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Baking bread

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I have just quit my job and, having more time than usual to cook, I'd like to improve my bread baking before I rejoin the rat race.

I fancy myself a decent everyday cook, and am quite vain about much of my baking. But other than a rather basic focaccia, I haven't done a lot with yeast breads or those with a sourdough starter.

Can fellow Hounds offer advice as to bread-specific cookbooks? I have Nick Malgeiri's How to Bake, the Culinary's baking textbook (quite intimidating--huge quantities require scaling down), and a load of the basics (eg the Joy, Bittman, the new McGee and The Way to Cook and Mastering the Art of French Cooking) but would like to find a book that has a fair amount on technique, including on forming loaves (eg the Epi). Like many of you, I'm a sucker for more cookbooks and read them like novels.

Also, I have a plain old Kitchenaid oven--nothing professional or quasi-professional, though it does have convection. Does anyone have anything to say about the Hearthkit or other ways to get a nice crust?

Many thanks in advance!

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  1. Rose Levy Beranbaum's Bread Bible or any thing by Bernie Clayton. We have not bothered with a hearth kit. We have a very substantial pizza stone and an old stainless gratin pan for water that sits on the lower shelf for steam. I got my DH started making bread 30 years ago. Practice has produced some perfect bread.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Candy

      Thanks to everyone for the useful advice so far!

      A stupid question: When baking bread, should you use convection? I do have a pizza stone and will likely follow the advice to use this and the pan of water to provide steam.

      1. re: LindaMc

        I love the deep dark crusts that you can develop with convection. I like to run the oven hot so I have to be careful that I don't set the crust before the center is finished.

        But yes, use convection and adjust the heat settings a bit downward until you find what your oven can do with a particular bread (each type of bread calls for different crusts. I usually do not make sandwich breads, but either boules, batards, baguettes, or rolls or crusty breads (even my rye has a crust)).

        But you may find that a rich crumbed bread like a brioche tastes better without a thick chewy crust. I still like to finish off the brioche to get a deep gold so turn on the convection for the last part of the bake.

        1. re: Food Tyrant

          Mmmmm--brioche...Thanks very much for this great advice!

    2. I did not find the Rose Levy Beranbaum book to be all that good. It seemed to me that she decided that with the success of the Peter Reinhart books and Nancy Silverton, a book on bread would sell.

      I found that the Bread Baker's Apprentice or Breads of the La Brea Bakery are far better books.

      Enjoy. And do make your own starter. You will never go back to using yeast again.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Food Tyrant

        Beth Hensperger also has a book out called The Bread Bible. Beranbaum's book has a little more star appeal, but from what I gleaned from flipping through it it's for a slightly more advanced bread baker.

        I have a copy of Hensperger's book, and it's been great so far. It's very basic, very easy to follow, and most of the recipes use similar ingredients. Therefore, you can make a lot of different kinds of bread with just a few basic types of flours and mix-ins. It has enough fancier recipes to make the book interesting, but I haven't gotten to them yet.

        But if you already have a lot of basic books, Beranbaum's might be right up your alley.

        1. re: nooodles

          I've heard good things about the Hensperger books, but have never cooked from one, so couldn't personally recommend it.

          I bought Bread Baker's Apprentice (BBA) because it was touted as good for beginners and more advanced bakers. Although a good sweets baker, I was a novice at yeast breads and thought this would be good for me. To be honest, I've found it challenging, but I think that results from Peter and I having different goals in our baking. His goal is to get the maximum amount of flavor from the fewest ingredients (e.g. really coaxing flavor out of the flour through fermentation, pre-fermentation and an intricate enzyme dance). This is a great goal, and I am not belittling it (although I am poking a bit of fun). However, it is totally different from my goal (to make a good loaf of bread that doesn't require greater than 24 hours and bzillions of pages of text).

          Whether I would recommend BBA really depends on what you're after. He does have excellent information on technique and formulas, and it seems that you have the time at the moment to pursue this.

          If nothing else, go to your local library and check some of these books out. That's what I did with RLB's bread bible, and sort of wish I had done with BBA. My library doesn't have a great selection of the Hensperger books, or I would have checked one of those out.

          Good luck!

          Smokey

      2. Do follow the advice about checking out some baking books from your library before buying. I am currently test-driving Maggie Glezer's Artisan Baking Across America.

        You don't need a Hearthkit or even a baking stone. Just get a bunch of unglazed quarry tiles from Home Depot or a tile store.

        1 Reply
        1. re: doctor_mama

          I've had great success with unglazed quarry tiles. I also use a giant clay flower pot saucer that can accommodate multiple small loaves or one huge loaf for a big bread bowl soup tureen or dip holder for parties.

        2. Hi:

          There is but ONE bread book that you need. It's called....wait for it...BREAD by Master Baker Jeffrey Hamelman.

          The book is written for professionals with the home baker in mind.

          You can use this book for the technical aspects of bread baking, or the shaping techniques, or just the fomulas.

          I promise you this book is void of nonsense and mistakes and is written by a baker and not someone who is a "food writer".

          If you need any assitance, I'm here to help.

          Regards,

          Ralph
          Adagio Bakery & Cafe
          email me at:
          adagiobakery@gmail.com

          1 Reply
          1. re: Adagio

            This is an excellent suggestion. But I think LindaMc should be aware that there are a great many excellent books on bread--with Hammelman, Rhinehart, Glezer, Ortega, and Bertinet topping many lists. A lot depends on how much theory a baker wants to understand. Some do well by knowing how to engineer a loaf. Others do better simply to follow a good recipe. But no matter what the approach, ultimately it has to be the dough to teach you as you respond to the way it feels, smells, and behaves. I also think it is important to stress that the novice baker shouldn'g be intimidated by ingredients which are mostly just flour and water. The only potentially expensive item is yeast, so it is a good idea to buy the yeast in a vacuum-packed "brick" from Costco or the like. Then the costs are minimal. I think, though, that what separates good breads from superior breads are four simple things: a) using a preferment (like a biga, poolish, or even sourdough starter), b) giving the enzymes time to work through an autolyse and/or slower rise at room temperature; c) the slower rise at room temperature; and d) baking in an initially moist atmosphere. Almost all of the books will introduce a novice baker to these techniques. Finally, one might add, learning about bakers' percentages will help a novice baker understand how a recipe hangs together.

          2. Best advice I could give you for crust is whatever recipe you use, whatever method you use, use Jim Lahey's hot pot baking method. This came from his no-knead technique but adapts to other breads equally well.

            What it is, is heat a large casserole (I prefer a clay tagine) with your oven. An oven stone is not necessary in this case as the container accomplishes the same thing. Put your proofed and shaped (or barely shaped if you're doing the whole no-knead thing) loaf into the blazing hot pot. Cover it and bake for 30 minutes (no convection required). Uncover and remove loaf. Let bake 5-15 minutes more to finish off the crust.

            The advantage of the tagine is that it is shallow and flat. You can wash and/or slash your loaf without burning yourself. The results are fabulous! http://www.flickr.com/photos/75667634...

            1. I'd suggest that you go to a book store and check out baking books there and on amazon.com/barnes and noble.com and decide what kin of bread YOU want to make. What would your family enjoy, and what would fit with your lifestyle? Do you want mainly sandwich breads and rolls? European-style breads? Healthy multi-grain-type breads? German sourdough ryes? Sourdough breads? Do you have children? If so, what ages and how sophisticated are their tastes? Somethings for you to think about. What bread-making equipment do you have or are you prepared to purchase?

              There are a plethora of bread baking books availalbe, and you've gotten some excellent suggestions here - some of my favorite bread baking books have been recommended to you. Then come back here and ask for opinins about the ones that appeal to you the most.

              In addition to those mentioned, many folks love the Artisan Breads in 5 Minutes a Day, a book of new techniques that many folks are having remarkable success with.

              Good luck to you, baking homemade bread is SO satisfying!

              1. I, too, am trying to bake my own bread while unemployed. The bread book I started with was "Beard on Bread" by James Beard. It's not an encyclopedic work, but it's a good, accessible beginner's book. There are plenty of good books out there, but that's the one that got me going.

                The other thing that got me baking my own bread was inviting a bread-making friend over to show me how. Not a professional baker, just a friend with experience. We spent a fun afternoon going over ingredients and techniques, and produced a couple of loaves of bread in the process. That got me over my initial phase of feeling overwhelmed by the process.

                I agree with the suggestions to test-drive cookbooks from the library before purchasing them. It seems so obvious, yet it's so easy to forget that option.

                Enjoy!

                1. I realize this is a resurrected thread, and so I wanted to comment since the op's first post. I wonder how LindaMc did and if she was able to accomplish what she set out to do. Something about being unemployed jolts the bread baking urge in we cooks that normally do our magic with pots and pans.

                  I did the same when I quit, I immediately decided this was the time to start my bread baking. I did, and I started out with smaller breads what I've heard people refer to as simple breads. Let me tell you, its not all that easy to make great banana bread, cookies, scones or any baked good along that line. Within the first year I moved on to yeast bread, then things got really interesting.
                  Martha Stewart's book was helpful for cookies, simple baked goods, as a matter of fact, I got terrific results with her pullman bread. This particular book is a favorite of mine.
                  During my search I'd stumble on different recipes in books of chefs, and I did get some bread recipes from Wolfgang Puck's book. His (or his pastry chef's) challah bread recipe is fantastic bread, I mean it's not just gorgeous, but really tasty.

                  Another book fell onto my radar screen when I started to get really serious, I happened to mention to a friend, that I was really starting to enjpy baking, something I'd avoided most of my life. I found to do it well was not an easy task. That Christmas she gifted me with The Bread Bakers' Apprentice. This is such a good bread book, interesting read, and very helpful, I've learned quite a bit. But no this is not a book for beginners, I would not of gone past the first chapter if this book was in my possession during the first year. Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook was pretty much on the money for my skill level in the beginning. And there's nothing wrong with that! I turned out good muffins, and breads. I swear her blueberry muffins are the best I've had.

                  I've taken bread recipes from here and there, random cookbooks or one of the food magazines, and I know one thing for sure. Unless the person that's writing the recipe really has done the work (baked a lot), be careful with the recipe. I've made my share of terrible pizza doughs, biscuits, and muffins from using so called trusted food magazines and sources. There are very few that really know how to make good bread.

                  MY vote for beginners is Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook
                  and for intermediate to expert, The Bread Baker's Apprentice, I'm still working through this one and it's been a great deal of fun.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: chef chicklet

                    Thanks for the suggestions.

                    Funny, until reading your post I didn't even realize that the original post was almost five years old!