Obviously there are thousands of bread cookbooks out there, and more and more of them are being published every year. I’ll try to concentrate on those books which I think are especially useful to the average Baker rather than concentrating on specialty cookbooks. Some of them will be relatively new, others were will be classics that should be a part of every Breadhead ‘s library.
Some of my favorite cookbooks are out of print, but if you’re reading this blog post, you’re probably tech savvy enough to be able to find them online. Abe’s Books is one of the best online book search services, but there are others out there, including Amazon of course. I also recommend making a habit of frequenting used bookstores. I’ve had good luck finding obscure volumes of all subjects in the kind of independent bookstores you find in the town squares of small Midwestern towns along Route 66.
It was not in a used bookstore but at a rummage sale that my friend Mary Ellen found me a copy of Bernard Clayton’s The Complete Book of Breads. This classic, first published in 1973, is one of the treasures on my Breadhead reference shelf, in part because of the dedication my friend wrote on the inside front cover: “I’ll take a half dozen of each!”
Bernard Clayton Jr. was a journalist who discovered the delights of artisan breads while on a trip across Europe with his wife Marjorie in 1965. He began baking bread as a hobby but it soon became an obsession and he traveled all over the United States and Europe to find new recipes. The Complete Book of Breads was a bestseller and can be credited (along with James Beard’s Beard on Bread) with inspiring the home baking renaissance of the late 1970s. Clayton died in 2011 at age 94. His New York Times obituary can be found HERE.
The Complete Book of Breads wasn’t quite as popular as Beard on Bread, in part because James Beard was a flamboyant character and more adept at self-promotion. It is also more expensive—the most recent edition retails for $30.00. But I find myself using Clayton’s book far more often, primarily because it is, well---complete (I don't know of any other modern source for the recipe for pioneer salt-rising bread, for example). I made extensive use of this encyclopedic collection when I was researching recipes for all three seasons of Breaking Bread with Father Dominic.
Although the book is organized into the usual chapters—white, whole wheat, rye, etc.—there are more than a few surprises among the recipes. For example, under “White Breads” we find such intriguing titles as: Thirty Minute, Cuban, Egg Harbor, Scottish Buttermilk, Old Order Amish, Turnipseed Sisters’ and Weissbrot mit Kümmel. Obviously, many of these recipes have an interesting story to go along with them, making Clayton’s masterpiece a cookbook which is part travelogue. Breadheads who have enjoyed the “Bread Breaks” in my cookbooks will undoubtedly enjoy hearing about the people Clayton encounters in his explorations in search of good bread.
Regarding the recipes themselves. I especially appreciate Clayton’s painstaking attention to detail in giving directions, right down to the amount of time each step takes. This level of instruction makes it possible to successfully bake everything from French baguettes to bagels to brioche. I also appreciate that he makes suggestions for ingredients substitutions, since I often begin baking without checking the pantry to see if I have all the groceries I need!
Apart from the cover art, you won’t find gorgeous food photography nor stylish page designs—this is a book that is meant to be used, not perused on the coffee table. Beginner bakers may find the lack of illustrations distressing, but if you know your way around a kneading board, you shouldn’t have any trouble. Between Clayton’s Complete Book of Breads and that perennial favorite The Joy of Cooking, you’re set for a lifetime of culinary adventures.