I’m not claiming these are the best bread books, these are just the four that have worked best for me so far. They are the ones I reach for the most and the ones that I think about first when I want some bread. The best cookbook in the world is no use if it remains on the shelf.
If you are interested in baking fresh bread any one of these books will get you off on the right foot.
I mention some special equipment for each book. Most of them are not required, but I found they either particularly helped or the author was particularly fond of it and it helps complete the techniques or recipes more efficiently or easier. Your mileage may vary.
For all bread baking, there are a few things I’d consider not special but essential: digital scale, large food grade containers to ferment the dough, bench scraper for dividing the dough and cleaning up the counter, 4 or 5 quart Dutch oven for baking round loaves.
Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois
Almost ten years old now, this book still gets used multiple times a year in my house. This book, which came out about a year after Mark Bittman introduced Jim Lahey and the no-knead technique to the world, along with that article really kick-started my interest in baking bread.
This book, which has spawned many sequels (I have the “healthy” version too, but find this first one clearer and simpler in many respects), is great for beginners and great for those crunched for time. I think the other three cookbooks on my list often bring more flavor, but you are going to need more time and forethought.
The Artisan Bread in 5 technique of pre-mixing a bit tub and letting it ferment in the fridge allows you to prep once and raid that tub for fresh bread multiple times per week. It also brings a wide variety with over 30 different breads, from simple to savory to enriched. You’re likely to find something you like.
Who’s it for? The person that’s never baked bread before or the very busy person that loves to bake but finds they usually don’t have time to prep.
Favorite recipes: Light hole wheat, Semolina loaf, Sticky Pecan caramel rolls
Josey Baker Bread by Josey Baker
This is my favorite bread, maybe my favorite cookbook, over the last few years and the one I recommend most to people interested in learning to bake good bread at home. It’s structured as lessons and the explanations and photos are very clear.
Too often for me, bread books can feel like coffee table books. Taken out and admired for their photos, back stories and thoroughness, but difficult, almost opaque to actually use in the kitchen.
Not the case with Josey Baker Bread. Baker’s voice is infectious and the recipes and techniques truly feel aimed at a home baking audience. This was the first book that I was successfully able to create, cultivate and use a sourdough starter for more than a few weeks.
The one caveat I’d give is that most of the recipes past the first basic one require one to two days of prep and fermentation and rising before baking. It’s not a lot of hands on time, but it is a lot elapsed time.
Who’s it for? The intermediate baker or the beginner sourdough baker
Favorite recipes: Hearth sourdough, Cinnamon raisin, Whole wheat cranberry walnut, Sesame
Flour Water Salt Yeast by Ken Forkish
Those precious bread books I mentioned above? At first glance, this book treads very close to that line, but if you take the time to read and try the recipes, it will quickly win you over. All the included background is there for a reason and it’s written in a very accessible manner with a lot of photos.
One thing I really like is the sample baking schedules included with the recipes giving you the suggested times for when to begin mixing, shape and bake the loaves. This is something I’m always trying to figure out with other books where the recipes span multiple days.
My one pet peeve is that each base recipe makes enough for two boules/loaves. It’s a lot of dough and a lot of resulting bread for one home baker. Forkish suggests using the other loaf for focaccia or pizza. How about just presenting the recipes to make one loaf!
Who’s it for? Intermediate baker that is interested in the how’s and why’s of baking
Favorite recipes: Saturday white bread, Overnight 40% whole wheat, Harvest bread with polish
My Bread by Jim Lahey
The man the arguably brought back home bread baking with his profile by Mark Bittman in the New York Times about his no-knead method. You’ll find that original technique in here with step by step photos as well. You’ll also get recipes for whole wheat, ciabatta, olive, walnut and many other variations on his bread in a pot recipe.
The basic recipe and resulting loaf are still hard to beat for simplicity and flavor. There is a bit of a learning curve or confidence in handling the very wet dough. It might take a recipe or two, but the trick is not to hesitate.
Also, I tend to favor the Cook’s Illustrated tweak of using a parchment sling during the final rest rather than trying to flop the bread into the scalding pot from the proofing basket, but otherwise the technique still holds up really well.
Who’s it for? Intermediate baker who is confident in handling a wet dough
Favorite recipes: Basic, Pen Integrale, Pan co’ Santi, Pan all’Olive
Bonus: 2 more bread books
Two additional books about bread, but that aren’t cookbooks.
Sometimes I just like to read about cooking or baking for inspiration and these two, one fiction and one non-fiction, are my favorites about bread in recent years.
52 Loaves by William Alexander
From the author of the equally interesting and fun $64 Dollar Tomato, this one follows Alexander’s quest to replicate what he considers the perfect loaf of bread from scratch. Really from scratch, right down to growing and milling his own wheat. An interesting read where you are sure to learn something.
Sourdough by Robin Sloan
A recent book, this is a novel about a lonely woman that moves to San Francisco to work long hours at a tech company before slowly saving herself with takeout and ultimately baking bread. The world delightful keeps popping into my head as I talk about Sourdough. Just a charming little book about work, technology, food, baking and love. Love always sneaks in there.