I started baking bread somewhat regularly when I was given the first edition of Carol Field’s The Italian Baker. Since then I have learned a lot about bread making and highly recommend the following books to those who would like to learn strong fundamentals or to improve their existing technique.
Each recipe includes instructions for making the dough by Hand, by Mixer, and by Processor, and is prefixed with a description of the bread’s origins and characteristics. Measurements are provided in both volume and weight (oz/g). Some have starters/bigas while others are straight bread recipes. Over the course of more than a decade and a half I have made a very large number of the recipes.
The Ciabatta (p.79) turns out wonderfully, but the dough is VERY wet: you will want to mix and knead it in a wide bowl rather than trying to turn it out on a counter. When making the Rosemary bread (p.141), I place the salt in a mortar with the dried rosemary and grind both together rather than incorporating the rosemary whole. The Ricciarelli are phenomenal (p.378: soft almond paste cookies from Siena). Most recently I made Pane all Cioccolata (p.191) and Pane al Latte (p.192), sandwiching the dough from the latter to make Milk and Chocolate bread (p.194; pictured above). The resulting loaf was barely sweet, but still quite good – particularly when it came warm from the oven or was lightly toasted and buttered.
All the recipes call for active dry yeast or fresh, compressed yeast, and include a yeast-activation step, unlike the next two books that call for instant yeast and a straight incorporation.
Bread: a baker’s book of techniques and recipes, by Jeffrey Hamelman. This and the next book really changed the way I bake bread, teaching me to understand dough development rather than just follow a recipe. My loaves became much better as a result of what I learned. I started being able to trouble-shoot problems very successfully when friends and family asked me for baking advice, and to rescue my own loaves when dough just didn’t feel right.
Crust and Crumb: master formulas for serious bread bakers, by Peter Reinhart. These really are serious recipes that can take a lot of time. The book also discusses technique. Peter Reinhart is a huge authority in the bread-baking community.
King Arthur Flour online recipes. I love King Arthur Flour’s recipes. Their Sourdough Pizza Crust is my favorite crust recipe, and allows me to use the discard dough from my sourdough starter. Dinner guests rave about this crust, and often request the recipe. Since it requires sourdough starter, I sometimes simply gift frozen pizza dough balls to them. Recipes from the King Arthur website also have the bonus of baker’s reviews and notes on alterations that can’t be obtained from a cookbook. However, King Arthur Flour also has recipe books that are available through InfoSoup, including The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion
CAUTION: Once you start making your own bread, you may no longer be able to eat loaves from the store.
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