Exceptional Breads by Dan Lepard and Richard Whittington
Dan Lepard’s books are universally excellent, and this is possibly my favourite. With Richard Whittington, he has produced a short but immensely useful guide to baking bread that is packed with information, tips, guidance and excellent recipes. The writing style is engaging and easy to follow, sufficiently technical that it tells you what you need to know, but not off-puttingly detailed. They begin with explaining the basics, working through the essential ingredients for baking bread (flour, salt, yeast). I particularly like the section on flour types, which guides the reader through Canadian strong to French T55 to the wholemeal end of the spectrum. They explain the features of each and their impact on a recipe in such a way that the new baker will be informed but not overwhelmed.
Then comes the most useful, and for some revelatory, section of the book. Many of us would have begun baking bread having been told simply to knead it then put it in a tin, but as any experienced baker of bread knows there is far more to these steps that this advice suggests. How does one knead a wet dough? A drier dough? When is it done? Lepard and Whittington explain, accompanied by simple, informative pictures.
Answers to these questions are vital, but for me reading this book for the first time the most valuable thing I learned was the importance of shaping loaves before the second prove. Without proper shaping, the loaf will not rise properly. Anyone who has placed a hand-shaped loaf on a tray, only to find it a flat pancake an hour later will understand. Lepard and Whittington offer clear, step-by-step guidance on how to shape different types of loaves which is worth the purchase price alone.
The section on starters removes the mystery from this daunting aspect of baking, and the recipes that follow offer a fantastic range of breads to practice your new-found skills on, ranging from simple sourdoughs through the flavoured breads and some using commercial yeast.
There is something for everyone, from the new baker to the more experienced. Highly recommended for anyone interested in baking their own bread.
Lepard maintains a website which is well worth a visit. He’s also a regular columnist for The Guardian and he tweets, if that’s your thing.