Learn the science behind:
Learning how to bake bread is not something you finish within a few days. Instead, the more you do it, the more you realize there still is so much to learn, which, being a scientist by training, is exactly why I find baking bread so much fun. There certainly was a time that I made bread without properly shaping it, nor did I slash it to create a nice decoration on top (here’s all the steps of bread baking). And you know what, those breads still tasted amazing since at that time they were the best breads I had yet made! Over the past few years I learned a lot, and luckily there’s still a lot to learn.
Despite the fact that you can find so many recipes and guides online for making bread, most of my bread baking has really been done by following recipes in cookbooks on bread (and surprisingly, by watching the Great British Bake Off!). They tend to have a more extensive application, it’s easier to take notes and return to the same recipe to try it again.
Here I list some of the books that have been most helpful for me so far and I’ll tell you in what stage of your bread baking journey it’s a good book to have!
Please note, you can buy all books on our curated Bread Science books list on Bookstore.org!
Different bakers at different stages in their bread baking journey need different books, which is why we grouped them:
- Book for the first time bread baker
- Book for beginner bread bakers
- Book for the American bread baker
- Book for the Dutch speaking bread baker
- Book for the pretty advanced bread baker
- Book for the ‘I don’t just bake bread’ bakers
- Book for the sciency bread baker
- Book for the aspiring professional baker
First time bread baker
If you’ve never baked bread before and want to give it a try there’s really no need to buy a whole book on bread. Have a look in your existing baking and cookbooks, do they contain some recipes maybe? Also, there are plenty of blogs out there on bread baking which can give you that first bread recipe. If you liked that first and possibly second time, consider buying one of the books below. Just bake a lot of recipes from that book until you reckon you can make them decently enough and have made every recipe that sounds appealing to you. Then, buy a next book!
Beginner bread baker – Brilliant Bread
The book that helped me get going in the world of bread baking is the book from James Morton, Brilliant Bread. It has a good variety of very basic recipes to more complicated ones using sourdough starters which require a bit more skill. You will notice that the instructions of the different recipes do look quite alike. This is pretty common for bread baking books I found. The author has his or her own preferred way of baking bread and will use a similar method all throughout the book. As a beginner this is perfect though, you can get familiar with this way of working and get some sort of a rhythm. Not every recipe will look brand new, instead they start looking familiar.
The book contains a lot of basic bread recipes without fancy fillings, but being well known classics. The breads tend to be more European in style and there are several more British breads more towards the end of the book (e.g. scones, gingerbread). I still regularly bake from this book but I’ve made just about all recipes that sound appealing to me.
American bread baker – Bread Illustrated
Bread Illustrated is made by America’s Test Kitchen (ATK). ATK has a big group of staff who test and improve recipes until they’re foolproof and work well. They’ve done the same for bread and it has resulted in a very beautiful book. Both beginners as well as more advanced bakers will benefit from the book. There is a very good introduction. All the different steps are explained using a lot of different photos, which especially is great. I found the introductions very interesting to read. I knew most of it, but seeing it again, told in a slightly different way is always helpful.
However, I personally didn’t like the recipes that much and upon further consideration I think that is because they are definitely more geared towards an audience from the USA. First of all, all recipes are given in volume measures. Flours and other dry ingredients are converted into weights, but ingredients like butter are not. I find it a real shame and it stops me from testing a recipe spontaneously).
Apart from that, there are a lot of rich breads (e.g. brioche) and a lot of breads with fillings whereas I tend to be looking for more basic rustic breads. There’s nothing wrong with those, but in general, the % of recipes in this book that I would bake isn’t as high as for other books on this list. Of course, heritage and personal preference play a huge role here.
Dutch bread baker – Meer brood uit eigen oven
This is probably my favorite bread baking book of all of the books in this list. I’ve used it a lot of times. But, it’s in Dutch so if you don’t speak Dutch, I’m sorry, this isn’t for you…
This book also contains a good introduction and was the first book that really helped me get the hang of shaping my breads. It definitely was a step up compared to Brilliant Bread and has a slightly wider variation of recipes. Again, you will notice that the author has a distinct own bread baking style, with I think is perfectly fine though and has helped me build my bread baking skills. Baking and shaping a baguette really went a lot better after following the instructions in this book!
Advanced bread baker – Bouchon bakery
If you really want to level up your bread baking skills and want to get tips from the pros this a a book for you. It definitely isn’t suited for someone just starting out or wanting to make some simple breads during the weekend. The recipes in the book all require sourdough starters or a poolish. These types of bread inherently are more complex to make and get just right than those made with dried yeast only.
That said, they have a lot of more advanced tops for creating that super crunchy crust for instance and on how to work clean in general. You can hear the experts talking.
What was very inspiring as well was to read the introduction to the book and hear where the authors came from and how they started up their bakery. The book then doesn’t only discuss bread but also pastry, cakes, more complex products like croissants and candies, all at a pretty advanced level. Even if you only bake a few recipes, it definitely is an inspiring read. You might want to borrow it at your local library first if you’re doubting.
Not just bread – Baking bible
Let’s be honest, you like baking a bread, once in a while but really prefer cooking cakes and cookies? One of my current favorites would be Mary Berry’s Baking Bible. The main reason I bought it was looking at the Great British Bake Off, I must admit. But, I’ve made quite a few recipes already (all no breads) and they came out really nice. It covers a wide variety of different bakes and the total number of breads is, admittedly, quite small, about 20 only. But, it contains nice photos, clear instructions and is especially suitable for beginners and not too advanced bakers. The recipes tend to be quite simple and geared towards the basics and especially (British) classics.
Sciency baker – Bread Science
Are you ready for the next level of bread science? Then this book “Bread Science: The chemistry and craft of making bread” is definitely worthwhile a read. It dives a lot deeper into gluten development, what exactly happens during kneading and proofing and a lot more. It is not a book to use to start baking. It really is a next level of understanding of bread baking.
I personally found it very interesting and worthwhile to read. It is especially useful if you want to look something up again or are wondering why a certain step just failed or worked great.
Professional baker – The fundamental techniques of classic bread making
If you’re an (aspiring) professional bread baker this book may just be what you’re looking for. It starts with an introduction to the professional bread kitchen which covers topics such as cleanlinees, safety, storage and tools. When you work at large scale these things all change just a little. Before diving into the recipes, the next section first discusses the ingredients at a far more detailed level than the other books mentioned above. Other introductory sections cover topics such as the baker’s percentage (used to express recipes).
The recipes that follow are grouped by origin, e.g. German, Italian or French. Most breads have their origins in Europe. They definitely aren’t beginner recipes. Most recipes call for either a poolish or a sourdough starter and tend to involve more steps. Also, the recipes truly vary quite a lot, which is great if you’re ready to level up and expand your range of breads, but pretty challenging if you’re just starting out. Recipes tend to assume you’ve got professional equipment at hand (e.g. a steam oven), which doesn’t mean you can’t make them at home of course.
The book is written by the French Culinary Institute (now called International Culinary Center) which provides trainings for professional bakers, hence the level of the book.
Any other tips?
Do you have any other tips that we should include in this list? Let us know in the comments below.
We only include books in this list that we’ve either bought or borrowed to get a proper sense of the book so we love to hear your suggestions for next steps!