Customer Review

172 of 175 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The REAL Bread Bible, December 10, 2004
This review is from: Crust & Crumb: Master Formulas For Serious Bakers (Hardcover)
This title would have been ironic for two reasons: this baking book has greater claim to the "Bread Bible" moniker than several other books that actually use this title; further, the author is a lay Brother in a religious order (I gather that he is not ordained clergy as such). This is not one of those "throw it together and toss it into the oven" sort of baking book; for these, look up Betty Crocker. The bread recipes in this book are rather long and designed as complete lessons to teach you how to properly make bread. It is a valuable educational tool, and not a happy-go-lucky affair.

The author of this wonderful book has personally perfected all of the bread recipes, and has even taught them to culinary and baking students in professional programs. Many currently popular baking books, despite a well respected reputation and big name on the cover, are "authored" by someone whose only experience with bread baking is tossing in a loaf made by a prep cook into a hot oven (and then leaving it to a sous chef to actually watch the bread and take it out of the oven when it is done) or who does not seem to actually like bread, but uses it as a springboard for creativity. Most of these books are full of inaccurate recipes lacking in necessary detail that will never produce a decent loaf of bread; this book is a happy exception.

Baking bread is not difficult, but it does require planning (in some cases, several days ahead of time), plus the home bread baker has to pay attention to what he is doing. This book will show you how; it is one of the few I have seen that teaches the home baker how to properly make a loaf from beginning to end. The recipes are thorough, complete, leave nothing out, and very reliable. This is one of the only non-professional bread books I know of that produces whole grain loaves that are edible. Trying to come up with a workable bread recipe at home is actually more difficult than in a professional bakery that already has a collection of tried and true recipes; more than once, this book has helped in solving problems I encountered trying to bake bread at home and that never come up in a production kitchen. It also finally reveals the secret to rye bread that will not chip a tooth: coarse rye flour (all bread books I have seen say to use the finest grind rye you can find).

This book is one of the few that describes the "window pane" test, the only way to really tell when bread dough is properly kneaded; "knead until smooth and satiny" is not an adequate instruction for an inexperienced bread baker, yet this is what most bread books will tell you. The recipes themselves are laid out like class projects that you would give to a beginning student at a cooking school, meaning that with a little effort and dedication, a relatively inexperienced baker will have success with the recipes.

One problem is the lay out of the chapters. The 2 most difficult bread types, French bread and sourdough, are the first 2 chapters, while the easiest ones (and ones that the neophyte should try first) on multi grain breads and quick breads are further back in the book. The author should have either organized the book's chapters in increasing order of difficulty, or given a recommended chapter order in the introductory material. Also helpful would have been a listing in the recipes as to how long that recipe takes, as some must be started several days in advance. The baking of flatbreads is also a mystery: he recommends placing, watching, flipping, and docking them. Problem is, they only take a minute or two to bake; if you are doing these things, the temperature of the oven drops dramatically each time you open the door, and the brief baking times do not permit the temperature to recover. So, even though you set the oven to 500 degrees, it could be 350 or less by the time you leave the oven door open to manipulate the dough.

Note that all recipes have a professional format: ingredient amounts are listed in both volume and weight measurements, there is a table of baker's percentages, and the steps are strictly numbered. The recipes are complete, meaning that few have less than a dozen steps, and several occupy multiple pages. Most recipes are accompanied by extensive notes. The first chapter is one the author rightfully expects you to read and thoroughly understand before doing any of the recipes in the rest of the book, as it contains vital information you will need. I should also say that this exemplary information is important for bread baking in general, and applies to all other loaves you might try, no matter which baking book you are using. The 2 recipes for French bread alone are worth the price of admission. Note that he has complete, tested recipes for poolish, biga, old dough, and barm.

It has these chapters: basics, pre-ferments, sourdough, whole grain, rye, enriched, flatbreads, quick breads, and winning recipes from the bread Olympics. The bibliography is especially valuable.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Mar 14, 2011 8:18:52 PM PDT
D. Sonaike says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on May 19, 2011 11:57:38 PM PDT
jerry i h says:
Unless you have 'way too much time n your hands', you will never become a good bread baker.
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