Baking Bread with Thomas Keller
As with all of Thomas Keller’s previous books, this one combines beautiful layout and photography,
delicious recipes, invaluable instructions, and entertaining storytelling. I think this is probably the
most accessible of Keller’s books, but that does not mean it’s dumbed down at all. It’s perfect for an
absolute beginner baker or an advanced baker. Most of the recipes are simple enough for a beginner
to follow along and make successfully, but the instructions and notes are thorough enough for even
the most skilled bakers to learn something new.
My favorite thing about Bouchon Bakery is that all recipes list ingredients by both weight (in grams)
and volume. If you’ve been resisting buying a kitchen scale, just do it already. As Keller explains in
the book, compared to measuring ingredients by volume using measuring cups and spoons,
weighing your ingredients is
1) more accurate
2) faster [just tare your scale and measure in the same bowl]
3) cleaner [just the one bowl to clean; no cups or spoons to dirty], and
4) easier to scale recipes up or down [which is easier: halving 200 grams or halving 1 1/3 cups +
2 tablespoons + 1/2 teaspoon?].
So make your life a lot easier and your baking a lot better and just order a scale on Amazon when you
get this book; you can get one for less than $20, which is less than it costs for a good set of measuring
cups and spoons. You’ll need a scale that measures in 0.1 gram increments.
As for the content, the book is divided into sections on cookies, scones and muffins, cakes, tarts, pate
a choux, brioche and doughnuts, puff pastry and croissants, breads, and confections. It covers the whole
range of sweet and savory baking, and so far every recipe has been excellent.
Many of the recipes are inspired by or are improvements on cookies and treats that were some of your
favorites as a kid, like Nutter Butters, Oreos, Ho Hos, etc. And honestly, to say they are improvements is
a massive understatement–they’re more like complete reworkings, complete with Keller’s unique brand
of sophistication. Take the TKO cookie, Keller’s take on the Oreo. Instead of the Oreo’s bland, chalky
cookie and white mystery filling, the Bouchon Bakery version uses chocolate shortbread filled with a
white chocolate ganache.
I’ve made nearly all of the cookies in the book, and they’re about as close as possible in taste and appearance
to the ones you buy at Bouchon Bakery, and a whole lot cheaper! The brioche is outstanding, and is a lifesaver
if you live in an area where store-bought brioche is unavailable (and if it is, this one is probably better!).
The muffins are also winners, much more moist and flavorful than any other recipe I’ve used (one of the
tricks is letting the batter sit overnight so that the flour fully hydrates).
So far my favorite section has been the scones. If you think you don’t like scones or that they’re nothing
special, just try the ones in this book. Ever other scone I’ve either made or bought has been either fairly
bland or pretty dry; these scones are full of flavor and incredibly moist and buttery. Particularly the cherry
chocolate chip scones and the bacon cheddar chives scones. Especially the latter–there are no words that
can do justice to how extraordinary they are. They’re also incredibly convenient, since one of the required
steps is to freeze the scones before baking, and you can store them for at least a month in the freezer before
baking. Since they bake directly from the freezer, if you want an easy, fresh, and delicious breakfast, just
stick a frozen scone in the oven and you’ll be greatly rewarded 30 minutes later.
I also really appreciate that they’ve put so much effort and research into the
bread section, especially on how to get good steam injection into the oven.
This is probably the only baking book I’ve seen that departs from the standard
“pour some water into a hot pan in the oven to make steam” technique.
Having steam in the oven when baking bread is necessary for a thin caramelized crust; if you’ve ever made
bread that had a dull, chalky, thick, and hard crust, it’s probably because of a lack of steam. The weakness
of the traditional steaming method is that it doesn’t produce a whole lot of steam and it cools your oven
down tremendously. The method described in Bouchon Bakery is designed to correct these flaws and
involves rocks, chains, and a Super Soaker water gun. Yes, really!
It’s been my experience that most baking books fall into one of two categories: 1) a recipe book without
much information about technique, background, theory, etc, or 2) a very technical treatise with unexciting
or not very good recipes. Bouchon Bakery achieves the perfect balance, I think.
The recipes in Bouchon Bakery are absolutely incredible, and the information in each section helps you
to improve your technique and will help you to understand why you’re performing certain steps, how to
make your baking better, and what has likely gone wrong in your previous baking mishaps.