In the run up to Christmas I decided that I would ask Santa for another bread making book. I was enjoying my recent experiences so much that I wanted to explore different techniques and follow new ‘master bakers’. I’d really enjoyed working through Paul Hollywood‘s ‘How to Bake’ (and would strongly recommend this book to anyone), yet his techniques, all be they very traditional, appeared to contradict those of other baking greats. Of course this comes back to one of my original comments about bread making – there doesn’t seem to be a ‘right way’, so the time was ripe to explore the methods of another.
Following my usual extensive research, I’d cut my shortlist down to 2:-
Dan Lepard, an Australian now firmly rooted in the UK, switching from photography to baking in the early 1990s, he writes a regular column for the Guardian. His techniques may challenge the traditional, but emphasise those that have no doubt actually been carried out in practice by professional for years. A proponent of sourdough and natural leaven, Dan’s style and recipes are based firmly in the contemporary. Minimal handling, the use of autolyse, kneading in general limited to only a few seconds at a time throughout the initial rise, in this book Dan has travelled across Europe for inspiration
Reinhart, on the other hand, is a widely respected baking instructor from the US, lecturing at the Johnson & Wales University. Described as both a master bread maker and theologian, Peter ‘channels the science of baking into deep, spiritual lessons’. In this book Peter seems to have had an epiphany – working on the principle that more time makes better bread, he has reworked many of his ‘classic’ bread recipes to incorporate a retarded rise making all of his creations a 2 day process. This book has a little bit of everything – some stretch & fold, some ‘core’ doughs for use in multiple recipes, some sourdough, options for ‘hybrids’ which use the sourdough for flavour but assisted with commercial yeast to achieve the rise.
Picking one of these books was a challenge, which is why when I was offered both, I jumped at the chance. Great – an opportunity to compare! This was, of course quite a naive assumption. The 2 books couldn’t be more different in style, and it didn’t take long to realise that a direct comparison was going to be out of the question. Across the 2, there’s only 1 recipe which could be considered vaguely comparable, and even this wouldn’t provide a fair test. As ever, I picked out a few favourites, but how could I compare Lepard’s Lentil Rolls with Reinhart’s Soft Rye Sandwich Bread? It’s like comparing a Pablo Picasso‘s “Guernica” with John Constable‘s “The Hay Wain”
There are plenty of excellent recipes in both books, and they provide a great contrast. However, they are both a little frustrating in their own way. The core principle of Reinhart’s book is driving in flavour through a longer fermentation period. His techniques mean that you can make up a large batch of dough and bake fresh loaves across a 4 day period. However, it does take away the spontaneity of baking – no longer can I wake up on a Saturday and decide what fresh bread I’ll be eating with my lunch. The structure of the recipes is also a little annoying, particularly for non-US bakers. Based predominantly in cups, with conversions for imperial and then metric, the ingredients lists become a little messy, trying to be all things to all men:- “1/4 cup (2 oz / 56.5g) mother starter”. Trying to work with the metric measurements isn’t great. Having said this, each recipe has it’s ingredients in bakers percentages in the appendix. Other than that, it’s hard to find fault.
Dan’s book, on the other hand, is beautifully laid out,with a recipe to a page, some easy to follow instructions, even using a timeline on the earlier recipes to indicate when activity will be needed over the course of the day. Topped with some great photography and interspersed with local commentaries about his travels, my only real gripe with this book is the inaccessibility of some of the ingredients. Whereas I can bake all but 2 of the 33 recipes in Reinhart’s book with store-cupboard ingredients, 32 of Dan’s 77 would need a special trip out to the supermarket, or more likely, ordering online from specialist baking stores. The use of whole grains and various flours is all well and good, adding great variety into the bread making, but in reality I just don’t have the cupboard space for all of those ingredients!
Both books bring their own contribution, and I’d recommend each of them. Over the coming weeks, I’ll be trialling recipes (or at least, my versions of recipes) from each, starting with Ciabatta (take 2) and The Mill Loaf