Book Review - Bread

Bread: A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes by Jeffrey Hamelman, Wiley, 2004

If there was an American qualified to pull off a book simply titled “Bread”, Jeffrey Hamelman would be on the short list.  He is the director of the Bakery and Baking Education Center for King Arthur Flours and was at one time captain of the Baking Team USA that competed in the “Bread Olympics” in Paris which took first place in 1999.  Suffice to say, he knows a thing or two about the art of baking and his command of the topic comes through in his book Bread.

Like Peter Reinhart's BBA, Jeffery Hamelman spends the first quarter of Bread talking about the theory and method of baking bread.  In contrast with BBA, the discussion is clearly targeted for a baking technician, but is still very approachable for a home baker with some experience.  I especially enjoy his presentation on flour and the different grains used to make bread.

Of the cookbooks I have read, Bread presents an exceptional array of formula covering the entire spectrum of bread with especially strong sourdough and rye offerings.  Each formula presents both a “home” and commercial version.  The process associated with each formula is clearly presented and I have yet to find a flaw with any I have attempted.

In addition to general overview at the beginning of Bread, Jeffery also presents dedicated sections to the unique techniques needed to bake sourdough and high percentage rye breads.  Later in the book there is an excellent section on forming braided breads which I constantly refer back to.  This is also one of the rare books that has a section on making decorative breads.  While I have not tried it, making a basket out of bread would be an interesting project.

Bread is the book I used when I started working with sourdough.  His “Five-Grain Levain” and “Sourdough Seed Bread” are regulars on my weekly bakes.  His “Sourdough Rye with Walnuts” is also excellent and a good place to try out the techniques specific to rye breads.  After two years, I still routinely turn to Jeffery’s masterpiece.  My only grumble with Bread is the lack of pictures.  There are color pictures at places that show the final result for the critical breads but I do feel it detracts a bit from an otherwise exceptional book.

While not the best book for a person first starting out, it is the book you will want when casual baking turns into a weekly routine.  If I was being sent to a prison colony on a far away island, this is the book I would try and sneak along.

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