I love books and, I regret to say, I buy more than I read. However, there are some that I always return to, and some for which I have a great fondness. The following are the ones that I really do recommend. Please note that the links to Amazon are "Affiliate Links" which, in theory, give me credit... but so far, I've never earned anything from them!
"Dough" by Richard Bertinet
I really can't recommend "Dough" highly enough. There are two key differentiating features to this book: first, of course, is the method itself. The key focuses are: don't be afraid of wet dough- it's always going to be sticky, and: don't beat the hell out of the dough. The second really special thing is the inclusion of a DVD illustrating Bertinet's method. Just watch his every move- every one has a purpose. Mrs. Crusty Dave suggests that Bertinet has a certain Gallic charm. I couldn't possibly comment.
"Crust: From Sourdough, Spelt and Rye Bread to Ciabatta, Bagels and Brioche" by Richard Bertinet
After Dough comes "Crust"- for more complex or time-consuming bread recipes. Bertinet suggests that the one that people turn to immediately is Sourdough. Make sure that you don't overlook the Poolish and Fermented Dough recipes. If you need to get a dose of aggression out of your system, look up Far Breton. It's an exception to the "wetter is better" philosophy and makes a beautiful, soft bread after thrashing the dough with a rolling pin.
Comes with another excellent DVD.
"Crumb: Show the dough who's boss" by Richard Bertinet
Richard Bertinet's most recent book (at the time of the most recent update of this site) is "Crumb". This introduces his "Brie in Brioche", a Crusty Dave family favourite, as well as many other new recipes and variations on previous ones. The videos for this book can be found on Richard's Richard's YouTube channel. Watch, enjoy, buy the book and bake.
"Bread: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes" 3rd Edition, by Jeffery Hamelman
Bertinet's books are a fantastic introduction and development for the keen amateur baker. Hamelman's book is written for commercial ("Artisan"?) bakers to use as well as amateurs. The licence that Hamelman was allowed by his employer and publisher permitted the inclusion of many sidebars and anecdotes. You can see that the author loves bread, its history, folklore, everything. The only downside, in my opinion, is that the domestic measures are in Imperial thingies but, for those of you who still have a fairly agile mind, it's easy enough to convert the bulk metric quantities to domestic quantities.
I would add that there is an extra degree of seriousness when ex-mixer temperatures become a factor in recipes as they do here. Amateurs needn't get too worried about these, but if observed, improvements in consistency should ensue.
"The Taste of Bread" By Raymond Calvel et al.
Raymond Calvel is "The Master". The name that you might see under the image of the book is that of one of its translators- if it's not Calvel's. He is referred to by both Bertinet and Hamelmann and justifiably so. Like Bertinet and Hamelmann, Calvel has baked for a living, is a true craftsman and knows his mind (and how- just don't shape your loaves with pointy ends, otherwise he'll be knocking on your door). Having mastered his craft, he has taken it a step further and performed the invaluable task of applying science to it. Calvel is also an academic and this book provides recipes and the science behind the ingredients, the methods and techniques.
The only downside is that there is a strange combination of somewhat flowery language (presumably from Calvel) and Americanisms from the translators- reading the term "Punch Down" in conjunction with dough has me reaching for my book of mantras.
"Tartine Bread" By Chad Robertson
If the books by Hamelman and Calvel are the encyclopedic books on real breads, this wonderful book is focused on one person's search for the perfect loaf. Beautifully illustrated, the book tells the story of Chad Robertson's quest to develop a loaf that satisfied a range of criteria; naturally leavened, but not to sour; an open crumb; a satisfying crust.
Having spent years pursuing, and achieving this objective, he set about sharing his recipe in a way that could be used by anyone. He enrolled friends to test the recipe in their homes, using easily available utensils.
The is one core recipe in the book, described and illustrated in a way that really shows Chad's love of baking and the resulting "Real Bread". Several variations on the basic recipe are given and there's a wealth of additional recipes based on the lovely loaves produced.
Have a look at the Tartine Bread video to get a feel for the book and its background.
"The Tassajara Bread Book" By Edward Espe Brown
The Tassajara Bread Book- that's where it all started for me. In fact, this was the book that my mother used for baking bread. Brown's method is based on the classic "Sponge" technique and, as you might expect from the cook for a Buddhist Centre, there is a lot of respect for the ingredients, the techniques and for the baking process.
I fond the breads fairly "Worthy" now (I'm quite happy to eat white bread- Shock! Horror!) but I still have a great affection for this book.
"English Bread and Yeast Cookery" By Elizabeth David
No list of books relating to the kitchen could ever be complete without one by Elizabeth David. This one is one of the last written by the woman who transformed cookery book writing, and is well worth a careful read. My own copy is particularly special to me as it was a present from Mrs. Crusty Dave's mum. This book was five years in the writing and research included conversations with amongst others millers, bakers and historians. English Bread and Yeast Cookery goes beyond England and well beyond just bread. Elizabeth David assesses the various influences on the way bread was in the '70s (and is very similar now), including statutes, commercial pressures and the widely-used Chorleywood process. It's interesting to see how things have changed since then- a lot is much the same, but with some divergence at the extremes, with "crustless" bread at one end of the spectrum and the emergence of Artisan Bakers at the other.
"A New Book of Middle Eastern Food: The Essential Guide to Middle Eastern Cooking" Claudia Roden
Although there are a few bread recipes in this book, that's not the reason for its inclusion here. The original edition was the "playbook" of my second and third years at university. The members of our student let would take it in turns to select dishes from the book- Little Nik would sometimes literally take "Pot Luck" and select a page at random, and cook whatever was on that page. The great thing was that there was almost no chance of the dish being a dud.
Roden not only gives recipes, she also describes the history and background of many. Indeed, many of her personal experiences of cooking, buying, eating or collecting the recipes make wonderful reading in their own right.
Possibly the most significant thing (to me) about this book is how a Jewish woman, bought up in Egypt, can write a book packed full of recipes, history, co-existence and experiences from throughout the Middle East without prejudice or bias, and make it full of joy. I often feel that this should be an example for the Middle East itself.
I used to say that "if I'd spent less time at University playing canasta and cooking, I might have earned a better degree". The use of this book contributed in a big way to the cooking part.