Grandma found Angela Taylor's Bread Baking Recipes & Secrets hugely interesting. As you may know, Grandma has been collecting cookbooks (over 600 in paper) and baking bread for more than 50 years and always has room for "just one more." The book makes for an interesting read, but quite frankly, Angela and Grandma disagree on a number of things. Let's take a look at Chapter 1, Tools & Equipment:
First, you can bake good bread in any oven, even a "low-quality" or "older" oven. Grandma has had a good many ovens over the years and those older ovens were often of far better quality and far better insulated than most of today's ovens. For that matter, you can bake good bread in a campfire or a wood stove. There are reasons to use a pizza stone, but one is hardly required even in a low-quality, older" oven.
Angela says "Bowls must only be large enough to hold the dough; any kind of bowl will do." Grandma says "If your bowl is only just large enough to hold the dough, it will have nowhere to rise except for all over your counter and the floor." Any kind of bowl "will do" but don't use your fine china.
The Great Silicone Mat - Parchment Paper Debate: Angela says "Parchment paper is ovenproof and is an alternative to non-stick pans or silicone mats. Parchment paper is low-investment way to make your first few loafs,(sic) but is not economical over time." (sic) Grandma says: quality silicone mats are expensive (a quick Amazon search shows the cheapest to be about $10 for a mat 10 x 15 inches) and must be purchased individually for different sizes of pans. They cannot be used at temperatures higher than 500F, do not fit well into Dutch Ovens (think No Knead Bread) and cannot be cut to any size you need. Grandma owns a couple of baking mats that have come her way over the years but invariably opts for parchment paper simply because it allows for so many different uses than the mats.
Disposable gloves! As far as Grandma is concerned, a huge part of the sheer joy of bread baking is the tactile experience of handling the dough. Food handler's gloves are for McDonald's, not your home kitchen. Learn to use your bench scraper correctly (it is not just for cleaning up) and you won't have dough bits under your fingernails.
Grandma and a whole lot of other bakers, including virtually every modern "authority," strongly disagree with Angela when it comes to which kind of yeast to use. Now, Grandma does agree that those little packets of yeast aren't even worth mentioning. They are, among other things, hugely expensive; use of them can easily nearly double the cost of a batch of bread. However, the modern instant yeasts like the SAF Grandma uses allow much more streamlined mixing procedures, the use of higher temperature liquids and require substantially less yeast than the older forms of active dry yeast do. The speed at which your dough rises has far more to do with the temperature than it does with the particular yeast used. No less an authority than Peter Reinhart, known worldwide as an award-winning bread baker, author of multiple award-winning books on bread baking and instructor at Johnson & Wales, uses instant yeast even for his long-rise artisan breads that proof overnight in a refrigerator. One simply uses less yeast.
To Grandma's ear they read oddly, more like a handout from baking school rather than a cookbook for beginning bread bakers. Grandma doesn't recall having ever once seen an instruction line that read "Punch, scale, round, and bench as normal" outside of a textbook. Moreover, instructions are sometimes exceedingly skimpy like these directions for shaping Challah:
"Challah is traditionally braided or rolled. Braids can with as few as 3 and as many as 6 strands. If the dough is to be braided, scale the dough into as many strands as you intend to use in each braid."
Angela says not another word about how to accomplish that traditional braid. By way of contrast, a baking book that arrived on Grandma's doorstep yesterday afternoon contains 19 pages of pictures and text demonstrating the very intricate Challah braid and a variation or two.
Grandma would like to say that this is a one-off omission, but much the same situation occurs with Ciabatta bread. Ciabatta is called that because of its resemblance to an old fashioned slipper. It is made from an extremely soft dough that requires a bit of special handling to acquire the correct slipper shape. This is the sum total of Angela's instructions: "Pour the batter onto an oiled and floured baking sheet and shape as much as possible into a uniformly shaped loaf." As an aside, Grandma pours nothing at all ever onto her baking sheets. That is what parchment paper is for! Grandma loves to bake. Grandma does not love doing dishes.
Grandma's bottom line: There's nothing new to be found here. The recipes are of a standard sort available in any of the well-known, authoritative baking books, at more than a few internet sites devoted to bread baking and even on Youtube. Grandma strongly recommends that those who really would like to learn to bake bread seek out some of those other resources.
I have mixed feelings about this cookbook. In the first half, the author is giving tools or definitions for processes to bread baking. For that, I would have recommended this book to any novice bread makers. Given that bread making is a real science, I thought she did a SUPERB job in this area. However, then she took that attention to detail and simply tossed it out in the recipe section. The recipes are simply thrown together, sloppily written and no photos are given. It was pretty bizarre!