The New Complete Book of Breads, Revised and Expanded is the bread book I reference most often (I own five cookbooks that deal just with bread). There are 300 recipes, so when I’m looking for something, it is the first book I try.
It is also available at a quite reasonable price new, and dirt cheap secondhand. I think this copy cost me $1 plus shipping.
This is the dabbler’s bread book. Not only are there a lot of recipes, they cover a wide territory. There are all the usual suspects: white breads, rye breads, multi- and wholegrain breads, corn bread, flat breads, holiday breads, and rolls, but there are also some offbeat offerings: crackers and dog biscuits, as well as instructions for building a wood-fired oven in your backyard, come to mind. If you think you might like to try your hand at sourdough or traditional French artisan breads, there is a short section on each.
All of the recipes that I’ve tried have worked.
I like that the recipes are fairly detailed, which I think is part of the reason they’ve all worked for me. There isn’t a lot of guesswork about temperatures, time, and procedures. He tells you what type of dough to expect at different stages (shaggy, smooth and elastic, etc.)
It is slightly confusing/annoying that all recipes are given for three types of preparation: by hand, by mixer, and by food processor, and that the three methods are interspersed with each other on the same page. But after making a few recipes, I could work around it and find my place fairly easily.
He also lists the time required for each step of the process, which is useful.
I do wish there were photos, but I’m sure the lack of photos is part of the reason the book is priced so reasonably. There are occasional line drawings.
A short note precedes each recipe, often detailing the source, which is interesting, and a bit about storing and using the bread. Often he notes whether the bread makes good toast.
There is a short introductory section on bread making basics, and instructions for making a first loaf if you don’t have much experience. There is also a section in the back called “What Went Wrong and How to Make It Right”.
The tone overall is approachable, and possible substitutions are noted in some cases. There is not the obsessive attention to detail and insistence on precision that may make some bread books intimidating to beginners (I’m looking at you, Breadmaker’s Apprentice).
The recipes all use active dry yeast, although he usually notes in the instructions the shorter rise times that might be expected with instant yeast.
I will end with a quote from the “What Went Wrong” chapter: “While there are several things that can go wrong in bread-making, there are far more things that can go right. Bread-making is a forgiving art. Expect good things to come out of the oven, and they usually will.”