Like their New England neighbors at Cook's Illustrated, the King Arthur bakers are dedicated to testing and re-testing, and above all, technique. There's a good dose of baking science, too - this is a volume Alton Brown and Rose Levy Beranbaum must assuredly have acquired for their own libraries. The knowledge that both Cinnamon and Garlic can impair the rising process in breads is in itself worth the price of the book.
This tome has many marvelous illustrations which go a long way to instruct the reader. Sidebars abound with helpful (though sometimes quirky) information and tips. While whole wheat flour is the star, other whole grains are explored. You'll find encyclopedic history and data on Rye, Buckwheat, Kamut, Farro, Tritcale, Spelt, Barley, Amaranth, Teff, and others. King Arthur is big on the science and treatment of yeast, as well. Clear explanations are provided regarding the differences and applications among "Active-Dry", "Instant", and "Rapid-Rise" yeasts (no, "Instant" and Rapid-Rise" or "Quick-Rise" yeasts are NOT the same). The King Arthur bakers are also proponents of pre-ferments and they distinguish among the panoply of starters: Sponge, Poolish, Biga, and Levain (sourdough). Oddly, I couldn't find a discussion of the importance of an "autolyse" - an initial resting period just after the initial mixing of water and flour that gives the flour the time to hydrate. I couldn't even find the term in the "Index" - although it appears in KA's "Baker's Companion". Believe me - use of an autolyse can make a world of difference in the end result.
The design of the book is similar to KA's "Baker's Companion" and "Cookie Companion" (both worth owning). It's a big volume (more than 600 pages and 300 recipes) but not too heavy as the result of the intelligent use of paper stock. It's well-ordered, easy to read, and logical enough for a Vulcan.
A couple of caveats: By their own admission, the King Arthur bakers tell you that their recipes are most successful if you use their brand of flour - most of which have a higher protein level than other brands. Fear not - instructions are given for using other brands. Fortunately, most KA flours are now widely available in many major supermarkets. From personal experience, I can assure you that KA bread flours produce extraordinary results. The only other bread flours I use are Bob's Red Mill Dark Rye Flour, and Whole Wheat Flour - both of which are excellent, also widely available, and come in handy smaller sizes.
Second warning: some of the recipes suggest an overnight rest to soften the bran in the whole wheat flour. The Brownie recipe included in the book will taste slightly gritty without the benefit of the overnight rest - and when I want a Brownie, I want it today and I want it luscious, not coarse-textured.
One especially helpful tip is the addition of a small amount of orange juice suggested in the production of whole wheat bread made with traditional whole wheat flour. The orange juice counteracts the inherent bitter edge caused by the phenolic acid (similar to the astringent tannins in tea). A new alternative is to employ KA's "White Whole Wheat" flour which does not contain phenolic acid - but still contains all of the bran and germ - a true whole wheat product.
Having tried only one of the recipes in this book, I cannot attest to the others - but based on the success of KA's other cookbooks and their bi-monthly newsletter, "The Baking Sheet", one would have to assume reliable, if not stellar results - and healthier (though not necessarily lower in fat and calories) eating in the process.