A little more than 10 years ago I made a huge change in my life. I quit my quasi-legal job at a large non-profit, started massage therapy school, and started working at a small bakery. Prior to working at the bakery, my baking expertise was cake. My bread baking had been a spectacular failure, but I wanted to learn. My new boss hired me, not because I could bake, but because I was an adult with a car and could be trusted to open the bakery at 6 am. My primary responsibility was making the bread. It wasn’t the first, or the worst, trial by fire I had ever faced, but it was scary. I bought The Bread Baker’s Apprentice and learned how to bake bread fast. I fell in love with baking bread, dropped out of massage therapy school, and have been a baker and cook, amongst other things, since. I have most of Reinhart’s books and a lot of other bread baking books, but this is the one to which I always return. The Bread Baker’s Apprentice is the one cookbook I cannot do without. I travel with it if I think I’m going to have an opportunity to bake.
Reinhart has an MFA in creative writing, opened and ran an acclaimed bakery and has taught at a number of prestigious culinary schools. He has a firm grasp on the science and technique that makes a good loaf of bread and he has the ability to explain it to the reader. Reinhart’s technique requires forethought, some time, and attention to detail. His methodology will turn out a consistently good loaf of bread. For each formula, he provides an introduction, commentary, and photographs. His love of bread shines through on every page.
If you want to know which cookbooks in a cook’s collection are most loved, look for the ones that are falling apart and covered with food stains. My copy automatically falls open to my favorite formula, Multigrain Bread Extraordinaire. The pages are stained and crusted from the years I spent opening this book every Monday morning to make the requested number of loaves for my customers. The multigrain bread makes the best toast you will ever have.
Lately I’ve been playing with the no knead method of making artisan bread. Reinhart has a book for that too. I’ve had some less than satisfactory loaves in the past couple of weeks and decided to return to the master. I love making bread. I like kneading bread. I like the flavor that Reinhart’s slower method imparts. I’m not going to say it’s better, but it really is.
I recommend any of Reinhart’s bread books. This was my first, and the one I unapologetically love the most. In the 14 years since this was published, Reinhart has continued to develop his baking philosophy and technique. His more recent books reflect where he is now. The Bread Baker’s Apprentice though is a great place for a beginner to start, or for a more advanced baker to hone their knowledge and skills. I didn’t know I was going to write this review this morning. I saw the book sitting on the counter and felt a rush of love and appreciation.
I’ll leave Mr. Reinhart with the last word:
Even after six thousand years, we are all on a quest with no end in sight, trying to figure out how to make bread even better.