For some people, breadmaking is a form of meditation. It is calming, and earthy. For me, I just really like fresh, home-made bread. I also like doing things that will in some way show my commitment to sustainability. By using my own steam, I am saving a microscopic amount of energy, keeping myself warm so I can feel better about having the thermostat low, and teaching my family that not everything has to come from a store. I like to make bread, but it is time consuming.
So, I like to listen to good music and get in a little dancing in the morning while I make my bread. My current favorite music for kneading is Close to the Bone, by Old Blind Dogs. They are a Scottish folk band with some modern influence. They are highly danceable. I especially like the ballad The Cruel Sister, and the instrumentals The Honeymoon reel/ Kings/ The Clayslaps reel, and The Universal Hall/ The Nuptial Knot/ The Barlinnie Highlander. The pipe tunes are so sweet, I can’t keep my feet still, and the rhythms are perfect for kneading, or for dancing with your baby. My kids also love this stuff. Calvin always sings along with the fa-la-las on The Cruel Sister. I’m sort of glad he can’t understand the words, though.
I also love Spanish Guitar Music, a collection by John Williams. He is so smooth, not at all distracting with crazy loose interpretation. Just the right kind of rhythmic. I hate listening to music where I can’t find the beat, or keep track of it. I listened to some Pablo Cassals the other day, and it nearly drove me crazy. He might be a master, but I like my Bach with a discernible beat. Not metronomic, just not so free that you can’t follow it. That’s how dear Pablo was. I couldn’t hang on to the melodies, I felt like I was in a small boat on the big ocean. Wave after wave was tossing me up and down. I might try that again someday, but definitely not for breadmaking.
Another good one is the soundtrack to Footloose. But that’s only if you’re really feeling hyper, and you have a jungle-gym to swing on in your kitchen.
I love The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, by Peter Reinhart. This book has changed the way I think of bread, from the making all the way to the cutting and eating. I love bread, and I always will. Apprentice gives general instructions for all breads, and specific formulas for individual, and fantastic breads. The scientific section is so readable that I sat down and read it all the day I got the book. I have been accused of reading cookbooks, but this one was like a novel. I loved learning about yeast, the properties of flours, different kinds of heat, ovens, crazy places in Paris that I’ll probably never get to go to, and what to expect from a perfect loaf of bread. Also, it has a formula for the most intense and fantastical corn bread I’ve ever had. I made it the day after Thanksgiving for a big group, and it was a smash hit. Bacon. Yes, bacon.
Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Bread Bible is similar to Apprentice, but has many more formulas. She seems to really like sweet things, breads with chocolate in them, etc. She is not a meditator. I found her introduction slightly off-putting, just because she so vehemently denied any spirituality in breadmaking. I just can’t think how one woman can tell anyone else that they can’t feel spiritual about any one thing. And I had already read Apprentice, which, to me, is much more welcoming and personal. It’s more about love. The Bread Bible has pretty pictures, and is very comprehensive. It has the same scientific info as Apprentice, so it really has what you need, and it has formulas for all those rich things like brioche and biscuits and chocolate bread. I just don’t like the tone as much. I feel like she thinks she knows everything, and is merely blessing us with her literary offerings. Granted, she does know a heck of a lot.
Another favorite is The Secrets of Jesuit Breadmaking, by Rick Curry. If you want something spiritual, here it is. He give recipes for seasonal breads, feast breads, and everyday breads. He also throws in some prayers, thoughts on meditation, beautiful stories of his breadmaking journey, and the joy he gets from sharing his bread. He makes bread every day, always some to give away. I love that. And the guy only has one arm. He makes his bread by hand, with one arm. I haven’t tried any of the recipes, because I only borrowed the book and had to give it back. But I think I’m going to buy it.
Before I had The Bread Baker’s Apprentice and The Bread Bible, I started with Secrets of a Jewish Baker, by George Greenstein. This is a good starter book. It does not go into detail about the science of bread, and the recipes sometimes have to be adjusted for your location (recipes are given in English measurements, not metric. I live in a very dry place, so flour is dryer and needs more moisture per cup to hydrate it fully. It is easier to weigh the flour and the water, rather than using a cup measure), and I also found more success with lower oven temperatures than the ones recommended. But the recipes are good, and uncomplicated. He give instructions for sponge and straight-dough methods, with hand mixing, food-processor mixing, and stand-mixer mixing. I think that’s helpful, especially for a beginning breadmaker.
But if you’re only going to get one book about bread, get The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.