BREAD by Jeffrey Hamelman sits on my bookshelf full of scribbles and is very heavily underlined in places. It continues to be one of my favourite bread books that I keep returning to when I need clarification. I wish I’d had the book when I first started my bread journey – hah, better late than never!
It doesn’t matter if you are a novice or an experienced bread maker/baker, the book is packed with valuable information and insights. The foreword to the book by Raymond Calvel is testament to this.
Now, before I continue on, in the interest of transparency and full disclosure the book links are affiliate links to my book review. You do not have to use them if you don’t wish to do so. However, if you like what I write and share here about the book, by clicking on the affiliate link you will help me potentially acquire more books in my subject area to review here in future and in return hopefully help you decide whether it is a book you wish to acquire too. I have chosen Book Depository because they offer free shipping worldwide.
The reason I am starting to review books is because as I share my bread making experience I’m also asked what books would be useful in the pursuit of further knowledge in this field, so here goes, for better or worse.
Who is Jeffrey Hamelman? In brief, he is the director of King Arthur Flour, which he joined in 1999 to teach and open their bakery. He is a Certified Master Baker in the USA and recipient of the Golden Baguette Award from the Bread Baker’s Guild and author of the book I’m reviewing here, which is now in its second edition. Here is a link to read more on Jeffrey Hamelman’s: Thought’s On Bread from a post in BREAD Magazine which also published an in depth interview with Jeffrey Hamelman in issue 19 – July 2016 you might like to read.
Jeffrey Hamelman’s book on BREAD is divided into two parts:
Part One walks you through the processes in bread making; the types of ingredients used and how these will affect your bread making; concluding with the different kinds of shaping techniques to be found in making bread. The latter being what truly accentuates bread making as an artisan craft.
Part Two introduces you to the actual making and baking of breads. Understanding how yeasted pre-ferments work and how bread making benefits from this. Then there is the question of breads and their formulas. Bakers prefer to work in formulas because it is a clear way of understanding the proportions used in the baking process.
My only critique in Hamelman’s book is his explanation of the Baker’s Percentage, which you will find in the appendix. Why? Because, the percentages are dealt in pounds. In order to understand baker’s maths you are way better off doing your calculations in metric. The use of pounds is way too convoluted and is probably a reason why many people find it so difficult to get their head around it, specially if they are trying to figure it out in pounds. Nevertheless, understanding baker’s percentages is great because it enables any baker to compute quantities and to scale them accordingly with this method. It is the universal recipe language between bakers – bakers don’t bother writing a recipe, they simply convey the percentages they have used in their bread formula. I’m not going to go into it here though as it is not in the context of this book review. Thankfully all the recipes in the second edition have both the pounds and metric amounts configured, plus even volumetric cups (which I never recommend as no cup volume of flour or salt is ever accurate). Working out the percentages on the given metric amounts isn’t really rocket science although a calculator does come in handy and anyone with a cell phone these days has one at their finger tips (curiously J.H. does not have a cell phone if he can help it).
Until I read Jeffrey Hamelman’s BREAD book I’d never really liked linseeds in my bread. They were hard and nasty bits that got stuck in between my teeth. It was pretty much an AHA moment when I discovered that it is best to soak them the night before and even add some of the salt, if not all of it because this would help inhibit enzymatic activity. It is thanks to this that I have been able to develop my popular “Sun n’ Seed” loaf which I teach in my Grains & Soakers Class.
As I mentioned earlier, there are two editions of this book and it is best to get the revised 2nd later edition because as I understand the first edition has limitations on the metric information and some indexing issues as well. All the recipes have step by step instructions and what I love best in the book are the blue inserts that explain more in detail stuff that will affect your baking. For example, explanations how: “Steam” in the oven contributes to your bread baking results; “Benefits of Pre-ferments” and more. They are a treasure trove of information nuggets spread through out the book. If you are keen on understanding the different nuances in baking and not just having recipes, this book is a little encyclopedia of bread information. This book stands as a firm staple in my stable of bread books. Hope you found this useful! If you have any questions happy to answer them in the comments section.
Happy Flour Power!
P.S. I actually was fortunate enough to meet Jeffrey Hamelman when he came over to Adelaide for Tasting Australia’s Loaves & Fishes evening. He is a lovely, soft spoken man who truly loves this baking craft. Here a link to a great photo of him I found on the web by Nani Gutierrez. I also found a fascinating interview of him where he discusses his sense of life, and did you know that amongst other things he has been an avid bee keeper since 1982?
JEFFREY HAMELMAN: BREAD - A BAKER'S BOOK OF TECHNIQUES AND RECIPES [AFFILIATE LINK]