Pros: easy to follow recipes that yield excellent results
Cons: recipes may be daunting for novice, no completely whole wheat loaves
Let me begin by saying that the 2nd edition of Bread, A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes, is both well-written and a wealth of bread baking knowledge. This is far more than a recipe book; it teaches and explains in great detail how to bake loaf after loaf of wonderful bread. At nearly 500 pages the recipes do not actually begin until a fifth of the way into the book. The first 90 pages or so are chock full of interesting and useful information—everything from the autolyse method (with it's history and how and why to use it), to understanding ingredients, and how and why one should fold their dough. These first few chapters should be required reading for both the aspiring professional and home baker as well.
Mr. Hamelman writes with authority, and rightfully so: he truly knows his subject and is a master at the craft of bread-making. With decades of baking experience, he is one of just a few Certified Master Bakers in the United States, and is bakery director at the King Arthur Flour Company.
The recipes are organized by dough type: Breads Made with Yeasted Pre-Ferments, Levain Breads, Straight Doughs, and Sourdough Rye Breads, to give a few examples. While easy to read, they are precise and written in intricately described detail. The ingredients are listed four ways: in large bulk U.S. measurement (for the professional baker), metric, small scale (for the home baker), and in baker's percentages (which is explained towards the end of the book). With this said, this book is not necessarily written for the novice; while the recipes are written with great detail, their sometimes lengthy directions may seem daunting for the inexperienced home baker. But when the directions are read through—step-by-step—prior to making a recipe, they are in fact easy to follow.
I personally have made 5 recipes thus far from the book, and after reading them and following them exactly as they were written, the resulting loaves were beautiful (and had many accolades from the lucky people who helped consume them). One criticism I do have of this book is with the recipes for whole wheat bread. Not that there aren’t any or that the resulting loaves were not delicious, but that there are no recipes (that I can see) that are made exclusively with 100% whole wheat flour (those listed utilize nearly 50% refined bread flour). But I may just be being picky.
This said, as an inspired home baker and a professional chef with many years experience, Bread, A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes, 2nd Edition, is a welcome addition to my cookbook library. And I'm sure it will be a valued resource—not only for it's myriad of recipes, but also the encyclopedic information found within—for many years to come. Whether you are a professional or a layperson, someone wanting to learn more about bread or someone with many years experience, I highly recommend this book for both the technical information and the many wonderful recipes.