Food History

Even the Master of Bread Baking is Still Learning New Tricks

August 19, 2016

When The Bread Baker’s Apprentice made a clean sweep of all the cookbook awards in the spring of 2002—James Beard, IACP Book of the Year, as well as The International Gourmand's Best Baking Book in the World—it marked, I believe, a turning point in popularity for books on bread.

Prior to that there had been many other seminal bread books, such as Beard on Bread, Bernard Clayton’s various books, Daniel Leader’s Bread Alone, Carol Field’s The Italian Baker, and Joe Ortiz’s The Village Baker. But perhaps due to its focus on the concept of systematic formulas rather than recipes (with an emphasis on weights instead of scoops), The BBA, as it came to be known by the community of bakers that grew around it, seemed to earn a “highly cherished” status unique to the genre.

It consistently sold 15,000 to 20,000 copies a year on its way to its now, approximately, quarter million copies in print.

Since that time, dozens of superb bread books have followed, building on the foundation laid by The BBA, including Bread by Jeffrey Hamelman; Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast by Ken Forkish; Jim Lahey’s My Bread; The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum; and the three Tartine books by Chad Robertson—among dozens of others too numerous to mention here. In fact, the bread category has exploded with beautiful, brilliant books, each adding new recipes, techniques, and articulations that continue to feed the seemingly insatiable desire for more knowledge about this most compelling of foods.

This year, 2016, marks the fifteenth year since the original 2001 publication of The BBA, so my publisher asked me to update it for a new “anniversary edition.” Working on it gave me a chance to examine all that has transpired during the interval, and to see where we might freshen things up to keep pace with all the developments.

Here are 5 changes in the bread world that I had to take into account for the new edition of The Bread Baker's Apprentice:

1. The use of international weights and temperature systems.

Metric grams and Celsius/centigrade is a major development in American cookbooks and has finally opened the minds of our domestic culinary community to move away from sentimental attachment to our clunky system and to the more accurate international approach to scaling ingredients. It took me many hours to go back through all the instructions and add the corresponding grams and Celsius temperatures.

2. New advancements in mixing methods.

This includes shorter mixing times followed by intermittent stretches and folds and/or long, cold fermentation cycles that coax more flavor from the grain. Oxidation diminishes flavor. Shorter mixing has the advantage of reduced dough oxidation, so many artisan bakeries have introduced intermittent foldings during the fermentation cycle to strengthen their doughs and lengthen the fermentation times in order to coax more flavor from the grain without additional mixing. I went back through many of the formulas in the book and added this step where appropriate.

3. The growing interest in whole grains, sprouted grains, and ancient or heritage flours.

Though the original edition had some whole grain formulas, I added a few new ones to this edition to reflect this new movement—and the increase in farmers and small regional mills that produce these products. (I’ve addressed it in greater depth in my more recent books.)

4. The gluten-free movement.

I already addressed this in a separate book, so decided not to include it in this new edition.

5. The growth and influence of The Bread Baker’s Guild of America, workshops, gatherings, and festivals.

A lot of resources have sprouted up to accommodate the growing bread community, both professional and the “SBE’s” (Serious Bread Enthusiasts—aka, the home bakers). Because the internet has now become the de facto “resource section” for cooks and bakers (for everyone, actually), I modified the resources section in the book to steer readers to some of the better links and gatherings.

The one thing we decided not to change in the new edition of The BBA was the photography by Ron Manville, which the editors and I all agreed had held up quite nicely.

We especially did not want to tamper with the cover, which has become its own icon in the trade: It’s of my then freshman student, Fumie Shibazaki, cradling an oversized “miche” country French bread, as she looks directly toward the reader with a Mona Lisa smile for the ages (she instantly and forever became known as “the Mona Lisa of bread,” wherever she walked on campus).

However, I did have an idea that I thought was brilliantly in line with the underlying theme of “lineage” implicit throughout the book: an image of Fumie, who is now a successful pastry chef in Tokyo working for Danny Meyer, this time of her holding a young child on her lap who would, in turn, be holding that big oversize loaf.

She gathered her five year old nephew, baked up a beautiful loaf of bread, and got the shot, which we now have printed on the last page of the book. Fumie is more beautiful than ever, and her nephew’s smile says it all—that even after six thousand years of bread baking, we are still learning new ways to make it even better.

Photo by Yoko Shimada
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  • Morley Duncan Abbott
    Morley Duncan Abbott
  • Smaug
Peter Reinhart

Written by: Peter Reinhart

Author of The Bread Baker's Apprentice, among many other books on bread


Morley D. December 29, 2019
The only sad thing with the inclusion of metric units is that the author and editors don't understand how they work. They have made very obvious and goofy mistakes in their unit conversion.

Simply put, there's a difference between being *at* at temperature and *adding to* a temperature when converting between units that don't share a zero point.

"Yeast will double it's rate of fermentation for every increase of 17F (8C)". An increase of 17F is an increase of 9.5C. Why did they say 8C? Because on a thermometer 17F is -8.3C.

An example: 100F is 37.8. 200F is 93.3C (55.5C difference). 300F is 148.8C (55.5C difference). 400F is 204.4 (55.5C difference).
Yet in the book, when it recommends adding 100F additional to the oven, it translates to 38C.

Getting this wrong means the readers who need to use the metric versions are going to make mistakes, making worse bread.
Smaug December 29, 2019
To (perhaps) clarify, )deg.C= 32deg.F. One deg.C (or K)=1.8 deg. F. It might help to remember that water freezes at 0C= 32F, boils at 100C= 212F; 212=32+(1.8x100)
Smaug December 29, 2019
sorry, that's "0deg.C=32deg.F"
Smaug May 3, 2018
Metric is not more accurate, the numbers are just easier for most people to deal with.