration should be so I know whether to keep adding or stop adding flour.
I also felt like this wasn’t a true beginner’s baking book. He never says it is, so I’m not faulting Leader here, but I’m looking for something really, really elementary that I can recommend to true beginners. So many bread books provide a cursory overview of the process and ingredients that I don’t think true beginners get a very good grasp of each ingredient’s importance or each technique’s significance.
I do think this is a very good book in general though. It’s worth a look if you can find it!