The Bread Bible
Titling anything the "bible" of its subject is long overdone--in fact, we have several "bread bibles" in our collection--but I'm in the market for what this book claims to be: a reliable, go-to recipe book for all things bread. The introduction has several overarching tips on bread making, including instructions on the basics of bread, different methods of mixing a variety of doughs, an analysis of each basic ingredient and what role it plays in the process, and some in-depth explanations behind the science of bread. I found this section very useful, and read it in its entirety. Several things can go wrong when baking bread, and this section lays out the most common mistakes and how to avoid them. With 300 recipes, there's quite a wide variety to choose from, and there's a nice balance between traditional recipes and more unique options.
A major complaint I have about this cookbook is the lack of pictures. I'm a visual person. I like to flip through cookbooks and decide what to make based on what looks most delicious. I also like to have some hints as to what my creation is supposed to look like. There is not a single picture of bread in this nearly 500 page book. Wait, that’s not entirely true. There are a few illustrations of bread, but not any particular bread. Not the bread described on that page. Most of the illustrations are kitschy pictures of bags of flour or mixing bowls. This would be useful if I were trying to bake a mixing bowl. Another gripe I have is that the recipes do not have an easy-to-read gauge of preparation+baking time. You need to read through the entire recipe to find out how long it will take. When the recipes range from a few hours to a few days to make, and considering that it's standard practice to include cook time, this seems like a blatant oversight.
Complaints out of the way, it’s time for the bread. I decided to try a recipe out of the ‘Country Hearth Breads’ section, because that just sounded great. The recipe I used, for Vienna bread, was easy to follow and the steps were well laid out. Being still a bit of a bread rookie, I was expecting something to go wrong. Maybe the texture wouldn’t match what the book described or, instead of a delicious loaf of bread, a bread-shaped brick would emerge from the oven. Aside from my dough rising much faster than expected, it turned out perfectly. Really, that was some excellent bread. It turned out well enough that, despite the lack of pictures and the extra effort of calculating bake time, I'm already eyeing several other recipes in this book. It may not become my personal "bread bible" but, for the time being, it makes a great stand-in.