The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

So many books

tolinrome's picture

So many books

Hello all,

I'm new to this site and have am looking (desiring really) to start making my own bread at home, but I need your help please. I have experience making pizza from scratch, using store bought yeast and using a pizza steel - but now I want to start making bread. I lived in Italy many years and got so used to the great bread there from the bakeries that I cant eat the bread from super markets here in the US cause of the poor (horrendous) quality - too bad I cant find and support a local bakery.

My question is - Where do I start? I would love to purchase a book that explains to someone who knows nothing of making bread at home. I saw some of the books on this site recommended but I end up more confused because they mention amateur baker, which I'm not. Someone commented on a book that I was ready to buy I read a review that the author wrote you have to have your kitchen at a certain temperature for proofing, I'm not at that level.

I'm just looking for something that will help me make bread like they do in Italy. I have no idea about making your own yeast but if that's what it calls for I need to know how. Some commenters on reviews say the book calls for to much flour to waste making a starter dough and wouldn't recommend it. I have a home oven and basic kitchen appliances, nothing fancy. One book I was looking at, a reviewer said that you need rice flour, cast iron pots and pans, etc. really?

It seems that a lot of the reviews of the books I'm reading are for advance bakers. Some basic books I looked at mention, knead, no knead, sourdough, etc, etc, so it's confusing where to start. What book could I use that would start off with the basics and then advance in topics as I progress?

Thank you so much!!!!!

suave's picture

Ken Forkish's book, Flour, Water, Yeast, Salt has by far the best introductory section.  Hamelman's Bread has the most tried and true recipes.

BaniJP's picture

It is a very heavy book (literally and figuratively), but I can't praise Advanced Bread and Pastry by Michel Suas (founder of San Francisco Baking Institute) enough. Even though it is targeted more towards bakeries or people that bake larger amounts of breads, home bakers can get just as much from it, if they are willing to put the time into reading it (at least the first 300 pages).
It goes very much into detail about the history of bread, how each of the components and processes affects the outcome, what to look out for, troubleshooting etc. It teaches you all the basics and advanced stuff, proper terms and techniques and gives you a deep understanding of the craft that goes into bread.
The recipes are great, artisanal and from all over the world. It also has hundreds of recipes for pastry, candy, chocolate, sugar, mousse, creams etc.
However, it is very dry, has little pictures and can be frustrating if you just quickly wanna look up something (there is a glossary and topic list though).
So if you are willing to put the time into it, I would definitely recommend it.

And no, to bake great bread, you need only flour, water and salt, plus yeast if you don't have a starter (and of course mixer and oven). When I started making baguettes myself, we usually ate everything within a day because it tasted ridiculously good, nothing compared to supermarket stuff (or even bakeries). All with just four ingredients and the book mentioned above. If that isn't rewarding, I don't know what is ;)

Our Crumb's picture
Our Crumb

Suas is expensive, authoritative and decidedly professional but not for beginners unless used as a course textbook.  I use it for everything except bread.  Great madeleine and financier recipes!  And yes it’s heavier than the OED. 

I agree wholeheartedly with Suave about Forkish and Hammelman especially. ??. Can’t go wrong with either. 

What kinds of Italian breads do you want to make?


idaveindy's picture

I'd suggest visiting a library, and browse the main bread cookbooks to find which appeals to you.

Suggested books to compare:

  • Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast. by Ken Forkish,
  • The Bread Baker's Apprentice. by Peter Reinhart. 
  • The Italian Baker. by Carol Field.  - - - * - * - - -  Update: currently $5 Kindle format @ Amazon!
  • Bread. by Jeffrey Hammelman.
  • My Bread. by Jim Lahey,
  • Bread Alone. by Daniel Leader.
  • Local Breads. by Daniel Leader.
  • The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois.

If you want to make breads with 50% or more whole-wheat/whole-grain, I would suggest comparing:

  • The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book. Updated edition, 2003. by Laurel Robertson.
  • Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads. by Peter Reinhart.
  • The New Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day. by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois.

Good luck, and enjoy!

lesbru's picture

All the books people have suggested are really good. From your post though, I get the feeling that you are looking for something maybe a bit different. 

James Morton introduces his book, 'Brilliant Bread' as being the only one he knows of written by a non professional bread maker for other amateurs. He is a no-frills, total enthusiast, who claims the only piece of equipment you can't improvise is a scraper. He has a no nonsense approach and is messianic in claiming that anyone can make excellent bread anywhere. (He was still a medical student using a student kitchen when he wrote the book.) He even includes a recipe for improvising a loaf when in a friend's house, with only a mug to measure with. There are however some excellent recipes included and he even takes you through to sourdough, if that's what you want. Highly recommended, he was the one who got me going. Hamelman and Robertson, my heroes, came later. 

cfraenkel's picture

This is what got me started.

It is simple and easy. Then when I realized I could do it I bought Flour, Water, Salt Yeast by Ken Forkish and continued on this journey from there.  There are SO many books, but see if the NYT recipe meets your needs, and then trial some books at the library, which is a great suggestion.

idaveindy's picture

About keeping it super simple.  Of the books I listed, the "Five Minutes a Day" series by Hertzberg/Francois seems the simplest to me.

If you have a dutch oven, or a covered oven-safe casserole dish, or even two identical loaf pans (use one as the lid, inverted) then Steve Gamelin's youtube channel has the simplest and most foolproof bread recipes I've ever seen. I've made well over a  dozens loaves using his style.  No baking stones, no steaming the oven.

(if using a glass or glass-like casserole dish, do not preheat it. It could shatter when you dump the cold dough in it.)    (no final "e")


Notes: his shorter rise "turbo" recipes don't taste as good as the 12 hour rise ones do, in my opinion.  His 50% whole wheat is delish.


Update:  Excellent $.99 Kindle ebook at Amazon!!   Sourdough School by Vanessa Kimbell. Limited time price. Normally $12 or more.

 This book may be too advanced for you right now, but if you will be doing sourdough at any time in the future, this deal is too good to pass up.  Buy it now, cheap, and use it later when you are ready.  99 cents, can't go wrong.

(Don't need a dedicated Kindle device. Read it on your computer or tablet with an app.)

tolinrome's picture

Thank you all very much for your time and insightful responses, so many good points.I actually looked at the NY Times article from Jim Lahey and have bought a cast iron pot to start with.

I also bought Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast. by Ken Forkish,on a couple of your recommendations - thank you everyone! I started reading the first few introductory pages of his book and it just made me feel I needed to get it.

I don't even know the difference between sourdough bread and standard bread so I'll wait for that when the time comes.

Thank you all for helping me get started. Since I started making pizza from scratch, and all the trials and errors and time and effort, now starting baking bread, who would think that these simple 4 ingredients would and could be so fascinating!


Turbosaurus's picture

I disagree with a lot of the replies you received that talk about beginner books vs expert books..

Go with an expert book.   Baking bread is serious engineering and if you don’t have the basics it will just frustrate you to quitting.
I was always a chef, but never a baker because I followed “recipes” without any understanding of how different leveaners worked, how yeast works, what the difference was between flours is, how moisture changes things, what is gluten and how does it develop, so I got lousy outcomes, had no idea why or what to do about it and when I became informed I was ANGRY that people thought I wasn’t smart enough to understand the complexity.  

when you cook a chicken piccata, you can see it and taste it the whole way and fiddle as you go.. 20 min. operation.   when you bake (and sometimes it’s a 3 day operation) you have to know what you are looking for at each step and if don’t get it, what might be the problem, how and when to fix it. you could screw it up at any step.    Even if you don’t understand some aspects of what you read or you are overwhelmed, you'll understand it’s important and will be able to start targeting where your errors might be in ingredients or timing or where you need to learn more.   Iif it goes wrong, where in the 12-72 hours and 45 steps did you stumble?  

the FCIs Fundamentals Of Classic bread was the book that opened my eyes..  I don’t recommend it.  It’s a text book which means it’s very expensive and is meant to be used in tandem with a college level instructor. Unfortunately I haven’t come across anything better.  The one thing I can say is If you want to learn to bake bread you don’t want a recipe book.  You want a publication that describes itself as fundamentals of baking, what’s the difference between flours, how does temperature affect yeast, who’s the difference between baking soda and baking powder what does double acting mean... then come back here often to ask for advice.


BaniJP's picture

I agree with this, in terms of knowledge it's always better to have access to as much as possible. Especially in baking bread and pastry (in cooking you still can kinda wing it), which is heavily based in complex science.

Having a deep understanding of what goes on during baking and all the components and processes that affect it will lead to better results. Plus it's just fun to dig really deep into it.

I can understand that a lot of bread books are supposed to ease you into the craft instead of scaring you away...depends how much effort you want to put into it. But if you put the time into reading some advanced books and doing a few tests, you will be greatly rewarded!

idaveindy's picture

@Turbo: Here's a free Kindle book that likely has some science and baking tech details that you're looking for:

Probably doesn't  have anything that the FCI doesn't already cover, but for someone who doesn't want to spend the big bucks, it's free.  The author uses it to drive traffic to their web site, but it is still professionally done, and worthwhile in itself.   This book has been free for quite a while, and will likely remain free.


Another Kindle ebook that is good on the details of lactobacillus and wild yeast, is Vanessa Kimbell's Sourdough School, currently on sale for 99 cents:

This price won't last, so scoop it up.  But it does go back on sale once or twice a year.


As you are an admitted science-geek, you may like the academic style of author Peter Reinhart.  His Whole Grain Breads in Kindle format has been on discount for US $5.99 for a while.

 I have seen it as low as $2.99 if you want to wait for the next big sale.   He is both an academic and somewhat of a story teller.  So if you like profs who go off on side stories, you should like his books.  I have that, and The Bread Baker's Apprentice.


If you appreciate _art_ books, then snap up Tartine Book No. 3, which is on sale in Kindle format for $2.99.    It's not super great on techy-nerdy details, but the photography blows me away.  Whenever I have bothered to very closely follow his techniques, the bread comes out great.


Bottom line... for free, and for 99 cents, ya can't go wrong.