If you have a baker on your holiday list, a baking guide will be a surefire hit. If you don’t already have one in mind, here’s a tour of some of the best bread baking guides around.
These books are part instructional guidebook, and part biography — of a person, grain or bakery. Getting to know a little bit about someone, first in the introduction, and then, recipe by recipe, picture by picture, loaf by loaf, is a luxurious way to meet a baker and her breads. In an era when images fly by in a blur, being able to hold a book in your lap feels old-fashioned, and just right for bread baking.
One Dough Ten Breads
Sarah Black has trained many bakers, and you’ll want to be the next. The author began working with her hands as an apprentice to a paper maker, and has carried that craft-driven sense of touch throughout her work as a baker and instructor — most notably with Amy Scherber, of Amy’s Bread in New York City.
Black’s approach is very accessible, constructing an understanding of the bread baking process in a patient, thorough fashion. Her recipes build on each other, developing first the skills and awareness of bread baking basics, and layering lessons so that the underlying information is restated and learned in a second or third way. By the end of the book you’ll understand more than the 10 breads the title promised. And you might feel like this baker had her hands right next to yours, guiding.
Zachary Golper approaches bread as a student of tradition. He is guided by a sense of perfection and a strong curiosity, which leads to breads that feel a part of a continuum, and very much their own. These qualities have garnered awards for the bakery he runs with Kate Wheatcroft in Brooklyn, and they are well described in his thorough guide to bread baking, written with Peter Kaminsky.
The book and the bakery share a name, Bien Cuit, which means well done in French. By following Golper’s thinking through the book, you’ll learn how to carry that dark color — bien cuit — to your crust, and his philosophy — also well done — to your kitchen. Golper’s take on taste is a strong thread in the book, and reading the recipes and side matter will help you understand how ingredients and methods, especially long low temperature fermentations, influence flavor and character in bread.
Sarah Owens’ book is a puzzling beauty. Why should a baking book have so many arresting images of plants? Recipes that follow the seasons? Once you settle in for her story, though, it all makes sense. Owens began her career as a ceramicist, and this baker is right at home in the garden, too — she was the rosarian at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. Just as those roses knew the certainty of her care, you can trust you’ll bloom under her guidance.
This book, which won a 2016 James Beard Award, is a primer on sourdough, but not just sourdough breads. She lands her wild-fermented starter in everything from flour tortillas to carrot doughnuts and gingerbread cake. Follow her through the seasons with recipes for breads, savories and sweets that will broaden your horizon, and remind you that eating is an act that begins in nature. Baking bread colored deep red with beets and golden with sweet potatoes will plant visual satisfaction in your life, as well.
Hot Bread Kitchen
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This baking atlas for breads from around the world is also the biography of an unusual bakery. Hot Bread Kitchen is a culinary incubator in Harlem that trains female bakers and food entrepreneurs. The nonprofit sells breads throughout the New York metropolitan area and online, using local ingredients and traditional baking methods.
The book is filled with profiles of program graduates, and rich portraits of the international breads and bakers who have found skills and a career springboard at Hot Bread Kitchen. The recipes are drawn from the bakery repertoire, and home bakers will gain knowledge of all things tortillas, flatbreads, knishes and other filled bread doughs. The recipes for more standard breads, bagels and sweets are framed by stories of the community spirit that makes Hot Bread Kitchen such a compelling enterprise.
The Rye Baker
If you think of rye bread as half-oval slices flecked with caraway, you may wonder how the topic could fill a whole book. However, as the staple grain for broad swaths of Europe and Russia, rye deserves a biography, and Stanley Ginsberg has written it.
The cookbook illustrates the grain’s history, chemistry, and appearances around the world, in loaves like South Tyrolean Christmas Zelten, Polish Mountain Oat Rye, and Russian GOST Borodinsky. Ginsberg also covers the rye breads that took shape in America, like Old Milwaukee Rye and Boston Brown Bread. Professional craft bakers and sophisticated home bakers will appreciate this encyclopedic key, because rye is about as similar to wheat as a zebra is to a striped fish.