Fine-tuning the recipes for the upcoming sixteenth issue of Bread Magazine, I have found myself thinking a lot about what a recipe (or formula, as we often call it) in bread making really is.

With a bookshelf filled with books about bread making, I have had a chance to read, test, and compare recipes from a wide range of amazing bakers. On the pages of the magazine as well as on this blog, I have published a few of my own. And I must tell you: even if book publishers would love you to think otherwise, there isn’t all that much variation between bread recipes. Bread is bread, and all breads are sisters and brothers.

That’s why I was thrilled when one of the bakers I interviewed for the next issue, Emmanuel Hadjiandreou (author of How to Make Bread and Making Bread Together), echoed the sentiment, telling me that it’s not the recipe that makes the difference but understanding the processes of fermentation and learning to adapt it all to your environment and ingredients.

Every type of flour is different: Some absorb more water, some less. Some are stronger. Some are more extendable. And so on. And so, it’s practically impossible to write a recipe that will work reliably everywhere around the world.

In this way, bread making is a paradox: an art where changing the amounts by a few grams can make a big difference, but at the same time, impossible to describe exactly in a recipe.

What’s possible however, is to explain what happens when you mix water with flour and starter — or what difference shaping your dough into a baguette instead of a boule makes.

The recipe is a starting point.

In a recipe, a baker gets to show his or her personal take on bread making, inspiring people to experiment on their own — the only way there is to really learn to make bread.

This is why I’m still buying more bread making books — and why it makes sense to share a bunch of sandwich and baguette recipes in our next issue.

2 comments on “It’s Not About the Recipe”

  1. Gary Swann says:

    This year I have found myself using bread recipes less and less. It started after reading ‘Flour Water Salt Yeast’ by Ken Forkish, where each of the recipes varied mainly in subtle changes to the main ingredients and fermentation. ‘The Recipe’ in BREAD magazine also made me think about things differently. I still look at bread recipes for inspiration but then adapt my own. I also still buy and read bread books but am as interested in the stories, people and places as I am in the breads.

    My bread baking is now based around using baker’s percentages and experimentation. Along the way I hope that my understanding of fermentation and my ability to control it will improve.

    Keep up the good work Jarkko. 🙂

    1. Jarkko says:

      Thank you, Gary!

      This is a great way to look at bread making books: as a source for inspiration and stories / people / places. As you say, the concept of bakers’ percentage helps make this possible — and to “expose” the recipes as siblings even if they are written with different amounts of water, etc… 🙂

      Happy baking!

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