Saturday, 21 January 2012

Whitley v Lepard

Now that I have had time to try recipes from both of these books I can say that I love them both - for different reasons.

To my surprise (on checking the dates) Whitley's Bread Matters (BM) was published in 2006 two years after Lepard's Handmade Loaf (HL). I had thought it was the other way round as Lepard's presentation is modern (Dorling Kindersley?) whereas Whitley's layout is reminiscent of a 1970's book (not quite The Joy of Sex). Line drawings of fennel seed heads predominate and two bundles of (wow) colour photos bunched together in the middle. He is, thank goodness,  a stickler for detail in the particulars of dough. BM is a theory based novice's guide to baking a first loaf of sourdough bread. The detail means the exploration of the range of products takes second place to developing 'feel' for dough. Courageously Whitley starts his sourdoughs with 100% ryes and moves on to wholemeal wheat breads.  He doesn't use a white starter at all(!), but does include a gram flour and also a rice starter.

Dan Lepard's HL covers the basics of making a sourdough starter too, early on, but it is a (nearly all) white starter. Above all else HL is a guide to the wide range of bread products you can make in your kitchen. Different ingredients and different traditions are explored. Every recipe has a whole page devoted to it, every recipe has a colour picture alongside the text either on the same page or the facing page. Each is like a recipe card with ALL the instructions on the one card. This contrasts with Whitley's "Treat it from here in all respects like a French Country Bread  (see pages 182-185)"  The geographical based information is interspersed at random with the recipes aerating it - as appropriate for a bread book! It's positively seductive.

If you want to build up your skill and understanding of sourdough,  Bread Matters could not be a better role model, but if you have already developed your own sourdough technique, or alternatively if you want to make the odd stunning loaf without the 24:7 commitment The Handmade Loaf offers a cornucopia of possibilities. 

One problem is that if you try to follow more than one sourdough author at a time you can end up confused.  Is 'wetter better'  or is drier higher? Both  BM and HL are excellent but I suggest that if you are starting on your sourdough adventures you choose one and adopt that style before adapting it to your own experience. If you've already got your own style you can adapt from both.

These two are two of the best guides available to the sourdough adventurer.


  1. I drowned very quickly in the different methods when I first started baking and decided, like you to follow one method to start with and then see how I went. I went with Dan Lepard and then turned to Jeffrey Hamelman as my guides, not sharing the enthusiasm of Andrew Whiley for wholemeal bread. I have now almost finished baking through the Hamelman book, I have missed quite a few, but I have enjoyed the ride so far. I hope your adventures keep you entertained and your family well fed, happy baking! Joanna

  2. Whitley is a real hair shirt baker. It's a continuation of the 'wholefood' ethos from the sixties or was it the seventies. I know where he is coming from!