While working at the Herbfarm I was placed in charge of the bread program. At any time I was feeding 4-5 different starters (including a gluten free starter). We made everything from Epi, to Pan De Campagne(even a very good rye sourdough!). We used rye, barely, spelt, red winter wheat, and everything in between. It was one of my favorite tasks. It is funny, because a couple years prior I recall trying to make some loaves at another establishment and failing miserably. Luckily, I worked side by side with the sous Chef until he left and handed off bread baking. I even upgraded the gluten free options(oh goodness…gluten free). There is just something relaxing about making bread. Taking the time to shape it, weigh it and fold it is therapeutic. Bread has its own time, you can’t rush it, you have to wait.
The sourdough starters need to be taken care of, they are living breathing organisms. Colonies of lactobacillus and other forms of bacterium that I am sure I am not aware of. As long as they are fed they can ward off fungus and other intruders in the starter. When placed in the dough, they create a harmony between the flour and yeast. Most importantly, the flavor that comes from each sour starter is unique and adds depth to each loaf. However, making a starter is an elusive skill. How does one start a starter? What type of flour do you use? There are a lot of questions when you try to make a sourdough starter (I know I had a lot of questions)
The one problem with bread, is there are so many recipe books and blogs devoted to bread. There are rustic bread books, 50 easy no knead bread books, some touting gluten free recipes, others just putting bad recipes into peoples hands. This makes it a challenge when trying to buy a decent bread cook book.
Over the course of my training I was exposed to several books I would say are worth reading. This is in no particular order. I think all of them would benefit the home baker and chef. Below are my top favorite bread baking books.
I cannot give this book enough praise. It does not merely supply recipes with vague instructions. It explains every step, the reasons behind it and really gives a good understanding of what bread is. Recipes are just one aspect of cooking, what is way more important is understanding what you are cooking and why it works. If you just mindlessly follow recipes, you will never really learn to cook. You should understand how the sourdough starter works, why shaping your loaf in certain shapes, why slicing your bread in specific ways, makes a difference. Anyone can follow a recipe, but it takes true chefs and cooks to figure out how they went wrong, or how they went right. How else do you expect to improve. Is your bread too dense, too light, too tough, not tough enough? Why? Well, check out this book and you will see why. Amazon actually has a pretty cool walk through where you can actually look through the pages of the book as well.
Some of you are probably looking at this book and wondering why I chose a company cookbook. King Arthur Flour, why should we buy a flour company’s cookbook? I am going to say that King Arthur has done so much for flour and bread baking that, trust me, this book is worth it. Have you ever heard of the WSU Bread Lab? They grow thousands of varieties here in Washington. The Skagit Valley has 80,000 acres of farm land that just grows wheat. King Arthur, along with WSU have been breeding new varieties of wheat using the concept of local food system breeding( they try to create breeds for the local ecological system, rather than for the money). Having visited the lab, I got to see some pretty cool equipment used to test gluten levels, protein, elasticity, etc. In the famous words of Mark Watney “I am going to have to Science the s*** out of this”.
What I really like about this book is it often provides variations of the same bread. I think this develops a natural understanding of how to tweak recipes. Whether you want to or not. You eventually begin to realize that even pastry and bread recipes have openings where you can change them, if you understand how they work at a lower level. This book will help get you there. Have you heard of a bakers ratio? Why is it used? How can you use it to further your own bread knowledge. It is funny, I used to know a baker who would go around and measure everything. I mean everything. Humidity, room temperature, air pressure, wind, the phase of the freaking moon and write it all down. From there, he would make slight adjustments to his bakers ratio to try to match the specific moisture levels he previewed. Then he would note the results of his bread! You may think that is crazy…but he made dam good bread.
To be honest. Everyone needs a good sourdough book. The books above all have sourdough recipes. That is great and all. However, owning one book devoted to the secret art is a must. If I were to tell you to pick two books, I would say this one and any of the others. Understanding sourdough, teaches a lot. Bread before yeast relied on so many different forms of leavening. Starters were one form! So being able to understand this mother of breads will help you further define your skills. Then you can take them and show them off to your family.
What I love about this book, is it spells it out. All bread is, is flour, water, salt and yeast. The ingredients are simple! What you and I need to do is have good technique. That is what this book will help you do. It will help you develop the skills required to make bread. Good luck!
Finally, Tartine. Now you might have already seen this book on another of my lists. Tartine does great work, that is why it has ended up on this list. My favorite recipe in this book is the English muffins. We used them on one menu at the Herbfarm with foie gras and a sweet fruit of some kind. It is basically an amazing breakfast that anyone would love! Honestly, you should just keep this book in your house for a slow day. Get a nice warm cup of coffee and spend hours reading the recipes and the stories of the food Tartine puts out (Although, I wish they had more pictures!). They are beyond just “Solid Technique”. You might want to Youtube a few things before you bake away. Nevertheless. Go at it! Maybe send me a picture of your final creations!
For those Gulten Free seekers. I do have one cook book for you. I know there is a lot of ridicule that goes around for those who are GF. There is hope. Here is the one GF cook books I would recommend. It helped me develop a few recipes at the Herbfarm.
Having European heritage, bread was always around. A good rustic french bread would only last a day at my house. It might not even make it home from the supermarket. We used them to soak up saucy messes, build sandwiches with headcheese or just eat with some butter and salt. However, the best way to have any bread, is fresh out of the oven. No salt, no butter, just tear into the fresh bread you just made and enjoy. The only way to experience this, is to make your own bread. Good Luck.
Thanks for reading about my favorite baking books. Let me know what you think. If you have other bread books you loved fill me in! I am always looking for great new insights into what the best bread books are.
Tags: What is the best bread cook book; How do I make Sourdough; 5 best baking books; baking books; how do i make bread; bread from scratch