Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice is a must have for the would-be baker. I have cooked and baked sweets for many years, but I have never made bread on a regular basis. Oh, I had a bread maker in the 90′s — I it bought at a garage sale for $10 — and the first loaf I made came out beautifully. A bit of a strange shape, mind you, but nothing we couldn’t get over for the sake of fresh bread.
But after that, I could never get it to produce again. Every loaf after that was a dense brick-like manifestation that had no place but in the compost.
I did have plans to attend a 15-week professional baking course beginning in September, but I just couldn’t stomach the idea of commuting for another 4 month stretch. So I decided instead to take some weekend courses both in Victoria and Vancouver.
Both of the instructors in both of the bread courses I have taken so far have recommended The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. I bought it after the first suggestion and I don’t plan to ever look back.
The Foccacia is the best I have ever tasted. The ciabatta is airy, light and chewy – everything I want it to be. The Lavash is the perfect accompaniment to dips and spreads. The one bread I wasn’t fond of was the Anadama, but I don’t think I’ll ever find a version of that bread that I like. After trying it, I realize that I don’t like cornmeal in a sandwich bread. So there.
I highly recommend this book. The photos and instruction are exceptional. Although I did find myself flipping pages back and forth a few times to get the foundational steps right, I was never “lost,” as I have found myself in some other bread baking texts.
As well, the author provides a number of options for retarding the dough over to the next day, so that the bread can be risen, shaped and risen during daylight hours. Do not be put off by recipes that appear to take 2, or even 3, days. The actual hands-on work time is a few minutes here and there. The rest of the time, it’s mostly the yeast doing all of the work.