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Hamelman's "Bread" book - some questions and observations

alfanso's picture

Hamelman's "Bread" book - some questions and observations

After  year of dithering on whether to take the plunge or not, I ordered the Jeffrey Hamelman book Bread and just received it on the same day that I decided to make his Pain au Levain with mixed SD starters.  Kismet or was it due to come around in rotation?  I've made it before so this is not virgin territory for me.

Buying the book more out of a feeling of "obligation" than excitement, I've yet to delve into it very much.  But I've noticed a few things that seem to be unsettling.  So please school me if you are familiar with the book and let me know what I might have wrong.  Here goes:

  • The book seems more geared toward professional bakers than the typical baking book.  Formulae are designed for multiple KG rather than 1 or 2 KG bakes.  I can scale down, but I was really surprised to see that.
  • Nothing in the early pages seems to indicate who the target audience is, so that was also surprising.  And if for the pros, professionals don't really need to be walked through basic steps or techniques.  So I'll take a guess that he's trying to appeal to all crowds.
  • He refers to using a multi-speed spiral mixer, something that we without a few thousand coins to spare are unlikely to possess.  No hand mixing techniques.
  • He doesn't really seem to state what to expect from the finished product - oven spring, coloration, crust and crumb characteristics...
  • The steaming technique for a home oven seems paltry to me vs. the "mega-steam" method a number us (including me) use.
  • He lists the type of levain to use, but does not seem to discuss what to expect.  In this specific case, the mixed SD starters are for an 83% hydration rye levain and a 125% hydration bread flour levain.  But he does not indicate the amount of growth or what to expect from either (except the doming of the rye levain). From either reading someone else's writeup of this or my own prior bakes, I know what to look for.  But only for that reason, and neither final results are intuitive to me.

I have nothing but great respect for Mr. Hamelman, but I find that these are a few things that I am not impressed with in his book without really delving further into it.  Please chime in and let me know that I have some of the above wrong and why.

Thanks, alan

Anyway here are the results of today's bake.  This bread has fantastic oven spring, as you can see...

Filomatic's picture


I have found it quite thorough, and the recipes easy to follow.  It's by no means state of the art by today's standards, what with, e.g., Tartine, Josey, and Forkish, but it's still my preferred book after all this time (hah--I've only been baking SD since January), perhaps because I've had good success with it, I really like the recipes, and it was my first book baking SD (I already had BBA, and found his SD explanation bewildering).  I'm not sure why recipes end up being, say 347.5 g of ingredient X.  That's silly on its face.  I've penciled in gram measurements for recipes I use.

Mixers: p.12 has a conversion for which kind of mixer you have.  I have found it works well.

As to your other questions yes, he does leave some things out.  I do not worry about my starter hydration, and simply feed it from the fridge 1-4 times before using it for levain.  Like any other instructional book, I use it only as a guide.  For questions that remained, I researched here and elsewhere, with great success.

I hope you end up enjoying it!


hreik's picture

Reliable and consistent.  That's what I want. 


alfanso's picture

I love seeing the responses coming in.  Thanks so much and part of what I love about TFL!  So let me respond to you with the following reply to all (so far):

  1. I am so used to seeing grams as weights instead of cups, etc. that I guess I glossed right over it - there in black and white.  But even for the US or other markets where metric is stressed, I am surprised to see one of his stature including these imperfect measurements, while also understanding that some home bakers still use cups for scaling out ingredients.
  2. Mixing guidelines on page 12.   Boy, I'm sure glad it wasn't a snake!  Another in the "too obvious" to catch my inattentive attention.  I also agree that the small font gray-ish print on a blue background is not a welcoming layout.  Some editor should have been all over that one.  For the most part, it doesn't matter to me all that much since I hand mix just about everything except things like ciabatta, etc. which requires a more intensive mix than I can do by hand.
  3. Re: 1&2 - I always enjoy embarrassing myself in public! ;-)
  4. Hester - what I was looking to see, maybe I was asking too much of a book(?), was something along the lines of (ex): this dough will be dense and not exhibit much oven spring, the crust should be golden (or reddish or deep brown...) with a crisp snap to it and display a modest amount of cracking lines on the surface... , the crumb tends to be moderately open for this level of hydration (or expect a relatively tight crumb with a creamy mouth feel and texture or the crumb should glisten...  Otherwise we are baking something which we have no real idea what the final product characteristics should be.  I'll use the FWSY book as an example where there is no guesswork as to what the bread will look like if done according to the instructions.
  5. I've learned my steaming technique from Syvia and her steaming towels along with a heavy dose of David Snyder's lava rock pan.  So far they have yet to disappoint!
  6. OWS - I like the workbook idea.  On my own formula sheets, I just do something along the lines of columns for a "standard" bake amount,   +25%, +50%, etc.  I rarely ever have a desire to bake more than can fit in my oven, but your idea is well taken.
  7. Maverick - Hamelman vs. TFL.  Pretty much the majority of the 25 or so things that I bake have all come from TFL and others who have posted things I find interesting to attempt with not much more than the FWS components.  I mentioned FWSY book, which is what got me to start baking at home for real, but I think that I only baked maybe 2 or 3 breads out of it and then discovered TFL the way so many others do - by accident.  And then it was off to the races.  Even one from OWS which I'll post under his reply to me.
  8. The levain/SD thing does bug me though.  In the case of this very bread, how would one (in this case I am the "one") know that the 125% hydration bread flour levain barely grows and exhibits nothing more than tiny bubbles on the surface when it matures?  Or that the rye levain/SD will also barely grow?  If the baker didn't know that they might think that their  build was a failure and start over.  Especially when we see so many posting of builds that easily double or triple in a matter of hours.  Which is what my standard go-to mixed flour levain does at 75% hydration.  I think that would have been a helpful hint coming from someone as all-world knowledgeable as Mr. Hamelman.
  9. One further note on a more descriptive statement on the dough.  It would be nice to see whether one can expect a dough to be sticky, extensible, elastic, rubbery, slack, etc.  Also to ward off any surprises to the reader.

Thank you all once more or helping to make my evening (I guess I need more going on in my life if this makes my evening?)

hreik's picture

problems I think is that bakers (myself esp) are anxious to try a recipe w/o reading all the relevant material.  In addition to the stuff at the beginning, the appendix is a wealth of information about liquid and stiff sd cultures and how to convert one to the other.  Pages 421-434 especially.  Unfortunately you'll have to struggle with the thin grey font on medium blue background on several of those pages.

The book should've been organized so that whole sd section preceded the sd chapter.

Like 2 of the other posters here, it is my go-to book.  With one exception, the recipes I make regularly come from here: The Swiss Farmhouse, The Semolina and The Sourdough Seed Bread (to which I add some soaked cracked rye).  The other I make all the time is an iteration from another book.

But after seeing your Pain au Levain w mixed sd starters, that's going to be on my list also. 

And about it making your evening... naw, we are all in the same boat. Just humans who love to bake.


hreik's picture

about Sylvia's steaming towels?  I desperately need that.  Thanks.


OldWoodenSpoon's picture

for Sylviah steaming method

OldWoodenSpoon's picture

This is one of the most popular steaming methods for home ovens among TFL members I risk to say without any hard evidence to back me up, thanks to SylviaH.  It is the method I use when I do not bake in my La Cloche, and it produces excellent results in my GE electric oven. Sylvia's original post can be found here:

Oven Steaming - My New Favorite Method

I use a couple of old bread tins, and some white terry cloth towels I found at Smart & Final for a couple of dollars for ?$ many.


hreik's picture

thank yous to you. 


MichaelH's picture

Mr. Hamelman has taught many of us more than any other source, and most serious bakers acknowledge and are grateful for his efforts. His book is always in the top few of recommended books from professional reviewers, including this one. You however have nothing but criticism for his book and by your own admission did not read it very thoroughly. You have a very high and undeserved opinion of yourself.

You make beautiful baguettes, of which you post the same photos every week. But what else can you bake? Hamelman does it all and runs a famous and respected bakery. Maybe you should write your own book and let us compare it to Hamelman.

alfanso's picture

Anyone on TFL can have any opinion of anyone they want to.  None of us have any control over one another's posts.  As in, I have no control over what you post.  I thank you for mentioning the work for which I did nothing but for more than a year, starting from the hideous until I was able to become consistent and create baguettes from mostly anything that someone else posted here which interested me.  If all I ever do from here on out is baguettes, then I will claim success in my endeavors.

You must have missed where I enjoy finding breads that have been posted as batards and boules by others but never as baguettes and decide to make those as baguettes - just for fun.

You must have missed my statement that I hold Mr. Hamelman in the highest regard and he is a world-class master of his trade.  I do not mock him, place myself anywhere on any plane above at the feet of people as accomplished as him.  

You must have missed where recently someone posted that I would embarrass Parisian baguette  bakers, and my response was that there likely isn't a professional bread baker in all of France that couldn't run rings around me.

You must have missed where I consistently give credit to many of the more accomplished bakers on TFL and say that their knowledge is far far superior than mine and that I look to them as my inspiration.

You must have missed where I stated above in the original posting that I had barely cracked the cover of his book and felt that there were things I was hoping to see and where I was asking the good people on TFL to help me identify where I was mistaken.

You must have missed where I have urged and cajoled others to attempt to make baguettes because if I could do it so could they.

You also must have missed where I am a consistent cheerleader for others who post their work.

And you must have missed that you have violated the comportment to which the majority of posters on TFL adhere to.

I ask nothing of you and will hope that you ask nothing from me.  Again.

Oh, and if you think that I post the same photos every week, then I have succeeded in becoming consistent, because they are NEVER the same photos.

dabrownman's picture

now and again but Lucy should develop an app to predict when they will.  Interlopers don't know what you are about but, ever since you mentioned long ago, you like to make bread recipes into baguettes because you like like the higher crust to crumb ratio better .....then it made sense to me.  You still sneak a batard in there every time it seems  I don't like baguettes because they are too difficult, fussy ,hard to retard, take up too much room and make lousy sandwiches.

I still don't know why you have't made Mini Oven's 100% rye with walnuts and seeds at 104% hydration into baguettes.  I would worry about the shaping and spread but you do have a special knack about this kind of thing that the rest of us would struggle with......  plus, since it is a rye, you could put the special corn starch glaze on it and it would look sort of normal for that kind of bread - even though that kind of rye doesn't usually have a glaze.  So Lucy still waits impatiently. and hoped you are as stupid as she is!  

As a libertarian, I think folks should make what ever kind of bread they want and like to make and post about it any way they want.  Most folks like white bread from Forkish and Tartine and this explains why they and their books are so popular.  Lucy is more of a whole and sprouted grain bread fiend so Peter Reinhart and Josey Baker are more to our liking.  If I was making mega batches of bread and liked cleaning mixers, Hamelman would be right up there too and he has all of the old school history and science down pat as well.  This is why he is one of the Bread Gods.

Some folks don't like others messing with Bread Gods and feel like they need defending - when they don't.  No one is going to knock them off of their perch - it is way too late for that.   Hamelman might be the greatest of these Bread Gods in my book.  I agree with David's response.  This book is for pros who make mega batches of bread - people just like JH or aspire to be so.  There are parts of the book that try to make it more tuned for the home baker - sort of as an after thought, trying to widen the book's appeal.  As a home baker, making a loaf of bread a week, it is probably the least useful for me even though I learned more from it than the rest of the bread books combined because it has more stuff in it to learn. 

Still, I won't be buying the book.  I have already bought and paid for all of them, many times over, in the most expensive way possible.  They are in the library just waiting for me to check out.  I love going to the library a couple of times a month to see what is going on in the cooking, baking and science sections.  It is really sort of a luxury to be able to sit in such fine, quiet and comfortable surroundings browsing books to see which ones to bring home for a couple of weeks.  When you are retired, it helps to get out of the house with something worth doing:-)  Bars and grocery stores also have a special appeal as well.

To be honest, I don't think I would buy any of those books I bring home from the library.  Buying books for a library at home just seems like a waste of money and space when I've already paid top dollar for the best library money can buy - and several copies of each to boot.  I'd rather get those $2.29 a pound Kamut berries adn at Whole Paycheck, a new 50 cent basket and that dehydrator for sprouted grains instead.  But I can see the allure of convenience for others.  I do have Clayton's Complete Book of Breads and, with a title like that,do you really need another bread book:-)  I do re-read it all the time though.  Thank goodness everyone isn't like me because then no one wouldn't write books at all and there wouldn't be any libraries to go to.

For the trolls, I say,if it isn't going to kill you right is best not to worry or be too serious about it.  That applies to life in general.  Keeps things more civil, friendly. and enjoyable that way.  Lucy still hates you for your perfect baguettes of all kinds.  She isn't like me at all and really holds grudges for no reason, for a long, long time..... but she is just a Bread Baking Apprentice 2nd Class and doesn't know any better!  She does like your apprentice though.

Happy Baking Alan

alfanso's picture

and bringing in a rich perspective.  I have not much ego, I know what I know and I know what I don't know.  As the exceptional young Mr. Dylan penned a half century ago "I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now".  

I prefer to take the high road, caring not to engage in useless arguments.  And as I'd mentioned elsewhere recently, I have always disliked flame throwing on the internet where folks who would never have nerve enough to say to another's face what they have no issue making  hay over under anonymous cover in a public forum.  I disable comments on the few videos that I've placed on YouTube for exactly that reason.  

I don't come here and participate for that and refuse to partake in it.   This is my hobby and a fun past time. One of the few things in my adult life that I've found out that I can do decently well.  I do not pretend to be something I am not.  I am a hobbyist sharing my craft with others.  Sometimes I have questions and sometimes I have answers, but sometimes I find the enjoyment of nothing more than sharing what I do, and hope that others here will find appreciation for it, as I do for what they create and post.

thanks, alan

hreik's picture

neophyte.  I finally got it after getting my confidence up.  I am a small home baker.  I will ordinary bake every other week usually 4 loaves, about 1 1/2 pounds each.  I often use his book.

Before I go further, your loaves are gorgeous!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

My thoughts

1. yes I think it's geared to the professional.

2. nothing indicates in the early pages for whom it's written.  The recipes include scaled down amounts for us home bakers though

3. He has a long section on mixing and mixers: Beginning at the bottom of page 9, (skipping page 10 which is about autolyse) and continuing on page 11 to 12.  It's a long section and he mentions many kinds of mixers.

4. I cannot really address your 4th issue, as I don't understand it.  Seems to me your pictures demonstrate to perfection what he intends in his recipe.... Yours are gorgeous!

5. I agree about his steaming technique.  Though he does mention 3 different things: the ice, the mist and the lava rocks all to be used on the same bake.

6. I have not made that bread but have made many in his book. Mostly in the sourdough section, and the Swiss Farmhouse bread also.  Every one has been really good.  Some great.

My biggest complaint about his book are the essential sections where the publisher printed a thin font on a medium blue background.  It pains my eyes to read those sections.


alfanso's picture

thank you, alan

OldWoodenSpoon's picture

I have baked more bread from this book than any two other books I have, combined.  Period.  Yes, it is geared to professionals, with only a "nod" to the home baker.  If you read some of the threads here on TFL, you will find that many have come to this conclusion over the years since it released.  You should also know that there may even still be some errors in the book, but you can find the errata sheet posted here on TFL as well.  This book has been "gone over" pretty extensively here on the site.

I had a lot of trouble with the recipes as well.  Since I bake with metric measurements, I generally base my baking on those measurements in his formulas.  Those formulas, however, are definitely in industrial quantities.  I started out by penciling in the 1/10th batch quantities next to the grams measurements, but that rapidly did not work out well. In the end I have created a "Hamelman Bread Scaler" workbook in Excel.  In it I have all the recipes I bake from most often, with the original formulas "below the line" out of site.  Up where I work with them I have a few data entry fields and some formulas that will scale any of the "industrial" size batches to n units of x grams each.  I just decide what I want to bake, how much this time, and set it up in my workbook.  Print ranges are already set, so I just print the current page and head for the kitchen. 

At the back of the workbook I have some conversion pages set up to help me quickly figure out how to take "x" grams of one of my starters and render "y" grams of levain at "z" hydration for a given bake.  Saves me a lot of time, and mistakes, and has allowed me to get great use out of what I consider a great book, taken as a whole, shortcomings and all!

On the flip side, I too have had my share of frustrations trying to figure out how long to mix something on my "not a two speed spiral mixer" that is also not a Kitchen Aide.  As I have gone along though, my feel for the dough has greatly improved and I now just watch the dough and ignore the clock.  His mixing instructions are generally speaking,  for professionals who need repeatable and bankable timings in order to manage their overall baking.  For me as an amateur, a couple of loaves is far less of a challenge and I can just keep an eye on it.

I really hope you will give the book a chance.  There are a lot of really great breads in there.  And, as your pictures attest, you can bake!

Best of luck with it

alfanso's picture

BTW - back in July 2015 I decided to use one of your postings as my model.  The 33% rye levain.  Here's how it came out.  I recall that it was easy to shape.

thanks, alan

OldWoodenSpoon's picture

I'm always pleased that someone found one of my posts helpful.  I have received so much from TFL that I am always gratified to be able to give a little back.  I'll never break even close to even. 

Edit:  I failed to add the obvious:  Very Nice bake Alan!

Re:  My "Hamelman Bread Scaler":  I have a WFO, so I sometimes bake relatively large batches.  Sometimes 5 to 10 loves of a single bread.  I really love "living large" at times!


Maverick's picture

There is definitely a "home" column in all his formula that gives the quantities for baking at home. He did this in ounces presumably because 1) he lives in the US 2) the conversion in metric is really simple (add a couple zeros and make it grams). Converting the US weight system is not as easy. This is why I use grams/ml for bread baking even though I live in the US and everything else in my life is pounds and ounces.

He does favor a mixer, but a kitchen aide type is fine. He does give hand kneading instructions if you look at the "Hand Mixed White Bread". But the mixing times for different machines are given in a section called "Mixing Guidelines"

There are several sections like that one that you come across that give you bits of information (the ones in blue). A lot of what you mention is contained in those sections, but it can take some hunting. He even states in one that the steaming technique is just one possible way and if you have one that works better, use it.

It is not a perfect but it has a lot of good information and the formulas give a lot of details on what to do. Plus the formulas usually work out quite well. I personally love having it around even though a lot of the info can be found on the Internet (and especially at TFL).

I suggest you read through the book more and see how you feel after that. It might be possible that after all the bread baking you have done, it is too basic and you need something more.

alfanso's picture

thanks, alan

leslieruf's picture

But, like others it is my go to book. I also have Bread Bible by Rose levy Beranbaum (my fav multigrain is based on her 10 grain torpedo), BBA, whole grain breads (PR), FWSY, Tartine. however, whilst I have learnt much from these and have favourite recipes in each, TFL gives much much more than any one of these. Visual inspiration, queries answered and much more. I count your posts among my group of favourites - so thank you so much for what you give but do read Hammelman, there is a lot in there. His recipes are so easily scaled using the metric column.


alfanso's picture

I was on the fence for so long about the book as I was getting my nourishment from TFL.  In a former iteration of my life, my Mother-in-Law sent the Bread Bible to me, at a time when it did nothing but collect dust on the bookshelf, and I wasn't ready to tackle the home baking thing with any real gusto - and prior to the internet providing me with something as valuable as this website.  When we downsized it was among the tomes to be left behind.

As Ken's was my local bakery when we lived in Portland, I bought his book as a "show of support" for him, not understanding that it would sell more than perhaps a few dozen copies! And then decided to take up the home baking thing 3 years ago because of it.

If I have it right, you are one of a handful of participants from NZ.  A place we've been to twice, and look forward to visiting again and again, although it just isn't around the corner from here.  If it weren't so darn far away it might be just the ticket if I ever wanted to become an ex-pat.  We love it there, although I'd have to get used to the elongated "e" sound as in Lion Reeed or chicken leeeg ;-) .  Among my very favorite of many favorite moments from our ~ 5 weeks there was this one (when my hair was still all dark!).


thanks, alan

leslieruf's picture

and yes, I am in NZ, glad you enjoyed visiting.


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

stick in tabs to my book and I write in all the margins, just about.  In red.    ...and blue   and pencil.   I started reading it before baking with it.  I think you can look up just about any recipe in it on TFL and find comments.  See what others have done and said and get a feel for the recipe before baking.

Na ya, and here I sit without my book but I have TFL and you all.  That's pretty potent baking mojo.  


bikeprof's picture

Bread is a great book, with valuable general explanations of the many facets of bread baking (and those discussions, while spread across the book, address some of what you seem to be looking for in the formulas you've looked at).  It is definitely my go to for well developed formulas.

But baking book is exactly what I always want.  And in Hammelman's case, I really don't appreciate the listing of the 'home' quantity versions of his formulas in cups and oz.'s.  I just go with the baker's %.

The main thing that has me bewildered is not being more clear (and repeating this over and over because it is completely ambiguous) is about what he means by 'bread flour'.  For professional bakers ordering 50lb bags of flour, 'bread flour' is moderate gluten (~11.5%), or what home bakers and grocery store flour bags refer to as 'All Purpose'.  Meanwhile, in the industry 'Hi-Pro' is the term for stronger flours, or what is referred to as 'bread flour' in grocery stores.  I know this may not be news to very many, but when this was explained to me while I was at SFBI, my jaw dropped, and I'm still shaking my head at how completely confusing this naming scheme is.  'Bread flour' is a completely ambiguous term in the world of bread baking, and I think Hammelman could have done us all a favor in doing more to clear up the matter.  This, of course, really does show who the target audience is - professional bakers (which is just fine by me).

He does address the issue in a not-so-clear way on p. 146, but the term 'bread flour' is not in the glossary, or in the index (under either 'bread' or 'flour'), and his discussions of flour and its many types (spring, winter, red, white, hard, soft, patent, clear) don't clarify the term he uses throughout the book (at least not that I have found).  I think this is an oversight.

So it's not perfect for me...still a great book and my main reference.

dmsnyder's picture


Having baked from Hamelman's "Bread" for a few years, I've figured out a few thinks that might provide perspective. Maybe even help.

Yup. The book is written primarily for professionals and experienced ones at that. It offers a wide variety of breads from which a baker could select according to his/her own customers' tastes and some novelties to offer customers "something different."

I am sure you can figure out the scaling of the formulas for 30 Kg's of dough, but here's what I do: Take the metric formula and divide all the amounts by 10. No calculations otherwise. This gives you two reasonable-sized loaves, generally. I few formulas give you 3 loaves.

The formulas themselves are all telegraphic. Even though Hamelman is primarily talking to pros, the introductory chapters and the introductions to each section of the book have all the other information you need, and then some. Hamelman has admirable skill in expressing fairly complex stuff clearly. There is still so much depth that I learn new stuff every time I re-read these materials. Just do it.

The procedures like mixing, steaming, baking temperatures and times are all addressed to the commercial bakery environment and commercial equipment. We all know how much variation there is in the performance of mixers and ovens and in the atmosphere (temperatures and humidity) of home kitchens. You have to learn how to translate and adapt. For example, I found I need to double mixing times given by Hamelman, when I am using my KA mixer. But then I discovered an extra stretch and fold (sometimes two) achieves an even nicer result. YMMV. "Steam: 2 seconds" means something in a large, steam-injected deck oven. For my home  electric convection oven, it means nothing. There's not even a conversion that makes any sense. 

The issues bikeprof raised about the need for clearer definitions of flour types are certainly valid for the home baker. Again, I think the definition of "bread flour" to the professional is probably something like "hard red wheat flour with protein content of 10.4-12%." It's not hi-gluten (as used for bagels and highly enriched doughs) or low-gluten flours used for pastry and cakes.

Anyway, them's my 2 cents. As my grandmother used to say, "A bargain at half the price!"

Happy baking!


alfanso's picture

for me in just these past two days from all of the wonderful responses. As I initially stated, the book had barely been cracked open and I was already scratching my head about a few things.  And which I opened up to the Forum in order to help school me on.

My personal favorites so far in my abbreviated home baking life have all clustered around using just FW&S, with few diversions beyond.  Perhaps a book like this will open up new perspectives for me.  And if in the process this dialogue has helped others see him more clearly, then all the better.


My grandmother used to say "don't forget to zip up your fly" - something that has thankfully stuck with me ever since!

jimbtv's picture

Full disclosure, I haven't read the book yet but I have viewed many of Hamelman's YouTube videos and purchased his Craftsy video "The Baker's Guide to French Breads". If you are looking for a Hamelman tutorial directed at the home baker I would recommend this video. He is using standard mixing bowls, a countertop, his hands and a home oven with a cast iron pan for steam.

From what I gather, Jeffrey Hamelman has been a production baker nearly all his life. It is no wonder, at least to me, that his writings would be in alignment with his experiences. With that said, a cover note mentioning that the book was intended for production bakers would likely cut book sales dramatically but I do not want to make any assumptions here. 

I think your criticism regarding the directed audience is fair. Looking at the first few pages via Amazon I do not see anything that specifies his audience, and from you comments I will assume that this is not a "beginner's book". 

In about a month I will have the great fortune of attending a 3-day class with Jeffrey Hamelman and James MacGuire entitled "Survey of Classic French Breads". At that time I will purchase a signed copy of his book and may ask him directly about its intended audience.

Alfonso, you bake beautiful bread. I have followed your writings and watched your videos too. I am envious of your gringe but I still cannot master mixing dough while wearing gloves :-)   Thank you for your contributions.

alfanso's picture

To have the opportunity to attend his class.  Have a wonderful time.

My "criticisms" are really just initial observations about what I was hoping to see, and certainly not in any way about a baker of his stature nor about his handiwork.  

I've generally had really helpful feedback from the TFL crew.  Again it would be nice to have had mention about what one should look for along the way: what the mature levain should look like when ready, how the dough feels and responds to the mix and bulk rise, what characteristics the finished product should exhibit.

I started wearing the vinyl gloves when I got tired of dough getting endlessly stuck to the hair on the backs of my fingers and hands.  They are actually a really valuable and simple addition to my basic baking "tool kit".

Thanks for the kind words and encouragement.


suave's picture

a cover note mentioning that the book was intended for production bakers would likely cut book sales dramatically but I do not want to make any assumptions here. 

I think your criticism regarding the directed audience is fair. Looking at the first few pages via Amazon I do not see anything that specifies his audience


The first edition of the book specifically says that it is meant for professionals and experienced home bakers.  So does the Amazon entry for the current book, in bold.



alfanso's picture

you couldn't be more right.

Alright, if nothing else the topic lent itself to a lively conversation and some knowledge and opinion exchange.  And isn't that part of what this forum is about anyway. 

Once I decided to get the book and saw that it was the 2nd edition, I just dropped it in the cart and went to the pay screen.  Glad I didn't also select a mail order bride without first reading the fine print!

dmsnyder's picture

Glad I didn't also select a mail order bride without first reading the fine print!

Did you get free two-day shipping?

And now, back to our regularly scheduled bread baking ....


Ru007's picture

Hamelman, so i'll leave that alone. 

But I seriously love your baguettes. The spring is always so explosive. Lovely, lovely, lovely! 

Hope you end up enjoying the book :) And if not, well i suppose that's the worst that can happen! LOL! 

Thanks for sharing your bakes with us. 

Happy baking, 


Jane Dough's picture
Jane Dough

I've been reading this thread since Alfanso's initial post. I have to say finally that I did not find Hamelman an easy book to follow at first. Bread is the first text I had.  I had more help here on the forums than I was able to glean from Bread.  Definitely that was my level of experience or lack of.  I do think that you need a rudimentary knowledge to really benefit from the textbook. 

The book is set up in such a way that you have to jump around for reference points. But I have also found that even though I have to look for it, it's there.  It is a very different presentation than Tartine or FWSY, both of which are more or less spoon-feeding.  They are directed to the home baker and are clearly sold as such.  Hamelman offers a much broader experience. 

I have always questioned the term "bread" flour as being somewhat ambiguous and do appreciate the definition above. If Hamelman defines it I haven't found it. I also find his columns confusing.  The production being in kilograms makes sense but the switch to ounces for home bakers makes no sense at all to me. What's wrong with grams?

In closing I would say I like all the textbooks I've collected. They all offer something -  just differently. Bread is a wonderful reference for much more than sourdough baking and provides a wonderful resource for the usual and the less than usual bake. 

alfanso's picture

Jane D*,

"I had more help here on the forums than I was able to glean from" pretty much anywhere else! Is the part that I can add.  There is no substitute for a good learning tool, i.e. this website, and there is also no substitute for getting our hands into the mix either.  They both travel the same paths together.  As I'd mentioned, I started off with FWSY and  perhaps 2 or 3 breads from that book, and then found TFL, which has been my virtual nursemaid ever since.

Part of the trick is getting to know who is who on the website, and what they can offer to us and what we are each looking to derive for our own personal wants and growth.

Once more I appreciate all of the valuable input and help in righting my initial listing ship and questions about the book.  No one instructive book can be all things to all people.  But for the most part with careful attention TFL comes about as close as I can find.

*an early contributor, way before my time on TFL was "janedo" and it was she who "first" visited the Bouabsa bakery in Paris and reported back on the wonderful baguettes there.  

If I have my timeline right, she and David Snyder collaborated on the testing and posting of the Bouabsa Baguette on TFL, and David later attributed his "world famous" SJSD to having its roots in that very dough.  Although they may not seem to be linked I have this quote from David's writeup on them in my formula sheet “My San Joaquin Sourdough originated in Anis Bouabsa's.”  Somewhere along the line I get the feeling that Debra Wink's writings were an early inspiration to the SJSD concept as well.

Bring it back around to the start of this post-note - my first success in the TFL-based baguette world was with the Bouabsa's.  They are about as straightforward and easy as it gets.  And they also make lovely batards!

Thanks for lending your thoughts, Jane.  alan

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Something to keep in mind as others have already pointed out is that Bread is a textbook, and as such, a lot of the information you seek is found in the text, rather than repeated over and over in each bread formula. I highly recommend reading all those sections at the front of the book, and at the top of any chapter you're baking from. Perhaps even re-read some parts from time to time. Having said that, what Hamelman means by "bread flour" is explained on page 146:

The recommended white flour in the formulas (and the flour of choice for all the levain builds) is winter-wheat bread flour of medium strength --- 11.5 to 12 percent protein, and with an ash content of about .5 percent. Stronger flours are not necessary, and with few exceptions high-gluten flours should be avoided. In doughs that have lots of heavy grains to hold up, high-gluten flour might be beneficial, but for the most part, bread work-up and flavor are better with lower-protein flour. Spring wheat with the same protein and ash content can substitute for the winter wheat.

So, how is the home baker to know which brands and types make suitable "bread" flours? Unfortunately, it's not as simple as looking at the label of supermarket flours, because some (not all) that are labeled as Bread Flour have higher than 12% protein, and some All-Purpose flours are lower than 11.5%. If you've been a subscriber to Cook's Illustrated or have access to back articles, look up All-Purpose Four: Does the Brand Matter? (May & June 1999). I don't know if the major mills are still milling to those same specs (I suspect they are), but here are the protein levels that were given for unbleached AP flours at the time (and applications they placed first at in the baking tests):

King Arthur [hard red winter]:  11.7%  (pie pastry, and biscuits)  -  best all-around

Pillsbury [hard and soft red winter]:  10-11.5%  (not first at anything)  -  2nd best all-around

Gold Medal [hard red winter]:  10.5%  (choco chip cookies, and yeast bread)

Heckers/Ceresota [hard red winter]:  11.5-11.9%  (tied 1st for icebox cookies)

Hodgson Mill [hard red winter]:  11%  (muffins)

The rest were bleached all-purpose flours (best in the cake test, and tied for icebox cookies). I hope this helps clear up some confusion. Only two out of the five fall in the suggested protein range for bread flour, so one can't just substitute any all-purpose. One that is not included is Bob's Red Mill. I don't know the protein content of that one, but their flour is milled from hard spring wheat. Or, at least the regular whole wheat is, so I assume the all-purpose is too. I could be wrong.

All the best,



alfanso's picture

I can't recall where I picked this up from.  It seems that whoever posted this did their homework, although I can't vouch for it.



Best Use: makes average biscuits, cookies, muffins, pancakes, pie crusts, pizza crusts, quick breads, waffles, yeast breads.

  • -Gold Medal All-Purpose Flour, 10.5%
  • -Pillsbury Best All-Purpose Flour, 10 to 11.5%
  • -Pioneer All-Purpose Flour, 10%
  • -White Wings All-Purpose Flour, 10%


Best Use: cream puffs, puff pastry, yeast breads, pizza crusts.

  • -Heckers and Ceresota All-Purpose Flour, 11.5 to 11.9 %
  • -King Arthur All-Purpose Flour, 11.7%
  • -Robin Hood All-Purpose Flour, 12.0%

BREAD FLOUR - 11.7 to 12.9% protein

Best Use: traditional yeast breads, bread machine, pizza crusts, pasta.

  • -Gold Medal Better For Bread, 12% 
  • -King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour, 12.7%
  • -Pillsbury Best Bread Flour, 12.9%
  • -White Lily Unbleached Bread Flour, 11.7%

DURUM WHEAT (Semolina) 13 to 13.5% protein

Best Use: Pasta.

  • -Hodgson Mill Golden Semolina & Extra Fancy Durum Pasta Flour, 13.3% 
  • -King Arthur Extra Fancy Durum Flour, 13.3%

WHOLE WHEAT FLOUR - 12.9 to 14% protein

Best Use: hearth breads, blending with other flours.

  • -Gold Medal Whole Wheat Flour, 13.3%
  • -King Arthur 100% Whole Wheat Flour, 14%
  • -King Arthur 100% White Whole Wheat Flour, 14%
  • -Pillsbury Best Whole Wheat Flour, 12.9%

HIGH-GLUTEN FLOUR 14 to 15% protein

Best Use: bagels, pizza crusts, blending with other flours.

  • -King Arthur Organic Hi-Gluten Flour, 14% 
  • -King Arthur Sir Lancelot Unbleached Hi-Gluten Flour, 14.2%

VITAL WHEAT GLUTEN FLOUR, Breadmaking Supplement - 65 to 77% protein

Best Use: Added to raise gluten. Adds extra gluten to low-gluten whole grain flours, such as rye, oat, teff, spelt, or buckwheat.

  • -Arrowhead Mills Vital Wheat Gluten Flour, 65.0% 
  • -Bob's Red Mill Vital Wheat Gluten Flour, 75.0%
  • -Gillco Vital Wheat Gluten Flour, 75.0%
  • -Hodgson Mill Vital Wheat Gluten Flour, 66.6%
  • -King Arthur Vital Wheat Gluten Flour, 77.8%

CAKE FLOUR - 7% to 9.4% protein

Best Use: cakes, blending with national brands all-purpose flour to make pastry flour or Southern flour substitute.

-King Arthur Queen Guinevere Cake Flour, 7.0%

  • -King Arthur Unbleached Cake Flour Blend, 9.4% 
  • -Pillsbury Softasilk Bleached Cake Flour, 6.9%
  • -Presto Self Rising Cake Flour, 7.4%
  • -Swans Down Bleached Cake Flour, 7.1%

PASTRY FLOUR - 8 to 9% protein

Best Use: biscuits, cookies, pastries, pancakes, pie crusts, waffles.

  • -King Arthur Unbleached Pastry Flour, 8%
  • -King Arthur Whole Wheat Pastry Flour, 9%


Best Use: biscuits, cookies, muffins, pancakes, pie crusts, quick breads, waffles.

  • -Martha White Bleached All-Purpose Flour, 9%
  • -White Lily Bleached All-Purpose Flour, 8 to 9%

SELF-RISING FLOUR (flour, baking powder, salt) - 8 to 10.5% protein

Best Use: biscuits, cookies, pancakes, muffins, quick breads, waffles. 

  • -Gold Medal Bleached Self-Rising Flour, 10.5%
  • -King Arthur Unbleached Self-Rising Flour, 8.5%
  • -Martha White Bleached Self-Rising Flour, 9.4%
  • -Pillsbury Best Bleached Self-Rising Flour, 9.7%
  • -Presto Self Rising Cake Flour, 7.4%
  • -White Lily Bleached Self-Rising Flour, 8 to 9% 

ALL PURPOSE BAKING MIXES (flour, shortening, baking powder, sugar, salt) - 6.25 to 12.5% protein

Best Use: biscuits, cookies, coffee cakes, pancakes, quick breads, pastry, waffles

  • -Arrowhead Mills All Purpose Baking Mix, 12.5%
  • -Bisquick Original Baking Mix, 7.5%
  • -Jiffy All Purpose Baking Mix, 6.25%
  • -King Arthur Flour All Purpose Baking Mix, 10%
  • -Pioneer Original Baking Mix, 7.5%

INSTANT FLOUR 10.5 to 12.6% protein

Best Use: thicken gravies, sauces, and soups without lumps.

  • -Gold Medal Wondra Quick Mixing Flour, 10.5%
  • -Pillsbury Best Shake & Blend Flour, 12.6%


Retail Flour Companies - Brands:

  • -Bob’s Red Mill Natural Foods, Milwaukie, Oregon -Bob's Red Mill 
  • -C.H. Guenther & Son Inc, San Antonio, Texas - Pioneer Flour, Pioneer Baking Mix, White Wings Flour
  • -General Mills Company, Minneapolis, Minnesota - Bisquick, Gold Medal Flour, (sold US Pillsbury Flour , retains Pillsbury frozen goods)
  • -Hain Celestial Group Inc, Boulder, Colorado - Arrowhead Mills
  • -J.M. Smucker Company, Orrville, Ohio - Martha White Flour, Pillsbury Flour, Robin Hood Flour, White Lily Flour
  • -King Arthur Flour Company, Norwich, Vermont - King Arthur Flour
  • -Reily Foods Company, New Orleans, Louisiana - Swan's Down Cake Flour, Presto Self Rising Cake Flour
  • -Uhlmann Company, Kansas City, Missouri - Heckers Flour, Ceresota Flour


apprentice's picture

The Canadian bread flour of choice in bakeries I've known is Robin Hood's Keynote 45, "strong baker's flour" and listed on my most recent 20k bag as having been milled by Ardent Mills, Brampton ON. I believe the equivalent at the supermarket is Robin Hood's flour called Best for Bread, which they describe as a homestyle white. Their Keynote 39 is the one bakers would choose for bagels and pizza, no retail equivalent. I'm lucky to have access to both at a store called Wholesale Club, operated in my home town of Victoria by the Loblaw chain. Target market is professional - restaurants, bakeries and such - but the public can shop there, too.

There are other brands and types of flour, of course. One of the best, imo, sadly is not distributed much outside of Quebec and Ontario: Milanaise organic flours. Usually sold in 1k and 2k bags in supermarkets. So far, I've tried and love their whole wheat bread flour, rye, and whole spelt. Guess what I bring home whenever I visit Montreal!

As for the main topic of this thread, I have to echo what others said. Most of what you need and want to know is actually there in the book, somewhere. It's not a recipe book in the usual sense, more a text that needs to be studied. But that's the way I've always gone at cookbooks, so it works for me.