Why is this a Professional French Bread Book?
This is the first book feature I am writing about as many hours were spent scouring the internet for more information on this obscure French bread book. None of the research turned up anything useful to ascertain if this book was indeed worth the money. Simply said, this is the first professional book French bread book that lays out baking times, schedules, temperatures and different recipes adjusted for different timings. Whether you are a full fledged boulanger baking French bread, or a pastry chef/passionate baker who bakes a few loaves here and there, this French bread book is worth the investment. I have several bread books, including Raymond Calvel’s Taste of Bread, but Frederic Lalos’ book tells you exactly what to do, how to do it, and how long it will take, taking temperatures into account. And the best thing is, this book has good English translations alongside the French text.
Who is Frederic Lalos
For those who do not know who Frederic Lalos is, he is a MOF (Meilleur Ouvrier de France), the highest title of Craftmanship awarded annually to only the very best in their fields in France. He owns the very successful bakery called Le Quartier du Pain in Paris. I remember stopping by his Rue St Charles shop in Paris in 2009 when I was still working in Europe. His breads were a world apart from most of the boulangeries in Paris, but I was in love with Phillipe Gosselin’s French Baguette and Poilane’s Miche then, so my priorities were somewhere else! This book was being sold in the shops, but it was a bit out of my minimum wage budget! Its probably still being sold in his shops in Paris or you can purchase it from the links at the bottom of this post.
The first few chapters are dedicated to the history of bread and it goes on to talk about French flours. Now, this is a very important section as there is very little literature on flours that are used in bread and baking. Every major bread country has their own classification system of flours. American bread flours are made with stronger wheat and thus, require a bit more water in the dough. Recipes from this book will not work well with standard American flours unless you use King Arthur’s French type flours.
What impressed me the most was the recipe for a whole wheat bread made with farine complète. You would seldom see this outside of France but this is my favourite flour to use for baking as a supplier would specially order it for me when I was working back in Singapore. Unlike other whole wheat flours (French T80 or T150) with somewhat larger flecks of bran and other parts of the wheatberry, T110 is silky smooth. When kneaded, its powdery bran particles do not affect the strength of the dough as much as normal whole wheat flours. High hydration T110 breads are soft textured but with the satisfying nuttiness of whole wheat. This is the first time I have seen a recipe for T110 in English outside of Europe.
As with every other good French bread book, it goes on into techniques for kneading, fermenting, dividing, shaping and final proofing. It as well includes a section on how to start and maintain a sourdough culture. Pretty basic stuff for a bread book nowadays, but good to have nonetheless. If you are already familiar with sourdough starters, you’ll be fine, but if you are a beginner, The Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart and Breads by Jeffrey Hamelman has more detailed explanations than this book.
Many pages are dedicated to the French Baguette. Probably the most iconic of French Breads, here, you will find recipes for different variations of baguettes. If you are looking for recipes for plain 4 hour baguette, biga or poolish baguette, retarded bulk fermentation or overnight proofing baguette, you will find all the details in this book. Different breads have different mixing techniques with different target dough temperatures at the end of mixing. These different temperatures correspond directly to how long or short the total fermentation time will be. The attention to detail is worth the price of the book on its own. This is possibly the best professional French bread book in my library.
There is a whole section on sourdough breads as well as breads made with different kinds of flours like buckwheat and rye. France is a lot more than just the Parisian baguette, which is probably the youngest type of bread from this great baking nation.
The last sections deal with regional specialty breads like the Couronne, Fendu and Tabatiere. This is followed by sweet breads and savoury breads to complete the best book, in my opinion, on French bread. I am not sure if this book is already out of print so get your hands on a copy if you can. You can still buy at the time of writing from Infusion4Chefs, Librarie Gourmande or Fnac France.
I would personally vouch for Infusion4Chefs in the UK as their prices are competitive, delivery costs to Asia are very reasonable and most importantly, the service is impeccable. Librarie Gourmande is as good as Infusion4Chefs but the French Postal system makes the delivery costs more expensive.
**If you are looking to purchase Peter Reinhart’s Bread Maker’s Apprentice or Jeffrey Hamelman’s Bread book, please do so through the Amazon links in this blog post. Amazon is still the cheapest way to buy books and buying through my site allows me to maintain the costs of running this site.