The Bread-Baking Journey
I've been making bread for several years but - aside from sweet breads and focaccia - was never very satisfied with the results.
That all began to change when I got a copy of Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes A Day. This is an excellent book to explore the foundations of basic bread baking and learn the effects of water temperature, dough ratios, and ingredients with high success rates. I highly recommend this book for anyone starting on their bread-baking journey. You can also see their basic dough recipe here on their website.
Once I got used to the idea of wet doughs and long rise times, I received The Bread Baker's Apprentice as a gift from my cousin. The book is written almost like a memoir, and the author Peter Reinhart explores the fundamentals of great bread in exquisite detail. The recipes here are not for the lazy - many take 24 or more hours to complete, and the shaping is much more intensive than Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes A Day. Devoting time to the story and recipes in this book will prove challenging, but take your bread to a whole new level.
At Christmas I got Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson. His book begins with a story of his search for "the perfect loaf" and makes for a fun read. All the recipes in his book require a natural starter, a process he explains in great detail.
(In actuality, I found Cook's Illustrated's guide on a sourdough starter to be the easiest to follow, and created several excellent starters with their steps)
Tartine's recipes have produced my greatest loaves ever, not too sour but complex and silky. The #1 factor to success has been his suggestion of using a cast iron combo cooker to bake loaves - taking the lid off 20 minutes into bake time. The results are a crackling, crispy crust and excellent crumb.
Another great suggestion from the book is to keep a bread journal. As nerdy as it sounds, every loaf is slightly different for a beginning baker, even if you use the same recipe. I note the rise times, behavior during shaping, any differences in ingredients or process (such as "accidentally left the window open in kitchen and it was cold"), and results. Jotting these things down will help you increase your consistency in baking and create amazing loaves.
These three books (or just Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes + any other advanced bread book, another great one is Flour Water Salt Yeast) to anyone starting on their bread baking journey. I've linked them below (I don't make money from these links, just giving you a shortcut. Many libraries have these books!)
Supplies I recommend you have:
- A digital scale (makes it so much easier to measure flour! And many of the recipes in these books are by weight, not cups)
- A digital thermometor (to prevent burned or too-dry bread)
- A large, food-safe plastic tub
- A plastic scraper
- A danish dough whisk
- A bench knife