Top positive review
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An excellent intermediate-to-advanced book
on August 5, 2003
Peter Reinhart outstrips his previous works in The Bread Baker's Apprentice. It is, in one volume, a guide to the science and art of great bread, an account of Reinhart's journeys and experiences in the professional baking world, and finally, a collection of some very good bread formulae.
The book's greatest successes are in European-style hearth loaves. His whole wheat bread is great, to be sure, and his cinnamon buns deliver, but for truly excellent work turn to the ciabatta, French bread, pain de campagne, and other lean-dough recipes. (Also worth a rave is his foccacia, which left me wondering why they hadn't had anything this good when I was in Italy.)
A few things to be aware of:
1. As has been true with all of Reinhart's work since Brother Juniper, patience is the key to these wonderful loaves. His delicious rendition of Pane Siciliano, not even a sourdough, takes three days from start to finish! The majority of the recipes in the book require work on at least two separate days, and rising times are longer than in many other books due to smaller amounts of yeast.
2. While many of the ethnic-style breads are very good, they are often Reinhart's personal renditions and are not what I would call "authentic." The most obvious oddity, to me, is the presence of milk in the dough of his New York Deli Rye. Reinhart reminisces about eating roast beef on this bread in several of New York's kosher delis, where Jewish dietary laws prohibit the admixture of dairy and meat products in a single meal. On a less urgent note, I'm surprised that this recipe doesn't call for first-clear flour, also called common flour, which is usually considered essential for good Jewish rye.
3. This is not a beginner's book. Unless you already have an electric mixer with a dough hook, you'll want to know how to knead dough by hand, and Reinhart does not explain this rather basic skill. In addition, the formulae can be a bit on the intimidating side, and may confuse people who are not inclined to read through the rather scientific introduction to the process of bread baking. Many books are available which can give you the basic tools to make perfectly good bread before you tackle some of this material.
Despite these obstacles -- one cannot really call them faults -- this book is an invaluable part of my collection, and I use it regularly to great praise from my family and friends. Highly recommended.