There are many great resources out there for bread baking, but Bread: A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes, by master baker Jeffrey Hamelman, just might be one of the best. This book is designed to give you a thorough look into the bread making process starting with ingredients and techniques and ending not only with dozens of breads that you can eat, but with recipes for specialty breads that competitive bakers use in their competitions.
The book is very well laid out and the attention to detail is excellent. It doesn’t simplify the techniques of baking bread themselves, but the explanations given are so clear that even seemingly complicated levain breads (naturally leavened, sourdough-types) are accessible. The book starts out with a very nice introduction to bread making ingredients and techniques, and goes over everything again in more specific detail when you get to the recipes, which are divided up by bread type. The formulas are clearly presented, as are the instructions, and all of them are given in bulk (with bakers percentages, as well as standard and metric measures) and in home-yield ratios. There are beautiful photos of many of the recipes and quite a few illustrations – primarily of different techniques – to help and inspire you.
Although the edible breads are the most practical part of the book, I have to admit that I love the competition breads. These are the bread doughs that you’ll see put to use in huge displays at competitions like the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie (and similar baking competitions, often broadcast on one of the many food-oriented cable channels). They are technically edible, but are designed to bake up into beautiful display loaves that make for a stunning backdrop to a showpiece. There are many illustrations associated with this chapter, and with a little practice you can actually learn to make bread baskets that are actually made from bread! In the end, you’ll get some great recipes here whether you’re looking to get started baking bread at home, improve your home baking or want to add a new item to the menu at a bakery or restaurant.