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The Bread Bible

So often I have been asked how I learned to bake. I really started baking in my late teens for my boyfriend; he encouraged me by happily eating absolutely everything I baked. I believe that baking for someone you love is the core of a home baker's impetus; a sometimes difficult task is turned into a nourishing labor of love when the care you put into your baking is appreciated.
  The yearly James Beard Awards are the food industry's highest honor and nicknamed "the Oscars of the food world". My medal is hung from a wide green ribbon and framed.  
But it was the repetitive baking daily for seven years in a small restaurant that taught me my trade; that is how I built my confidence as a baker. I went from struggling to control a large mass of dough on the work table and wondering what to do with a dough that did not rise in time to be baked for lunch to being very confident juggling four large ovens all baking different kinds of breads, muffins, and sweet rolls. I was able to develop my skills directly from the experience of baking the same recipe repeatedly over the years, some well over a thousand times. Thus my baking mantra: practice practice practice.

In response to diners and friends asking for recipes, I began teaching two-day workshops out of the bakery at night. My first baking class was five friends as students in 1980. The hands-on class was a great success despite my nervousness at never having done so before. Within a year, I began teaching in a local cooking school called Lesand's Pantry, gaining a following. I moved on to cooking schools like Mary Risley's San Francisco School of Cooking in North Beach and Epicurean Cooking School in Los Angeles (across the street from Ma Maison). For the next thirteen years, I taught at local cooking schools. This was an excellent testing ground for finding the best recipes and techniques through the feedback of hundreds of students. At the Chef's Holiday at the Ahwanee Hotel in Yosemite National Park, I not only held lecture demonstrations for hundreds, but worked alongside other top cooking instructors and restauranteers like Alice Medrich, Ken Frank, and Joey Altman.

  My first bread baking teachers - Barbara Hiken (R) and Connie Pfieffer (L).  
One winter when I was unemployed, I took out my copies of the first edition of the Tassajara Bread Book and A World of Bread by Dolores Casella, published in 1966, and just started baking loaves and rolls on page one straight on through to the back. I still have the research notes detailing my croissant making ventures, everything from manipulating the dough with crash kneading to balancing liquid/flour ratios in recipes as diverse as Julia Child, Narsai David, Bernard Clayton, and an article from Cuisine magazine from 1983. I felt like an explorer; I understood nothing, I wasn't even sure the recipes would work; I just baked. Without any expectations, I could appreciate the complexities within great simplicity, since bread is baked with the same techniques: the six basic steps in constructing every yeast dough: mixing, kneading, scaling (dividing the portions of dough), shaping, rising (also known as proofing), and baking. Without realizing it, I paid attention to the weather, temperature of the flour, even the variable conditions in my kitchen. While the intoxicating scent of warm bread filled my workplace, I could develop my fledgling tastes discerning premium quality from just good quality. It was through this repetition that I believe that I truly understood the handcrafted legacy of bread baking.

  View of my bakery station- Saint Michael's Alley restaurant.  
  Teaching at the opening of Fetzer Vineyards Cooking School.  
Writing and sharing the recipes in the Bread Bible was a natural evolution of a skill that was bounded only by my own interest. Some master bakers practice secret-keeping with their recipes and methods, while other professionals are willing to share theirs-the failures, the successes, the on-going internal processes that is an integral part of baking bread. I was fortunate to learn baking from Barbara Hiken, my first real teacher, who taught me the value of sharing a recipe. She believed that if a person was interested enough to ask, that it was an honor to share it. Every baker infuses his work with his own individuality; be secure in the knowledge that no one can steal your art from you. Breadmaking is not a lapidary art, but one that is a shapable living medium and meant to disappear quickly after its creation, so artists are as important as the baker in transmitting the process.

The world of the bread baker contains a sense of innocence; it being peaceful, creative, and life-giving. I add that it utilizes the power of observation, scientific techniques, and a flair for combining precious flavors with earthy elements, all infused with a traditional concern for quality. This is a skill that connects the baker with a sense of the rich heritage of bread and all the communities of the world. This knowledge allows you to develop a solid gastronomical foundation while allowing one at the same time much baking pleasure Whether the loaves be black or brown, studded with fruits or streaked with cheese, braided or round, long and slender or stubby, the culinary anthology of bread is ours to enjoy and be nourished by.

The Table of Contents for the Bread Bible is vast. It includes yeasted and quick breads. I added new sections on the bread machine and mixing in the food processor. The recipes are culled from all my Chronicle cookbooks in print. While it seems like an easy job to pick recipes from here and there, co-ordinating recipes written over a 12 year period of writing has its challenges. The editing team spent a lot of time making the recipes into a cohesive collection. The book of 300 recipes was the largest book to date I had written as there were just as many hundreds of decisions to ponder. The beautiful cover from Ilisa Katz of a baker holding a loaf of bread was the crowning glory to the dust jacket. To make the project even more exciting, The Bread Bible won the James Beard Award in the Baking category in 2000.

Table of Contents
  • Back to Basics: White Bread

  • The Baker's Apex: Egg Breads and Brioche

  • Abundant Grain: Whole Grain Breads

  • Traditional Roots: European-style Country Breads

  • Nature's Bounty: Vegetable, Herb, Cheese, and Nut Breads

  • The Roll Basket: Dinner Rolls, Sandwich Buns, Bread Sticks, and Bagels

  • Golden Crusts: Biscuits, Shortcakes, Scones, and Soda Breads

  • Savory Special Occasions: Picnic Breads

  • Artistic Palate: Pizza, Calzone, and Foccacia

  • The First Loaves: Tortillas, Flatbreads, and Fry Breads

  • A Flash in the Pan: Pancakes, Waffles, Popovers, and CrÍpes

  • Sweet Things: Morning Breads, Sweet Rolls, and Croissants

  • The Cake of Bread: Coffee Cakes

  • Spur-of-the-Moment Bakery: Quick Breads

  • Pure Americana: Muffins

  • Red, White, Yellow, and Blue: Corn Bread

  • Sugar and Spice: Gingerbread

  • A Slice of Divinity: Celebration and Dessert Breads

  • Fast and Beautiful: Food Processor Breads

  • Robotic Kneads: The Bread Machine

  • Essential Knowledge: Bread Making Technique

Why do breads with regular yeast require two risings?
Why can't you put it into the oven after one rising?

Yeast bread making has more mystique associated with its techniques than any other branch of cooking. Perhaps it is because you are working with a live one-celled plant microorganism, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, throughout the process. It is destroyed with during the heat of the baking process, which sets the crumb.

Your 1/4-ounce package of dried yeast (containing billions of dormant cells) is combined with proportions of flour and liquid and is activated by the mechanical actions of mixing and kneading to form a dough. The yeast cells come alive and begin feeding on the complex carbohydrates and sugars present in the flour. The by-products of all this activity are alcohol and carbon dioxide gas, which expands the dough.

While handling the dough you develop a protein in the wheat flour, known as gluten. This gluten absorbs lots of moisture and becomes a stretchy mesh-like network. The gases from the yeast become trapped within the mesh structure and the dough physically reacts to these chemical changes by rising. The rising phase, also sometimes referred to as proofing by professionals, is known as the process of fermentation.

  Baking in the new Alley bakery.  
Fermentation begins immediately. The yeast in the distended ball of dough breathe and multiply. Rising is important for creation of texture, flavor, and overall appearance of the finished loaf. The amount of time you decide to rise your dough will affect its finished qualities. Recipes may call for double risings, but only one rise that doubles the dough in bulk is necessary to produce a tasty bread made with most flours, although several risings will not hurt it. Occasionally modern recipes adapted from recipes in early cookbooks pop up with outdated instructions still in them, such as vigorously kneading a dough for 30 minutes without stopping and multiple risings, harking back to the days of unreliable fresh yeasts and varying amounts of protein in the flour.

There are lots of variations during the fermentation stage used to create different breads. For porous, acidy peasant breads made with hard wheat flour, long slow multiple fermentations are essential. Lean doughs of simply flour, yeast, water, and salt may be risen one to three times as desired, then formed and baked with or without an additional rise in a hot or cold oven with quite similar results. Sweet doughs with lots of sugar, fat, and eggs rise much slower and bake best at lower temperatures to avoid burning. Old-fashioned pan loaves may be mixed, then formed immediately into loaf shapes that rest until doubled in bulk, then baked without any long initial fermentation times with excellent results. Cool-rise recipes call for forming loaves or rolls, then resting the dough in the refrigerator overnight where they will continue to slowly rise, eliminates the traditional rising period, are known for good tastes and moist textures.
Food Processor Italian Whole Wheat
Potato and Rye Vienna Twist
Zucchini Madeleines
Sesame Burger Buns
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