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.
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?
This is a great book, and as other reviewers have said, it is clear, beautifully written, great photographs, and offers an almost fool proof method for creating a leaven. Some of the recipes are a bit different from usual but that is what makes it fun and interesting. It gives you a really good grounding in the different approaches to bread making, and is a lot less complicated than some of the other artisan bread books.
17th March 2011
I'm revisting this review today because I still bake bread, I have a lot more books on the shelf too, but this very first book to inspire me has remained one of my best friends. I love the way it is written; the stories of Dan Lepard's exploration of the different styles of baking; the lives and images of the people he met who welcomed him into their homes and workplaces. I love the recipes and the way that some are easy and some more complicated. I don't want everything to be dumbed down. Having said that, I still have the levain I made following the instructions in this book, three years on.
I want to pay attention and think about what I'm doing. I don't mind the odd challenge. One gets a whole range of breads to make in this book, from a quick white loaf to a complex and very satisfying walnut bread, the sort of bread you can rarely buy in any shop. Some bread books have a one dough fits all approach. This is fine and good, but this book opens up more possibilities than that and gives you the tools from which to build your own repertoire of breads that make you happy.
If you are interested in this extraordinary world, and finding out what makes people so passionate about baking good bread, then I would whole-heartedly recommend The HandMade Loaf. Joanna