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Apr 22, 2008 01:08 PM

Beard on Bread - recipe accuracy?

I've finally got my hands on a copy of James Beard's "Beard on Bread". I love the look of a lot of the recipes, because he offers a lot of loaves suitable for sandwiches, but at a glance I'm concerned about the accuracy of some of the ingredients. I work in metric, and I prefer to weigh all my ingredients in bread baking, and after converting a couple recipes to metric weights, it confirmed to me that a lot of the recipes are way off what I consider normal parameters for bread baking and baker's percentages.

He gives quantities of yeast which are hard to believe (.75oz of fresh yeast for 15.2oz of bread flour!), as well as weights in the conversion which seem a bit iffy. For example,one medium loaf contains .5oz of salt (double what I usually use). And 1 cup wholemeal flour weighs 110g (3.88oz). No matter how I scoop, my cups are at LEAST twice that.

In addition, my copy is a British edition from the 70s which gives US to UK conversions in a conversion chart, from US cups to UK cups, but doesn't specify which the recipes are measured in!

In the end, I made two loaves of "Myrtle Allen's Brown Bread" from the book - one loaf according to Beard's instructions (only with less salt), and one more in line with the baker's percentages I'm used to. They're cooling on a rack overnight, and I'll slice them open tomorrow and see what's up.

In the mean time, I thought I'd ask here - have you baked with this book, and have you had similar experiences to me? And which of the recipes do you recommend?


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  1. I think I have had that book since it was first published. I've not really had issues with it, but I think Beard had a major sweet tooth and found most of his breads to be overly sugared.

    1. I have a copy of the book and I've enjoyed it kind of for its historical value. Not so much for baking from. But I'm not surprised at the amount of yeast. I think much greater quantities of yeast were generally used back when it was written.

      1. I've baked many times with success from that book, but I use the American volume measurements, and have never used his book by weight. You will find that he likes lots of salt and uses more yeast than is truly necessary to raise the dough. He himself knows he uses lots of salt. I have a tendency to use his recipes in a free-form sort of way. I like his George Lang potato bread recipe, but, I do love caraway. Use a different source than Beard for sourdough.

        He uses about one packet of dry yeast (7 grams?) to raise a pound of plain flour.

        9 Replies
        1. re: saltwater

          Hi Saltwater. Yes, I see he's from the sourdough-should-be-started-with-commerical-yeast school of thought!

          I'm very happy with Silverton's Breads from La Brea Bakery and especially Hamelman's Bread when it comes to sourdough or even prefermented bread. I was just looking for something specifically for sandwiches, i.e. finer crumbed and baked in a loaf tin, and something I could make quite easily and relatively quickly, so we don't have to buy the presliced stuff from the store.

          Given how Beard measures all his breads by how well they slice and whether they make good toast (!), I think it's a good book for this particular task. I'm just trying to work out how much of a loose guide versus to-the-letter book it should be.

          1. re: Gooseberry

            Hi Gooseberry, it sounds like a pain de mie is what you are looking for. Take a look at

            1. re: Father Kitchen

              hi Father Kitchen,

              Isn't pain de mie usually white? I'm really looking for something wholewheat, that I can even add seeds or wheatberries to. My partner's diabetic, so aside from the occasional, greatly-savoured ciabatta or French bread, we try to stick to less refined breads, especially for our daily consumption. Thanks for the suggestion, though!

              1. re: Gooseberry

                That particular version of pan de mie is actually a mix of white and whole wheat flours.
                If you want to go 100% whole wheat, you might want to consult any of the new whole grain books, though some of them tame the whole grain by adding white flour. Alternatively, mix a dough with milk or buttermilk with whole wheat flour at about 67% hydration--the bran in it will cause it to absorb more water and it will be a bit stiffer than you would expect. Use about 2% salt. 1% yeast, though you can up the yeast a bit if you are in a real hurry. Sweeten with a bit of honey if you like. (Measure it with the milk.) Add about a small amount of oil or melted butter. If your wheat flour is fairly strong substitute oat flour (rolled oats ground in a food processor) for about 1/4 of the total weight of the flour. Knead well and let it ferment and proof in the usual manner. Skip punching down and the second rise if you are in a hurry. Bake at 375 in a well steamed oven. You can brush it with milk before you put it in if you like. Sorry this isn't a precise recipe. I tend to wing it. The oil and milk will help to make smaller alveoli. The honey improves keeping quality and goes nicely with the oats. I usually knead this for 45 seconds in a food processor fitted with a steel blade. For better flavor, though, I'd go for preferments or sourdough. Or keep some dough in the fridge following the Hertzberg and Fancois procedures. I just don't know how long enriched doughs can be safely kept, but I should think a few days. Karykat could probably tell us.
                I like white whole wheat flour with this bread, as I don't care much for strong tannin flavors. And if your whole wheat flour is not freshly milled, use the trick of mixing a small amount of orange juice with the liquid. The King Arthur book mentions that, but I don't recall the proportion. I think it was 1/4 cup, but I don't know if that was per loaf or per recipe. Maybe another poster will know.

                1. re: Father Kitchen

                  The Francois book (the 5-minute-a-day book) says you can keep her enriched dough in the fridge for 5 days (compared to the basic less rich doughes which you can keep for up to two weeks. She also says that you can freeze the dough (either type) if you are bumping up against those deadlines. To thaw, just put it in the fridge for 24 hours.

                  At the class she gave here a few months ago, she said that the basic unenriched dough can be kept two weeks but does not rise as much after a week. (She said it was very good for flatbreads after that week. And it would rise -- just not as much.) I would not have thought to freeze the dough, but she said she does it all the time with very good results. It seems like a really good way to have fresh bread all the time even when you are running low on time. And to avoid waste.

                  So both kinds of dough can be refrigerated and frozen.

                  1. re: karykat

                    And I checked the King Arthur book on baking with whole grains. The recipes typically use 15% by baker's percentages orange juice to whole wheat flour that has been stored and acquired a bitter taste. Better get it fresh and freeze it or mill it yourself.

                  2. re: Father Kitchen

                    Thanks for the rough bread recipe. I'm going to play around with it a bit (which is the best way to figure out anything in bread baking!).

                    I've played around with making challah using a variation on my quick no-knead bread by increasing the hydration somewhat, and the texture still comes out that lovely, feathery-flaky crumb which is so fine and even. Which lead me to assume that the fineness of the crumb is more about the fats than the kneading technique.

                    I hadn't heard about using orange juice to tame the bitterness in wholemeal flours. Thankfully that's not my problem at the moment - I buy a stone-milled wholemeal flour that is grown and milled an hour or two's drive from my house, so by the time I buy it it's still very fresh. But a good tip to have, anyway.

              2. re: Gooseberry


                Yes, that is a nice feature, that he suggests how each bread can be used. I tend to eat bread in the evening by slicing some off and spreading it with butter, so I can't tell you which one to use for sandwiches. He does have a Pullman loaf recipe, but I've not tried it. I've made his Basic White Bread by doing it half wheat, as he suggests in the variations. It would be richer if you used milk or whey in place of the water. I'd not use his Basic White Bread in sandwiches without alteration of some sort. Have you considered that you might want to alter some simple recipe to suit your needs? A recipe where I just dump, stir, knead, rise, put in tin, etc. is the one I'm most likely to do when short on time.

                1. re: saltwater

                  hi saltwater, that's exactly why I chose his Myrtle Allen brown bread recipe to try - it's unbelievably quick, since you mix it like a batter and put it straight in the tin to proof. I enjoy the process of making slower, better developed breads, but I wanted a brown sandwich bread recipe which I could make once or twice a week, without having to take four or five hours in the kitchen.

            2. I've had some of the same issues, and I gave my copy away only to purchase it again used for a dill and cottage cheese recipe bread in it, which was word for word identical to a recipe given to me by an old friend who passed her electric mill on to me. Only her version called it "Ada's Dilly Cheese Bread" and ascribed it to Amish sources. Whatever its origins, it makes a light whole wheat bread, similar to Laurel Robertson;s Featherpuff bread. I treat the Beard book as a concept book and convert the measurements into weight and adjust them to what looks like reasonable baker's percentages. I used to make raisin bread from his mother's recipe often. Around here, our brother cook has a more basic one that people prefer. Sometimes odd spices don't go over--as I recall in contains allspice. But it would be simple to switch to cinnamon. But the book is more a curiosity for me than a practical addition to my book shelves. At the other extreme, the Tassajara Bread Book from the same era also looks dated. But I am glad they were there before the Reinharts, Silvertons, Leader, Lepards, Leonards, Glezers, Beranbaum and company.

              5 Replies
              1. re: Father Kitchen

                Hi Father Kitchen. I was hoping you'd weigh in!

                I must agree, I initially picked up the book more out of historical interest than anything else. It's a bit embarrassing as a keen home bread baker to admit I've never baked from Beard. I was pleasantly surprised to find the recipes so accessible, albeit in funny measurements!

                I am eating buttered, toasted slices of "Myrtle Allen's Brown Bread' as I type. It's his version of a no-knead bread, almost more of a quick bread, only still risen with yeast instead of chemically. As someone used to Hamelman's exact measurements, it came out as a bit of a surprise that even the loaf with 4.4% fresh yeast was still eminently edible, even if in future I think I'll stick with my hamelman-inspired, revised version of the loaf with half the amount of yeast.

                It was also the first bread recipe I've tried calling for molasses, and the smell it gave the whole house was indescribable. It took two hours from start to finish, with an hour rising time and then fifty minutes in the oven, which is something I can certainly do weekly.

                But I'll still try some of the other recipes to be found in the book. His mother's raisin bread which you mention sounds lovely. With cinnamon, my own mother would love it; she lives for cinnamon raisin toast!

                In other bread news, have you worked the kinks out of the potato bread you were working on, yet? It's getting chilly in this hemisphere, and I've been meaning to try something similar.

                1. re: Gooseberry

                  Oh, yes, do try his Mother's raisin bread. Reading this reminded me how much I like that one, and now I have a loaf proofing on the counter. No cinnamon, though.

                  1. re: Gooseberry

                    Re: potato pizza. I didn't work out the kinks in the super hydrated crust. But two weeks ago, I was away for a family funeral and gave my cousin some respite by cooking supper for a crowd. Simple menu. Spaghetti with real marinara sauce. Roasted vegetables. Tossed salad. Grilled Italian sausge (her husband grilledthem while I worked on the pizza), and potato pizza. I made a basic lean bread crust and retarded it about 20 hours in the fridge. I topped it with potatoes, onions, rosemary, and olive oil and baked it on hot pizza stones at 475 for about 17 minutes. I was aiming at 14 inch pizzas but the crowd was in a hurry, so I didn't stretch it all the way out. It was more like 12. So the crust was slightly thicker than I had in mind, but it was delicious.

                    1. re: Father Kitchen

                      I really want to play around and try this at home; I just need to make the time and plan ahead!

                      Isn't it funny how a 'simple' menu which involves good ingredients and stuff made from scratch can be a relevation to the modern palate? I don't know what your family eats usually, but I think busy people don't get or take the time to eat food like you just described it. Which is why I think it's more impressive than showier dishes which take twice the time to make! I'm sure it was delicious...

                      1. re: Gooseberry

                        I think that is what I like about so much Italian cooking: it is usually simple.

                2. This is the book that taught me how to bake bread - when it first came out and I was (of course) a wee girl. Have been baking virtually all our bread ever since. Yes the amount of yeast used is way over the necessary - typical of books from the 70's - perhaps yeast wasless reliable then than now? I always cut it down by half or less, depending on how long I want the rising period to be. Two recipes of particular note are Mrs Elizabeth Ovenstad's Bread - family favorite since first tried - and the Freeform White Loaf - the first recipe I used with a long chilled rise - makes an excellent bread. Used US measures and measuring implements, can't speak to metric or weight/volume conversions.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: buttertart

                    hi buttertart, what type of rye flour do you use for Mrs Elizabeth Ovenstad's bread?

                    1. re: Gooseberry

                      Medium or light rye, organic if possible, whatever brand comes to hand. It ddoen't make an enormous difference since only a small quantity is needed. This is a really excellent bread (one caveat - I find you need to cook the wheatberries until tender rather than just soaking as I believe the recipe states). Makes brilliant toast (as stated elsewhere, one of his benchmarks for a good recipe). Hope you like it!

                    2. re: buttertart

                      I suspect the large measures of yeast compensate for the high salt and sugar contents, both of which interfere with yeast fermentation.

                      1. re: Father Kitchen

                        One imagines so. I haven't had problems with any of the recipes with half the yeast, however. Have made mostly the non-sweet breads, George Lang's potato bread being another keeper...

                        1. re: Father Kitchen

                          good point. In working out baker's percentages for this sort of loaf, I glanced at Hamelman's straight oatmeal bread, since I imagined even my wholemeal flour wouldn't be as heavy as oatmeal, and it is relatively 'quick' compared to most of the breads in his book. Which of course led me to lower the salt content and slightly lower the molasses content, too. So I guess that helped straighten it out in the end.