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Author Topic: Best for Beginners? Reinhart's "Bread Bakers Apprentice" vs Hamelman's "Bread"  (Read 4088 times)

Offline Paul

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Which is the better bread instruction book: Reinhart's Bread Bakers Apprentice (BBA for short) vs Hamelman's Bread:
In my personal view, Bread wins overall in the technical and serious analysis departments by a long shot.

That, however, doesn't mean BBA isn't good, it is. I just find Bread more thorough. That said however, I probably would not recommend Bread for a brand new baker, at least not when BBA is also available. That one's got plenty of photos, is more 'chatty', seems a bit more slow paced which is great for someone who's just getting their 'sea legs'. Plenty of variations in the book so it gets you to give a try to numerous types of bread.

Taking part in the Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge, where we did every recipe in the book in order and over almost a full year, was great in that, on my own, I likely would never have made several breads such as the Anadama or Artos, both surprisingly (to me) wonderful. Technically, I find the info in Bread more specific and more in depth, explaining the deeper aspects of the process. But at the same time I can see this being quite daunting to someone if this was their first bread specific book. A little "dry" too, so not as visually appealing and inspiring without lots of photos.

I also found a few of the recipes in BBA... a little unsatisfactory. How much of that was my attempt vs the recipe itself? Hard to say. But it looked like the Challenge Gang tended to come to the same conclusions. For example, the ryes tended to miss the mark, weren't 'robust' enough in my view; they were more "rye-ish".

On the other hand, the Italian and French breads were wonderful and I was super impressed that following his instructions, even I could produce something so amazing. Three thumbs up on those and several other breads.

I also had a couple of small quibbles with some of Mr Reinhart's processes - don't ask what at this point, I've pretty much forgotten the exact details - but I do recall a few "Why is he doing it like this?!?" moments. But then I don't have 20+ years of bread baking under my belt (although I may have an extra inch or so from it) so I won't argue too loudly with someone who's got so much more experience.

I would, however, try to caution someone getting into sourdough using BBA to please not judge sourdoughs based on the recipes in BBA. It felt to me that that area was added by recommendation of the editors perhaps, not because Reinhart was familiar with it - it just seemed like Reinhart was out of his element in this arena. The whole "Barm" process being a pretty obvious example of that.

So would I recommend BBA? Yes, for sure. If you're just stepping into the world of breads, it's a great starter book, very inspiring. Once you've gone through it it's not a huge step over to Bread where you'll find more detailed information and learn HOW the bread works, not simply the moves needed to make it.

I'd probably want to recommend that someone get BBA and hit those recipes that intrigue them. AFTER reading all the preamble stuff (ditto Hamelman's) which is where you get a LOT of useful info. Then make a point of doing those that do NOT appeal quite so much. You'll probably find stuff you're pleasantly surprised at and learn a few steps and methods you'd otherwise bypass. Maybe set yourself a sort of mini-challenge that won't take a year to get through: Pick and make 5 recipes you want and 5 you'd otherwise skip over either because they seem "strange" or too complex. Stepping off the "comfortable" path will teach you a fair bit.

Reinhart's Bread Baker's Apprentice is like later grade school and into high school where Hamelman's Bread is the college level and getting you ready for a full time career.


Bread Baker's Apprentice:
Get it in the US, UK and Canada
« Last Edit: June 27, 2010, 04:06:22 PM by Paul »
Paul
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I used to think I was indecisive, but now I'm not so sure.

Offline Zeb

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Re: Reinhart's "Bread Bakers Apprentice" vs Hamelman's "Bread"
« Reply #1 on: June 27, 2010, 09:28:00 AM »
What a  thoughtful analysis you have written there Paul!  I went back to the BBA book a couple of days ago to have a look at it and try to figure out why I hadn't made it my main book. I remember not being convinced by the rye breads for some reason, maybe I had read BBA challenge write ups or something, and what you say here confirms that.  Hamelman's rye breads are really well done and at the time I was baking a lot of rye breads for some friends so I stuck to experimenting with those. 

In November 2007 there was a little supplement in the Guardian newspaper all about baking, and that was what started me off baking. I squirrelled it away in the side of a travel bag, and then came across it the following spring.   It has some cracking recipes in it, 'the easiest loaf in the world', the 'delicate milk loaf'  and 'the perfect plain pitta'  'top tea cakes' - being the four that spring to mind. I make all these breads still, returning to them over and again  - and some lovely cakes and all sorts of different baking articles. Friendly, unscary, positive writing that really encourages you into the flourbin.  I still have that little supplement, a lot of it written by Dan Lepard, and it is battered and stained, but it was my jumping off point into baking. You can find the contents on line here.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/theguardian/2007/nov/24/bakingguide  I really wholeheartedly recommend this little publication for beginners. 
Joanna @ Zeb Bakes

Offline blue

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Thank you Paul for writing that informative piece about Reinhart's book - I have never seen it but after reading some comments here about it I wondered if, given my beginner's status, I hadn't started at the 'wrong end of the spectrum' so to speak. But the truth is I feel very happy in the company of Mr. Hamelman. So I shall stay here 'til the end.

Zeb, you are so kind when you write about your 'chemin' and the very kind Dan Lepard. As you know, it was on the BBC food boards that I first heard about DL's 'easiest loaf' and that is how I got into baking via recipes he published in 'The Guardian'. They are indeed great recipes. The first book I ordered was DL's but for some reason, I just couldn't connect with it. I don't know why, but now that I feel more slightly more confident in baking, I find I'm reading his recipes, and hopefully in the not too distant future, I'll start baking them.
blue

Offline Zeb

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I think the best thing is to stick to one book to start with, it's too confusing otherwise. Me and Mr Hamelman have been going along fine together for the most part and he gets my vote in spite of the way the book looks, the content is great :) It's why I am here really!
Joanna @ Zeb Bakes

Offline ap269

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For a brandnew baker I'd recommend "The Bread Baker's Apprentice" instead of Hamelman's "Bread". Now that I've baked my way through the whole BBA book, I'm able to understand what Hamelman is talking about in his book. Without the BBA, I wouldn't have started the Mellow Bakers group because Hamelman's instructions are not precise enough, I miss the "How much time does it take to make this bread" column (it's a pain to always read through the whole recipe and add up all the times to figure out how much time it's going to take), and also his shaping instructions are kinda complicated, I think. I often find myself using Reinhart's techniques instead of what Hamelman writes because this is what I got used to, what I understand and what I'm capable of. I don't mean to say "Bread" is a bad book, but if you're a novice, get the BBA!
Andrea (ap269)

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Offline Steve

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Similar to those who heard Reinhart on the BBC, I saw an article on his bread in the local public radio site, and that is what inspired me to start baking in the first place.

I still have not bought BBA, but I will eventually.


Ha.  I found it.  Here is the link that started me on this path to poundage!

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=120580907




Offline lello

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I have both books BREAD and BBA, and I agree with Paul, Bread wins almost on everything by a lot. I am also convinced that it is much better than BBA for a beginner: it is more consistent and pedagogic, he has a method and guides you through it.

I will give you my opinion on several points, not considering the quality of the recipes but only how clear and consistent the books are.

BBA has nice pictures, very good and clear shaping instructions, Hamelman's shaping instructions are a little bit more complicated and drawings can be sometime hard to follow (at least for me).  BBA has a nice summary of the time necessary to bake the bread. In BREAD you have to go through all the recipe, which, as Andrea pointed out, is a bit annoying (what about suggesting Hamelman to add such a section? :) ) These are the only thing which I like better in BBA.

The really bad part for me in BBA is the way formulae are structured.  Reinhart writes a lot on percentage formulae, but rarely use them. He puts just the total percentage as a side box, which is not on the first page of the recipe. I am European, and I beg your pardon for what I am saying, but please please please...how can someone write a recipe in terms of cups and tablespoons?  I understand (or at least accept :)) people using cups and tbs at home, but not a baker in a book that is supposed to teach how to make bread.  Reinhart writes about proper scaling but then he uses cups, in the first column of each recipe. This is not really consistent. He does not even think about using the metric system... but that might be a personal choice.

Hamelman's structure of formulae is simply perfect. Easy to understand, easy to use, immediate to control. He teaches you that in order to have consistent results you must scale your ingredients: cups and tbs are not good, and he is consistent, he just writes them in the last column of the formula, you can use them but he pushes your through the percentage, then the weigh and, if you really don't have a scale then you can still use cups. Hamelman is just wonderful to follow.

In BREAD the instructions for baking are very clear, all the steps in sequence have always the same title in bold, and those titles correspond to the twelve points described in the initial chapters.  In BBA the instructions are clear, but the sequence has random title in bold type, sometime just a few words some others an entire sentence. I don't quite understand the choice, it does not really help
in reading nor makes the sequence more clear.

Hamelman has a method and guides you through it consistently and throughout all the book; in BBA the overall approach in not very cleaar. But this might be influenced by the fact that I have baked more recipes in BREAD than in BBA. (I tried four in BBA).

As concerns the techniques I must say that Reinhart is illuminating when he lets you use oil to handle the dough because "it make everything much easier". Hamelman always suggest to heavily flour your bench which is not always a good choice. So thanks to Reinhart I learned that I could use oil, which really helps.

Since we are talking about using BBA as a book for beginners, well, I wouldn't be so sure. Reinhart uses a lot of "cold" techniques. Put the dough in the fridge. Now, this might be a good solution, and we know it, now I understand the difference, but at least in Italian schools for bakers it is considered an "advanced topic". Using fermentation in a cold environment is much more that just letting the dough rest in the refrigerator. You must really know your flour, check the temperature or you just don't know what you are doing. In a weak flour with low protein content, using the refrigerator for too long might destroy the gluten network, weaken the dough and produce a bread which, in the best case, is not better than a bread without a step in the fridge. Reinhart writes "put the dough in the refrigerator" without specifying at what temperature it should be. I don't check the temperature, but I should, and a book that is meant to teach you how to bake should tell you that you must do it. Hamelman in the few cases where he suggests to retard the dough in the fridge gives you precise instructions on the temperature and time.

My conclusions are that BREAD is much more consistent, and pedagogic than BBA, and has much more information also, but not only, for and "advanced" baker.

Lello
« Last Edit: June 29, 2010, 11:51:05 PM by lello »

Offline Steve

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Wow.  Nice summary, lello.


And personally, I will try really hard to stop posting those pesky cups and tablespoons. 
It seems only fair, given how much I have learned from all of you.

Offline Zeb

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 :clap:  You've pinpointed the issues here for European bakers Lello, very clear and concise, thanks. 
Joanna @ Zeb Bakes

Offline ap269

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@Lello: Wow, I'm impressed with your summary.  :clap: I'm a European baker, too, but didn't really feel annoyed that BBA doesn't have metric measurements because I have a scale that does both. BUT, Reinhart's "Artisan Breads Every Day" and "Whole Grain Breads" both have metric, too, so I guess he got some suggestions from European bakers! May I ask what your profession is? You sound sooo experienced when bread and flour etc. are concerned!
Andrea (ap269)

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Offline lello

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My concern with BBA was not really about ounces, but about cups, which are a measure of volume.
Hamelman provides cups too, but just in parenthesis...
But that said, I  like more Bread than BBA, because of its general structure, which I believe is more consistent. Never had the intention to say that BBA was not good.

As for you question, I am a chemist, more specifically a physical-chemist (university researcher)...that explains some of my favourite topics, when baking ;)

Offline Karin

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I have a question about the mixing time. I´m used to much longer mixing times and wonder what BBA suggests?
I usually mix 13 minutes on low speed add salt and mix 5 minutes on higher speed. It might be an adaption to swedish flour.

Offline lello

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Karin, I am using longer mixing time too. Much longer. In most cases when Hamelman writes 3 minutes I go for 10 minutes or more. Better to judge the dough, and I am slowly learning how it should be.

Offline Steve

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I am just talking off the cuff here, but IMHO the mixing time is just one more way that you can 'customize' your bread.  In the most general terms, more mixing makes a more defined gluten structure.  (to a point)

While I think that it is nearly impossible to truly over mix bread dough with a KA mixer, it seems the more you mix bread dough, the more you develop the strength.  there is a video posted somewhere else here that shows a food processor over mix dough - it turns grey and slack.

Then there is the subtlety that Hamelman mentions about oxidation and the creamy texture you get when you do not over-mix.  For me, that is hard to find, but I am still learning

Obviously there are a lot of other variables in there as well, but I tend to not mix enriched breads as much with the notion being they will stay more tender.  My baguettes, man, they get it good, because I really like the chewy, tear-it-off with your teeth texture, and I think that the additional mixing and kneading helps with that.