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Basic bread baking guide

After issues with bread machines and the "Artisan Bread in 5" method, I'm ready to start where I should have started: learning to make bread the old fashioned way. We don't want fancy schmancy "artisan" bread--just decent white/wheat/rye/pumpernickel sandwich bread made in loaf pans.

Can anyone recommend a SIMPLE book or guide for this? I've checked out some bread books at the library that are so scientific and detailed about the art of bread baking that I've been intimidated and gave up. I want to know as much as my grandmother did: how to make a decent loaf and that's it.

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  1. My best bread book is The Bread Bakers Apprentice, but it might be too involved for you.

    An alternative approach might be to see if there's a cooking school near you .

    9 Replies
    1. re: C. Hamster

      +1 The bread bakers apprentice is my favorite bread book by far. But it is very detailed.

      If you wanted a place to start with it, I would recommend getting a copy from the library and make one of the following:

      French Bread/Baguette
      Ciabatta
      Italian Bread

      They are all pretty straight forward recipes, don't require any "strange" ingredients, and all use some sort of starter (which has a major influence on the taste).

      Two other bread books I use are "Amy's Breads" (I'd recommend once you decide you like making bread) and "Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book on Breads" (a huge book will all sorts of breads/quickbreads/etc but not as instructional as The Bread Baker's Apprentice)

      1. re: thimes

        I have Bernard Clayton`s book which is extensive and instructive. It is a very good book.

        1. re: Ruthie789

          I like Bernard! Did you know that he has tested MANY of his recipes while travelling the country in a motor home?

          1. re: sandylc

            No I didn`t. He certainly has a vast coverage of breads in his book.

      2. re: C. Hamster

        I agree with The Bread Bakers Apprentice. It talks about the science behind making bread. Very useful for learning the whys and wherefores.

        1. re: C. Hamster

          I second the motion about Peter Reinhart's wonderful book.

          As another choice try to find a copy of Carol Field's book The Italian Baker. My copy was published in 1985, but there may be a more recent edition.

          BTW, I found trying to deal with the No Knead Dough that appeared in the NYTimes years ago without getting burned in the process a bummer.

          Knead the dough by hand and get rid of your stresses.

          1. re: ChiliDude

            I see this has been recommended several times. OP asked for "SIMPLE", and found ABin5 and bread makers difficult. BBA is the kind of book I'd want if I were opening a bakery. It's not at all the kind of book I'd want if I were overwhelmed with having details heaped on me and trying to get a basic sandwich loaf to come out. IIRC, most of the recipes take at least 3 days and use a wild yeast starter. It was recommended to me when I first started baking and just wanted to have bread on the table in an hour or two, and I found it next to useless at that point. I think appreciating the flavors of slow fermentation and so on is something you build up to, once you've gotten excited about the miracle that is breadmaking, and gained some confidence in the basics- like being able to tell by feeling the dough whether it's of a moisture level that will allow it to rise, and stretching the dough between your fingers to see whether you've got good enough gluten development. I think it's a shame to waste time on complicated processes before you've got that down.

            At the risk of sounding both cranky and arrogant, OP, I think what will serve you best is reporting back with what issues you're having. It would also be supremely helpful to know how you're kneading- by hand, with an average mixer, or with a strong mixer like a Hobart, KitchenAid, or commercial one. Newbie mistakes tend to fall into a few really simple categories. I think a good 90% of early failures are caused by not kneading enough. Stiff dough is virtually impossible to knead adequately by hand- you can turn your knuckles black and blue, knead for double the recommended time, and the sucker still won't rise. Stiff bread dough is like cement. To that end, if you're measuring by dipping your measuring cup into the bag of flour instead of spooning the flour in and leveling it with a butter knife, and you're at the bottom of the bag where it's compacted, you can quite easily end up with 50% more flour than what's intended. If you're using an average mixer, you're probably better off adding 50-75% of the flour, kneading until you've got good gluten development, and then adding in the remaining. It may not be ideal, but I've never gotten flour pockets, and it saves you from burning out your mixer or ending up with bread that doesn't rise. For reasons I can't fathom, people tend to suggest really unlikely things to newbies having bread problems. They hear hoofbeats and think zebras. I'm not entirely sure whether this is because most people are passing along hypothetical bread knowledge, not ever actually having baked any without following a recipe, or if it's some sort of hazing process to ensure that you really, really, want to learn how to bake, but breadmaking is (or should be) dead simple. It is made difficult only by the fact that the few principles you need to master are shrouded in smoke and mirrors. I strongly support starting with a few basic recipes until you can see the forces at work. It will save you from a lifetime of being a slave to recipes you don't really understand.

            1. re: jvanderh

              I don't use an electric mixer. I use a large glass bowl and a wooden spoon.

              Also, I measure the flour with a kitchen scale (balance if you want to get technical). A measuring cup does not enter the process. Measuring spoons are used for lesser quantities of dough ingredients.

              You sure took up a lot of space to make a mountain out of a mole hill.

              1. re: ChiliDude

                That's all very nice for you, but we're here to help the OP make bread.

        2. The crowd at thefreshloaf generally recommend Peter Reinhart's books - Artisan Breads Every Day and Whole Grain Breads: New Techniques.

          The relevant science is discussed, but it isn't intimidating, and the recipes always commence with the basic loaves that you would like to bake.

          IMO whichever book you choose should be one of those that purports to inform its cooking with the latest science. Breadmaking is one of those areas of cooking that involves relatively complicated bio-chemistry, but has also always been practised in the home. It therefore tends to the folkloric (" ... My grandmother insists that a pinch of salt should be added, but never under a full moon ..."). If you are having difficulty baking good loaves, it is best not to compound the problem at its foundation, with recipes or methods that are incorrect or counter-productive.

          1. Simple book with recipes - I would recommend Sunset magazine's "Sunset Bread" cookbook. It's an inexpensive paperback cookbook (under $10) with decent recipes.

            1 Reply
            1. re: dave_c

              I'll look for that. I like the Sunset recipe books that I have. Thanks!

            2. I like Beth Hensperger's books for the basics for the home cook.

              1 Reply
              1. re: sandylc

                I purchased her Bread Machine book with the new bread machine I ordered. I'm having second thoughts about the machine--which is why I'm contemplating going the old fashioned way--but I like the book and was wondering if she had something similar for bread made by hand. (Haven't done a search yet.)

              2. I learned from the Tassajara Bread Book, many years ago. A quick look at Amazon shows it still in print, with (I think) more recipes. The basic method that starts the book is well-described, not overly "scientific," and rather fun.

                2 Replies
                1. re: HandLikeAFist

                  I have requested this book, plus the Bread Baker's Apprentice and Beth's Bread Book from our local library. I'm going to go ahead and buy the Sunset book because it's only 4 bucks from Amazon (and that includes the shipping).

                  Thanks for your help, y'all!