Last month, we told you all about our new community-driven tournament of books. In case you missed it, we're finding the best book of all time in a slew of categories (from bread to pasta, one-bowl to weeknight-friendly, cake to cookies, to name a few). As we start to take things a bit slower at home, it feels like now, more than ever, we could use a happy-making, satisfying cooking project to get our mind off of things.
That's why we're starting the Big Community Book-Off with your most treasured, dog-eared, beloved tomes on bread—the ones you nominated for the title of "Best Bread Book of All Time" and gushed about endlessly. From all the feedback we collected, it's clear that these books have forever changed the way you knead, stretch and fold, shape, and bake. They've provided lifelong lessons, inspiration, or at the very least, a comforting escape for a short while.
As a reminder, a group of community members (you'll meet them below!) will be testing through the five books that follow; in about a month, they'll be delivering us a verdict on the bread book to rule them all. Follow along, if you please, and let us know all about what you're baking!
1. Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Breads Every Day: Fast and Easy Recipes for World-Class Breads
From esteemed baker and prolific author Peter Reinhart, comes this volume that promises homemade bread need not be intimidating, nor solely a dream, but can be a daily reality. Published in 2009 with trustworthy recipes for basics (baguette, focaccia, overnight pizza dough) and not-so-basics (seeded crackers, panettone, pretzels), Artisan Breads Every Day provides versatile templates for minimal-intervention bread (requiring slightly more effort than no-knead, but not much).
For community member Joan Osborne, this book got her back into baking bread—we hope it'll jumpstart your return, too.
2. James Beard’s Beard on Bread
Though the oldest book of the bunch (published a quarter century ago!), this volume continues to be especially significant to many of you, our readers. Which makes complete and total sense—deemed the "dean of American cookery" by The New York Times, it is no wonder Beard's recipes—from Buttermilk White Bread to Whole-Meal with Potatoes—have proven the test of time.
Maureen raves: "This book taught me how to make all kinds of bread, but my favorite was the explanation of how to make sourdough. I've never found a better bread book!"
3. Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread
By an author who needs no introduction, Bread Baker's Apprentice (2016)—referred to as the "Bible" by many of you—follows Reinhart as he travels, bakes, and eats (!) his way through Parisian boulangeries. Find Reinhart's take on Poilâne's revolutionary pain à l’ancienne, pain de campagne, and pain au levain. Oh, and a recipe for hearty New York-style bagels.
Jen credits this book with being "what finally helped me make sourdough, when every method under the sun had failed." (Anyone have both Reinhart's books? Brag about it in the comments!)
4. Ken Forkish’s Flour Water Salt Yeast: The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and Pizza
Very impressive Slashie Forkish left a 20-year career in tech to start Ken's Artisan Pizza in Portland, with great success. He released this James Beard- and IACP-award winning book just years later, in 2012. His engineering background is evinced by his simple, elegant recipes: Armed with just four ingredients, Forkish promises beautifully blistered breads to any and all home cooks—experienced and not.
We are doubly impressed by fellow Slashie Kelsey: "Though I'm gluten-free, I taught myself the fundamentals of sourdough baking from this book."
5. Jessamyn Waldman Rodriguez and Julia Turshen’s Hot Bread Kitchen: Artisanal Baking from Around the World
Rounding out our best five comes Hot Bread Kitchen (2015)—resoundingly celebrated by you all for its accessibility, international scope (with recipes from Mexican conchas to m’smen flatbreads, mini bialys to Indian naan), and overall message that food can be used as political and social resistance.
AntoniaJames wrote: " I find the approachability of this book to be a refreshing change from the many artisanal bread baking books that have been published over the past decade or two. The book's not just about how to make bread, but also about how food can be a tool for activism of a sort that crosses demographic and political boundaries."
To review, test, and celebrate these top five, we've called in three most enthusiastic, rigorous reviewers (armed with their bubbling starters):
"I nominated Flour Water Salt Yeast because it changed how I see food. When my sourdough starter began bubbling away, it showed me that food is alive—something that we nourish through our care and are nourished by in turn. Every bite of homemade bread carries an awareness of the process behind it, and it's a privilege to share."
"I nominated Flour Water Salt Yeast. It's the book that got me baking bread on a more regular basis, as well as the first time I've ever made levain. I am obsessed with the double feed sweet levain."
"Hot Bread Kitchen brings to life the stories of the women who are working to create a new life and who are finding empowerment and success through food. While the title of the book would have you believe it’s a bread book, it’s actually a window into lives through the flavors and comforts they are working to share with others."
Look out for the review (and winning book!) in the coming month or so.