The Handmade Loaf by Dan Lepard
Contemporary European Recipes for the Home Baker
Written and photographed by Dan Lepard
Our In house baker Vanessa Kimbell explains why this book is her favourite bread making book of all time.
The Handmade Loaf is perhaps the single most influential bread making book of modern times. I bought The Handmade Loaf when it came out in 2004. The slightly battered edges of my book give a good indication that I come back to it again and again. I love it not least because of the narrative. It tells stories about bakers and their bread, from all around Europe, transporting me into the secret world of bakeries I could only dream of visiting. The book empowers bakers. I love there there is no dumbing down or indeed any attempt to modify the recipes to suit the passing or pretend bakers. Indeed it is refreshing to go back to as it is, in many ways, the antithesis of the mass marketed dumbed down baking books I've seen more recently. This is the real deal - a book by a baker for bakers to be baked from. It's written is such a way that I feel Dan is sharing secrets that would otherwise disappear, like myths, of breads once tasted and long forgotten.
I often recommend this book to students because it has a comprehensive sourdough starter recipe at the beginning. The step-by-step pictorial guide in its own right is brilliant. It allows you to compare what is going on in your own starter with Dan’s starter. It couldn’t be more clear.
I remember people’s reactions to the book when it was first published: it was revolutionary. It tackled not only baking itself but the different genres of bread, different kinds of flours, different kinds of grains were used at time when when only plain white flour and wholemeal flour in supermarkets were readily available. Some of the flours were almost impossible to source ten years ago, so there was a degree of frustration back then. Read it now and it’s easy to see why Dan Lepard pushed the boundaries of bread baking in the UK.
More then ever, The Handmade Loaf is relevant, especially now that heritage flours and more unusual grains are so much more readily available. I think that it is fair to say that The Handmade Loaf set the trend of some of the better bread making books that have come out since its publication and it is fair to say that it is no longer seen as such a “difficult” book.
I know of no other bread making book that comes close to being as comprehensive guide for anyone wanting to learn how to make a true artisan loaf and is therefore the first one that I recommend.