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The Bread Bible: 300 Favorite Recipes
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151 of 161 people found the following review helpful
This is the first of two books by the same name `The Bread Bible' written by Beth Hensperger and published by Chronicle Books in 1999. The second book with this title, written by Rose Levy Beranbaum and published by W. W. Norton & Company in 2003 I have reviewed earlier, before I discovered this title.
This occurrence is actually a rare good fortune, as it gives us a chance to compare two essays of exactly the same subject and pick that effort which does the better job on the subject. Both authors appear to have ample credentials for the chuzpah required to write a book with such a pretentious title. Ms. Hensperger has written five other books on bread baking and Ms. Beranbaum has written three other large, well received books on baking, two of which are also `bibles' on their topics.
Ms. Hensperger gives us 473 pages of text and 21 pages of index at $32.50 while Ms. Beranbaum gives us 608 pages of text and 21 pages of index for $35.00. Ms. Hensperger gives us 25 very useful introductory pages on equipment, flour, and general techniques. Ms. Beranbaum gives us 62 pages of what I considered to be a model of culinary writing on the ten essential steps to making bread. This is the first sign that Ms. Beranbaum is aiming at a much more sophisticated audience than Ms. Hensperger.
Ms. Hensperger gives us no color photographs or diagrams illustrating techniques. The few line drawings seem to be primarily for decoration. Ms. Beranbaum's book provides four sections of full color photographs of the baked products essayed in the book. She also provides many pages of expertly done line drawings illustrating baking techniques such as the `business letter fold', layering foccacia with herbs, and making sticky buns. Other line drawings give very good pictures of baking equipment.
Ms. Hensperger's Table of Contents with the name of each and every recipe spelled out is much more to my taste than Ms. Beranbaum's simple chapter headings. Fitting Ms. Hensperger's home baker orientation, she has two whole chapters devoted to using a food processor and a bread machine for bread recipes. Ms. Beranbaum discusses bread machines, finds useful things they can do, but ultimately keeps them on the sidelines due to their small capacity and the tendency of most to heat the dough, causing a too fast rise in the dough for optimum taste. Rose is certainly not a Luddite, as she makes extensive use of the KitchenAid stand mixer and its big brother the Hobart stand mixer. I prefer to not use bread machines. If you are comfortable with them, Ms. Hensperger may have more to offer you.
It is no surprise that both authors deal with brioche. Ms. Hensperger includes four recipes for brioche and three variations. All are embedded in a chapter on egg breads including Challah. Ms. Beranbaum devotes a whole chapter of 45 pages to brioche, including Challah, cinnamon buns, panettone, and a provocatively named `stud muffin'. Lots of variations on each recipe are given. As with all recipes, Ms. Beranbaum's approach is much more detailed and precise. The most obvious sign is that all of Rose's recipes give ingredients in both volume and weight in imperial and metric units. This feature alone would swing my choice in favor of Ms. Beranbaum's work. Another example of Rose's precision is that she specifies the high gluten brands of all-purpose flour rather than simple `all-purpose flour. I am constantly amazed at the variety in recipes for brioche. Like every other authoritative recipe, both recommend an overnight rise, but the two recipes start the sponge in much different ways, with Ms. Beranbaum using a much more finicky approach, being very careful to avoid exposing the yeast in the sponge to salt than Ms. Hensperger. When separating the dough to be put into molds, Ms. Hensperger is unconcerned about differences in size. Ms. Beranbaum is not compulsive about same sizes, but does recommend a scale to achieve uniform amounts of dough in the molds.
Neither author oversimplifies her procedures, but Rose Beranbaum consistently gives a much more professional instruction and a deeper understanding about what is going on along the way. Both have an ample amount of passion and love for what they are doing. If you are a home baker and can find Ms. Hensperger's book at a good discount, you will not go wrong. If you are a baking hobbyist or even aspiring to being a professional baker, then Ms. Beranbaum's book is the one you want. Both are excellent. Ms. Beranbaum and her publishers seem to have invested much more energy, money, and precision into their volume.
Judging from other reviewers comments, some errors have been detected in this book. The same is true of Ms Beranbaum's book. This issue is a wash and I have stopped holding a small number of minor errors like that against cookbooks.
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53 of 53 people found the following review helpful
on September 9, 2007
This book is just wonderful! I have been baking bread by hand for several years now and have thouroughly enjoyed it, but this book has helped me to stretch beyond the recipe and try some new things. In the past 2 weeks, I think I have made 7 recipes out of this book. I just can't seem to stop. The Bulgur Oatmeal bread, I think, is the best bread I have ever tasted. Absolutely AMAZING! I also made the Sesame Burger Buns, Whole Wheat Long Rolls, Vienna Bread, Pain Campagne and Farm-Style White Bread with Cardamom. I have probably 200 cookbooks and this is my new favorite! A must read!
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36 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on July 13, 2000
I LOVE this book. It has lots and lots of recipes for whole grain breads, white breads, rustic breads, quick breads, flat breads, etc, etc. However, what sets her book apart from other "comprehensive" books is the quality of the recipes. I am constantly picking up my copy of the Bread Bible to try something new, and I haven't been disappointed in the results yet. She also gives great pointers on ingredients and methods, and tells you how to convert "by hand" recipes to recipes for either the food processor or bread machine. The book doesn't have photographs in it like some, but frankly, if they had to make room for photos there wouldn't be so many great recipes, so that suits me just fine. It's beautifully designed and easy to read. It's a pleasure to own this book.
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48 of 52 people found the following review helpful
on January 31, 2011
The book seems to have some errors. I am an experienced bread baker. After having made a black bread by the author (which I got off the internet - and found it delicious) I bought the book. At first I attributed the poor quality doughs to the weather, improperly measuring flour, me in general, but then I used another book for a couple bread recipes and LO the bread turned out well. So back to the drawing board with this book. I weighed the flour this time. Still problems. Too sticky (sourdough). Then I decided to make the Hungarian Nut Rolls and discovered an actual mistake. Apparently you only have to proof the yeast and do not have to actually put it into the bread. I have read it and reread it several times. The yeast addition to the bread is MIA. I did not notice it when I preread (three times) the recipe before embarking. I think my mind assumed it. It almost did as I was making the bread. It was only my wariness of the recipes that forced me to be ever so exacting with her recipes that lead to the discovery.

I hate writing bad reviews especially for cookbooks because I know how hard it must be to edit them, but you cannot publish something called a "bible" of something and have so many errors. I can only imagine a person just starting to bake dealing with these problems. It is untenable. I am not saying all the recipes are faulty (they are not and some are quite good), but this many problems (IMO) are just unacceptable. There are better bread books out there. My go to seems to be Beatrice Ojakangas.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on October 14, 2007
I love this book. It is by far, the easiest, most delicious bread recipe book I have owned. Without getting overly technical it gives recipes and tips for making wonderful home cooked bread. I don't have a bread maker, but there are plenty of those recipes as well. I made the mountain white bread first and it made wonderful sandwiches for lunch. Next, I made banana bread that was so moist and delicious I've already had requests for more.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
Beth Hensperger writes excellent recipes -- common sense, easy to follow, no errors. And the results are incredible!
This to my mind is the best cookbook I've bought since Deborah Madison's. Beth emphasizes simple, elegant baking that focuses on the ingredients.
She offers great recipes for the food processor and the bread machine. Most of the recipes, in fact, can actually be made in the food processor -- she offers advice to help you convert a "by hand" recipe to a "by machine" one.
For example...
My husband particularly loved her "Artichoke, Pepper, and Eggplant Pie." The recipe is easily made in a food processor; you can use frozen artichoke hearts and canned tomatoes (Muir Glen gives the best results).
I made the dough in the food processor, left it to rise, washed out the work bowl and then used it to chop the onion, peppers, and eggplant. Then I tossed all the vegetables in a pan to saute for 15 mins. 20 mins. prep in all and I didn't even get my counter dirty!
Usually rolling out dough can be difficult -- the dough doesn't always want to roll out. But this dough was so easy to work with!
I draped the bottom crust in the pan, filled it with the vegetables, added some eggs and cheese to help the whole thing hold together and folded the top crust over. Popped it in the oven and in an hour I had the most beautiful rustic-looking Tuscan-type vegetable pie.
It really was gourmet-cookbook picture-perfect, but so so simple. My husband really thought I had gone out and bought it at Dean & DeLuca!
The flavors were fresh, balanced, and clean, as if it had been made right from the garden, while the dough was light and crisp, not soggy. My husband had thirds.
I don't mean to rave on and on, but rarely do you find a cookbook that gives the home baker excellent results without requiring hours of work and fancy equipment.
Plus, from her writing, you sense that Beth herself is a fun person who would be really cool to know. She is just very encouraging and supportive of the home baker.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon September 24, 2011
I have looked at this title many times and talked myself out of buying it repeatedly until I finally caved in and treated myself to a copy. It's a respected title in the field of bread baking and I was eager to try out several of the recipes therein and to compare results with breads made from different authors' methods and formulas. While the results are usually outstanding, this particular cookbook suffers from some editing issues that make it feasible for experienced bakers but not so good for beginners.

I have made several of the loaves described in this book and each time the final product was well worth the effort. My favorite thus far has been the Oatmeal Potato Bread which is a good daily loaf and is suitable for gifting. Although the author does not subscribe to the mindset of slow-rise bread baking the resulting loaves are usually full of flavor and have good crumb.

There is a problem, though. Each recipe I have tried has been flawed in one way or another. For example, the very first recipe in the book (White Mountain Bread) requires quite a bit more flour than specified - more than can be explained away by changing measuring method - and bakes up better in 8"x4" bread pans than the specified 9"x5" plans. This is minor but will result in disappointment for the baker just starting to work with breads. A more glaring error occurs in the Oatmeal Potato Bread recipe, which calls for chopping and boiling a potato and THEN peeling it to remove the skin. It also calls for 9"x5" pans when 8"x4" pans result in a more attractive loaf after baking.

I have been baking breads for my family for close to 15 years and I have learned a lot about the process. I know how to adjust on the fly and I know how to deal with imperfect recipes and instructions. Someone just learning how to make bread for themselves, however, could run into some difficulties that may prove to be very discouraging. If I had started with this book, I likely would have decided that I lacked 'the touch' and would have given up (or just used a bread machine).

The Bread Bible isn't a bad cookbook. It's actually a good book with some really good bread recipes. Unfortunately it needs to be edited better before it can be a truly awesome book on bread.
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29 of 34 people found the following review helpful
This bread book is a delight. Unlike Rosie's Bread Bible, this one is accessible, and is more for the home baker than the scientist. Have tried the Whole Wheat bread with olive oil (which allows for some improvisation, I converted the recipe into 5grain bread), and the Carrot bread, and both turned out great. My family says they would choose the carrot bread over any carrot cake, anytime!

You can still indulge in carbs by enjoying these breads in the morning, and having no other carbs after breakfast.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on September 17, 2008
i've been baking bread at the side of many relatives over the years, and have never found a cookbook that so perfectly captures everything i love about bread. the thrill of watching yeast proof, seeing your dough rise, and that final tantalizing scent of loaves baked already eaten. i made the buttermilk honey bread to start, and while it baked, it took me back to my aunt's kitchen in lincoln NE, making bread for the very first time.

every single loaf of bread i've made has been a huge hit... farmstead sourdough, oatmeal potato bread (omg yummy!) homemade flour tortillas (way better than store bought), graham bread... and i've only had the cookbook for 3 weeks.

the book has an absolutely fantastic collection of recipes, well laid out, with clear directions. the tips and tricks, also known as "bakers wisdom" really help new bakers begin, and hobbyists refine this joyful art. there are times the author throws some new ideas at you, which might not follow what you've been taught, or thought you should do. and if you try it her way, you'll be pleasantly surprised. great for acquiring new skills in the kitchen, and you don't have to have a mixer. just an ability to read the recipe, and throw your weight around with some dough.

this is a wonderful introduction to bread, and definitely my fave cookbook purchase of 2008.
whether you're looking for a dessert type bread, a hard working whole wheat, or a more unusual european varietal, this book hits all the high points.

UPDATE: 05/09/2011
So after owning this book for 2 1/2 years, watching my pages get stained with coffee from late night baking binges, wrinkly and covered in flour, I can truthfully say, this book is a workhorse in my kitchen. I own several other "big name" bread books, like the bread bakers apprentice and artisan bread in 5, and while those two have their place, this cookbook has not been eclipsed. I've not come across any major errors in the recipes, although I have not made the black bread that other reviewers have complained about. I've baked through a significant portion of the recipes, more than half, and Hensperger has crafted an essential basic bread cookbook. When I say "basic," I mean basic like a little black dress, an Hermes scarf, perfectly fitted trousers or a single strand of pearls. This book is one of those - essential, classic, and indispensable. Don't miss out on this bread book - it is absolutely worth it.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on September 10, 2001
I have been a fan of Beth Hensperger's books for years; in many ways, I attribute whatever success I have had as a baker to the things that I have learned from her. The Bread Bible is a very nice compendium of her work.
Unfortunately, the book suffers from poor editing. In two recipies that I have made recently, one failed to specify the baking temperature and the other failed to include an instruction to add a streusel topping (prepared in advance) to some muffins. Neither is serious, particularly to an experienced baker. But such errors can be confusing to the novice, and really are quite inexcusable.
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