Here is my original review. It is a rare thing that I change a review, but this time I'll eat my words. Please read my update below!
Whether you are just beginning to explore the craft of bread baking or, like me, have been baking bread for more than forty years, you will find a lot to like in the pages of Artisan Breads at Home. Nearly identical in size to Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread, Eric Kastel's new book is much lighter on theory and offers a wider selection of recipes. Wherever you happen to be in the world, this will be a book that you can easily put into immediate use. All recipe measurements are given in grams, ounces, US volumetric (measuring cups) and baker's percentages. (See my update!)
Kastel teaches at the Culinary Institute of America and that comes shining through in the pages of Artisan Bread. You'll find lots of explanatory notes, helpful pictures and an invaluable section in the back that illustrates a number of braids and knots useful for specialty breads like Kaiser Rolls and Challah. If you're looking for a gift for a beginning bread baker, you would not go wrong with Artisan Breads at Home - and I suspect that my youngest daughter will find one on her doorstep quite soon.
So, why did I give this book 4 stars instead of 5? (Now reduced to 1 star - and it should be no stars!)
* The typeface is too small for my older eyes. While I can read most things other than the fine print on the back of bottles easily, I spent 30 minutes or so hunting for the reading glasses I use for fine sewing in order to make heads or tails of this.
* Kastel gives only a lick & a promise by way of explanation of baker's percentages. If he was not going to explain them fully, then he should have left them out entirely.
* The shaping directions for Kaiser Rolls just quits rather awkwardly in the middle, leaving us with a 14 inch piece of dough in our hands.
* Kastel's explanation of diastatic malt is directly contradictory to Peter Reinhart's and a number of others readily available online.
Nonetheless, Artisan Breads at Home is an invaluable addition to any cookbook shelf, one that will be going to work in my kitchen this very afternoon!
UPDATE: I decided to make the Sticky Buns/Cinnamon Rolls from Artisan Breads at Home for Sunday Brunch, so I started on them last night, as the dough needs to be refrigerated overnight. The first thing I noticed in working with the recipe is that the volumetric measurements - standard US "measuring cups" - are at best awkward. Instead of 1 cup of milk, the recipe calls for 3/4 cup plus 2.5 tablespoons. Of course most US measuring spoon sets have no "1/2 tablespoon" measure, requiring the cook to measure 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon plus 1/2 teaspoon. And then there are the eggs - 1/2 cup. That's nice - except that to get 1/2 cup of eggs you must beat the eggs, measure and then throw away whatever happens to be left. Even at that, the dough was extremely soft.
Now it is 6:30 in the morning and I'm getting ready to fill, shape and bake the rolls, which require 1 cup of cinnamon filling and 6 ounces of Pan Smear for Sticky Buns. In reading through the recipes I note that the Cinnamon Filling requires 1/2 cup of cinnamon (this would be an entire jar of the sort common to the average household!) - for a recipe that supposedly makes 11 to 16 rolls. Close examination reveals that the Cinnamon Filling recipe yields 32 ounces of filling - four times the amount required for the Sticky Buns or Cinnamon Rolls. The Pan Smear is no better - that makes 2 pounds for a recipe that requires only 6 ounces, so more than 5 times the amount required!
And then there is the whole question of just how many rolls this recipe makes. The author states that one can expect 11 to 16 rolls. However, he instructs us to roll the dough to 9 x 26 inches, yielding a roll 26 inches long to be cut into 3/4" pieces. I know it has been a long, long time since I took a math class, but the last time that I checked 26 divided by 0.75 was a whole lot more than 16!
All in all - some yummy ideas, but little or no thought or care has been taken to make this accessible to the average home cook. The math is wrong, the science is wrong, no consideration has been given to the equipment/quantities commonly available to the home cook and the recipes are wasteful. I find it VERY disappointing that the Culinary Institute of America would lend their name to such a poor effort - and that will definitely affect my decision to purchase the other new cookbooks they are currently releasing in a very negative way.
Definitely NOT recommended! Buy The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread instead. This one I just might return to Amazon!