on 20 September 2006
This is really one for serious amateur bakers (in the literal sense of one who loves baking). The essence of the book is sourdough baking - making bread with a wild yeast leaven instead of commercial yeast. Baking this way takes time and a little dedication (though not nearly so difficult as some food-writers would have you believe), but it repays the effort.
As well as the recipes, the book contains accounts of bakers and baking traditions across Europe, as well as photos of actual bread (it looks like it was made by a human being)and real bakers instead of the usual cosmetically perfect food photography. For Dan Lepard making and eating bread is evidently a very personal and human thing. What I'm trying to say is the book has personality.
Above all, the recipes and procedures work, and Dan Lepard makes it simple, like all the best teachers. It transformed my baking.
on 21 December 2004
Put all our other bread books aside. If you want to make and eat fantastic bread The Handmade Loaf from Dan Lepard is an eye opener. Sanity, at last, in the bakery. Almost immediately Lepard asks you to abandon all other and stick to metric weights and measures. No cups, no ounces, no nonsense. Lepard has really thought about the bread making process and it works. He takes you through each recipe step by step. And, if that's not enough, there are brilliant photographs from the baker himself to show you how the dough and finished product should look. All you need is time and the desire to make what most of us have rarely eaten at home, really delicious bread.
If you've got an aspiring breadmaker on your gift list, buy this book, an inexpensive set of digital scales and a few bags of flour and sit back and await the results.
Don't believe me, find out for yourselves.
on 27 December 2004
First off, the presentation is excellent. The book's author is a keen (ex-professional) photographer and his work definately does justice to his baking.
Little chapters from artisan bakers from around the world can be found inbetween the recipes, making this a good read, as well as an informtive resource.
The book has some fine, wholesome recipes with a strong leaning toward hearty rustic breads. Each recipe is presented in detail with the author often offering explanation far beyond the basics.
I would hesitate in purchacing this book if looking for a quick bread machine fix however. The recipies are very versatile and every attempt is made to show the reader how each can be adapted but if you're looking for a simple list of ingredients and a recipe that reads "put everything into your bread machine and wait" then there are more straightforward (though not more appetizing) bread-books available.
I would suggest that to any keen home baker wanting to push their skills up a notch or anyone who wants to know the difference between Canadian and British wheat this is an invaluable resource. It's also a great coffee table book and a fantastic culinary roadtrip.
In short, buy it... Just wait for a couple of seconds before committing to a purachace if you're looking for convenience.
I've had this book a year, and it is undoubtedly a five-star book. The author writes so insightfully about the whys and wherefores, and when you follow the non-too-difficult recipes within you realize just how much talent, consideration and experience this excellently presented book offers. You'll find instructions for kneading and shaping, how to make and store your own leaven plus recipes from around Europe adapted for the home baker working by hand. The author has gone to the trouble of actually going to these places to talk with other bakers, and the corresponding photos of location, people and their wares give what I would describe as a sense of community. The recipes use all manner of flours and grains, and raising agents from fresh yeast to leaven and soda. Someone below had complained of a limited variety of recipes, but I don't find that justified since there are plenty of recipes and there's no need for 23 variations on the same theme - in particular I find this book imparts a real feel for what's going on so that you can use your own initiative to experiment, though you'll find it hard to improve on the recipes provided here by Dan Lepard. Another complaint below is about the time it all takes, and there is some justification here if you're looking for a 40-minute loaf. Performing multiple tasks in a restaurant, the author found that dough sorts itself out nicely and the flour is best and properly saturated if left alone rather than pummelled to death. So it's often about 10-second kneads once in a while with lower proving temperatures of, say, 21 C. The `worst' it gets with a white leaven bread is around 3 kneads at 10 minute intervals, then a half hour, then an hour, in the tin and another hour, wait a few hours more (even 5). Naturally you can be doing other stuff in the kitchen at the same time or simply leave the house altogether. Other recipes are rather quicker. Another complaint is that you need to keep feeding your leaven (with more flour and water) - not so, as you can stick your jar of fermenting, gassy dough in the fridge and put it to sleep for quite some time. To conclude: fantastic hands-on stuff by a true expert who cares deeply about bread and puts it across superbly, great value, not a quick fix but if you're in the kitchen on Sunday you should be able to work something in. I had hardly baked before, so no experience necessary. Many thanks to Dan Lepard for reminding us just how important bread really is. Don't underrate it, or this book.
on 28 November 2006
I'd only baked bread a few times, and nothing really tasted that good. A poster on a website said to get The Handmade Loaf and now I can say, after working my way through some challenging recipes, that my bread is really very good. I work, have two small boys, and time isn't something I have much of at all, but now I've got the baking slotted in I just leave the dough in the refrigerator and bake when I get home. I make bread just using my jar of leaven, it rises slowly and ends up with a crisp thick crust and a gentle sourness to the crumb. The book has transformed my baking but it's not quick and easy. It's only about baking really good bread, and that's all I do now, every time I bake. An extraordinary book, beautiful and thoughtful.
on 26 December 2004
What fun to browse through the book and find a carefully arranged universe of bread making using a vast array of ingredients such as whey, cucumber pickle juice, white maize, rye grains marinated in white wine, rice, lentils, etc.!
The technical introduction covering the basic ingredients such as yeast and flour, techniques like the mixing and handling of wet doughs, shaping, proofing and baking is kept short. Here you will learn that the book is aimed at the experienced home baker. A baking stone is not an absolute prerequisit. The author makes it your choice, but notes that a dough which is put on a hot baking stone will always get a better oven spring than one that is put on a cold tray and then inserted into the oven. Be prepared to adjust baking times if you are using a hot baking stone in your oven.
The chapter about naturally leavened breads give you recipes that do not require commercial yeast. These breads usually devour the whole day, and because of the hand-mixing techniques that are employed, you have to knead less but more often. It is time consuming, but rewarding.
Although the book is about recipes (and recipes never take up more than one page each in this book!), there are short essays on contemporary bread baking in numerous different countries like Russia, Italy, Ukraine, Ireland, Scotland, England, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and France. These are accompanied by very nice pictures of bread and bread-making people. All of the recipes (except maybe a handful) have at least one photo of the corresponding loaf, bun or pancake next to it. That is great.
All the breads I made are stunning and delicious. Are there 6 stars?
on 9 August 2005
I have never felt the need to review any product before but this book is so good it would be rude not to recommend it. I used to be a chef and I have never owned a cookbook that has made such a difference to the way I have approached making anything. Dan Lepard is not only a brilliant baker, but explains clearly and simply several techniques that give truly excellent results. His recipe for leaven has transformed my sourdough from being brick-like to really pretty impressive. All credit to him. There are so many brilliant recipes in the book. I can highly recommend the crusty potato bread, the sourdough, the mill loaf and the flaky butter buns. There are so many recipes that I am desperate to try. The only thing holding me back is not having to buy a new wardrobe!
on 9 January 2008
Beautifully presented and clearly explained. Every recipe I have attempted has turned out lovely: the resulting loaves have a better flavour and texture than any I have made from other books. A must buy for the serious home baker.
One word of warning though: this is not a book for those in a hurry. Many of the recipes require the use of a leaven (a fermented flour and water mixture) which can take a week to get started (and which needs periodic maintenance) and requires the resulting dough to be rested and proved for longer than in direct (yeast based) baking. A typical recipe starting at 8am will need attention at regular intervals until 12pm and then a 4 or 5 hour proving so by the time the loaf is baked it has taken 9 or 10 hours. This will not fit with everyone's lifestyle, but if you can manage it the results are superlative.
on 19 February 2007
I have many books on baking bread, have been baking for fifteen years and run a bread group. I can sincerely recommend this book to anyone interested in baking their own bread. This is an exceptional book. The recipes are clear, concise, in simple English and everyone inspiring. I wish I'd found this book when I first set out to bake a loaf of bread.
on 19 April 2012
The book is almost value for money as it contains a recipe for possibly the best loaf in the world - the "Simple Milk Loaf". BUT that is the only recipe I have used from this book as each one seems to have a basis in sour dough starters which frankly, while fascinating, are very difficult to manage - particularly as each one starts with a different quantity of flour which then has differing quantities of starter added (which in itself contains more flour and water. I am sure others will find it worthwhile but it is more like taking a cookery exam than getting pleasure from baking bread - BUT do try the Simple Milk Loaf and if you have some red malt add that to the mix as well for a really startlingly good loaf. .