This is the first of two books by the same name `The Bread Bible' written by Beth Hensperger and published by Chronicle Books in 1999. The second book with this title, written by Rose Levy Beranbaum and published by W. W. Norton & Company in 2003 I have reviewed earlier, before I discovered this title.
This occurrence is actually a rare good fortune, as it gives us a chance to compare two essays of exactly the same subject and pick that effort which does the better job on the subject. Both authors appear to have ample credentials for the chuzpah required to write a book with such a pretentious title. Ms. Hensperger has written five other books on bread baking and Ms. Beranbaum has written three other large, well received books on baking, two of which are also `bibles' on their topics.
Ms. Hensperger gives us 473 pages of text and 21 pages of index at $32.50 while Ms. Beranbaum gives us 608 pages of text and 21 pages of index for $35.00. Ms. Hensperger gives us 25 very useful introductory pages on equipment, flour, and general techniques. Ms. Beranbaum gives us 62 pages of what I considered to be a model of culinary writing on the ten essential steps to making bread. This is the first sign that Ms. Beranbaum is aiming at a much more sophisticated audience than Ms. Hensperger.
Ms. Hensperger gives us no color photographs or diagrams illustrating techniques. The few line drawings seem to be primarily for decoration. Ms. Beranbaum's book provides four sections of full color photographs of the baked products essayed in the book. She also provides many pages of expertly done line drawings illustrating baking techniques such as the `business letter fold', layering foccacia with herbs, and making sticky buns. Other line drawings give very good pictures of baking equipment.
Ms. Hensperger's Table of Contents with the name of each and every recipe spelled out is much more to my taste than Ms. Beranbaum's simple chapter headings. Fitting Ms. Hensperger's home baker orientation, she has two whole chapters devoted to using a food processor and a bread machine for bread recipes. Ms. Beranbaum discusses bread machines, finds useful things they can do, but ultimately keeps them on the sidelines due to their small capacity and the tendency of most to heat the dough, causing a too fast rise in the dough for optimum taste. Rose is certainly not a Luddite, as she makes extensive use of the KitchenAid stand mixer and its big brother the Hobart stand mixer. I prefer to not use bread machines. If you are comfortable with them, Ms. Hensperger may have more to offer you.
It is no surprise that both authors deal with brioche. Ms. Hensperger includes four recipes for brioche and three variations. All are embedded in a chapter on egg breads including Challah. Ms. Beranbaum devotes a whole chapter of 45 pages to brioche, including Challah, cinnamon buns, panettone, and a provocatively named `stud muffin'. Lots of variations on each recipe are given. As with all recipes, Ms. Beranbaum's approach is much more detailed and precise. The most obvious sign is that all of Rose's recipes give ingredients in both volume and weight in imperial and metric units. This feature alone would swing my choice in favor of Ms. Beranbaum's work. Another example of Rose's precision is that she specifies the high gluten brands of all-purpose flour rather than simple `all-purpose flour. I am constantly amazed at the variety in recipes for brioche. Like every other authoritative recipe, both recommend an overnight rise, but the two recipes start the sponge in much different ways, with Ms. Beranbaum using a much more finicky approach, being very careful to avoid exposing the yeast in the sponge to salt than Ms. Hensperger. When separating the dough to be put into molds, Ms. Hensperger is unconcerned about differences in size. Ms. Beranbaum is not compulsive about same sizes, but does recommend a scale to achieve uniform amounts of dough in the molds.
Neither author oversimplifies her procedures, but Rose Beranbaum consistently gives a much more professional instruction and a deeper understanding about what is going on along the way. Both have an ample amount of passion and love for what they are doing. If you are a home baker and can find Ms. Hensperger's book at a good discount, you will not go wrong. If you are a baking hobbyist or even aspiring to being a professional baker, then Ms. Beranbaum's book is the one you want. Both are excellent. Ms. Beranbaum and her publishers seem to have invested much more energy, money, and precision into their volume.
Judging from other reviewers comments, some errors have been detected in this book. The same is true of Ms Beranbaum's book. This issue is a wash and I have stopped holding a small number of minor errors like that against cookbooks.