I've been cooking since my early teens. I have cooked french food, Chinese food, and Italian food. At one time, when I was younger and did not have to fight my waistline, I spent months trying to make the perfect chocolate cake.
I grew up in Northern California and all through my childhood I ate sourdough bread. This has given me a lifelong taste for breads that are chewy and flavorful. There was a lot of mystique around sourdough bread. To make it, I was told, you needed a brick-lined oven. Nothing else would do. Also there were no books on baking bread. The intimidating reputation of the breads I like and the lack of cook books combined to scare me off from baking bread (unless Cha Su Bao counts).
Eventually I did manage to overcome my fear of baking bread. I've been actively baking bread for almost a year now and I have used all four of the bread cookbooks reviewed on this Web page. I have also written an related Web page The Tao of Bread. These books, to various degrees, opened up bread making for me.
Before reviewing these four bread cookbooks, I should probably discuss the criteria I use to judge a bread cookbook.
The most important criteria in a cookbook is that its recipes are reliable. If the cook carefully follows the recipes, they should expect to get a decent result. This means that the author should have tested the recipes in a home kitchen. The recipes should also warn of any pitfalls. I am still mad at Mark Miller (author of the Coyote Cafe Cookbook) whose recipe for Chicken Mole had me refry the Mole sauce without warning me that the stuff would bubble like hot mud when poured (as directed) into a hot frying pan. I got Mole sauce all over my kitchen wall and my dinner guest and I spent an hour getting it off.
The bread recipes that I look for are for breads that have a good texture and are full of flavor. When I make sourdough bread, I want a crunchy crust and a soft but chewy inside. I have judged the cookbooks reviewed here on whether their recipes have helped me achieve this result.
Ian Kaplan - 1/98
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