The Bread Baker’s Apprentice
Best guide to artisan bread making
New to bread-making, I’ve been looking for a great guide. I found and fell in love with Peter Reinhart’s book. It has beautiful photographs, and has motivated me to experiment. I’m now one-third of the way through baking every formula in the book. His explanations are very clear. He includes enough theory, which allows me to make my own informed decisions about baking different styles of bread. It is not rocket science, but there are a lot of non-intuitive details he covers well. Needless to say, all this teaching has elevated the quality of my own breads. He also provides detailed recipes for each type of bread he describes, so those who are uninterested in the fundamentals can still bake quite easily. When I got the book, about the only thing my breads had going for them was that they were “homemade.” Now I like my breads just as much or more than the expensive artisan-style breads I buy at my local bakeries.
— Christopher R. Carlson
Some masters are great at craft, and some at teaching, and every once in a while a person like Peter Reinhart comes along who is grand master of both. This book is considered the best all around guide to making fancy and rustic artisan breads; some would say for making any bread, period. Grounded in theory and practice, it is superb teaching.
It is easy to see the subtle difference in color and texture of various flours when they are placed side by side. These are, from left to right, cornmeal, semolina flour (coarse durum), fancy durum, dark rye, white rye, bleached cake flour, unbleached pastry flour, unbleached bread flour, clear flour, and whole-wheat flour.
For perspective, here are the twelve stages in order:
1. Mise En Place ("everything in its place" is the organizing principle)
2. Mixing (in which three important requirements must be met)
3. Primary Fermentation (also called bulk fermentation, in which most of the flavor is determined)
4. Punching Down (also called de-gassing, in which the dough begins to enter its secondary fermentation and individuation)
5. Dividing (in which pieces are weighed or scaled, while continuing to ferment)
6. Rounding (in which the pieces are given an interim shaping prior to their final shape)
7. Benching (also called resting, or intermediate proofing, during which time the gluten relaxes)
8. Shaping and Panning (in which the dough is given its final shape prior to baking)
9. Proofing (also called secondary or final fermentation, in which the dough is leavened to its appropriate baking size)
10. Baking (which may also include scoring the dough and steaming, but in which three vital oven actions must occur)
11. Cooling (which is really an extension of baking but must occur before cutting into the bread)
12. Storing and Eating (in production baking it's primarily storing, but home baking usually emphasizes, ahem, eating)