That's why they call it 'staff of life' 

Part chemistry, part alchemy, combining science, art and intuition, the practice of baking bread is the closest most of us can get to playing Dr. Frankenstein. It is, in a real sense, the creation of life.

The new primer of this ancient craft is "The Bread Baker's Apprentice" by Peter Reinhart (Ten Speed Press; $35), a book appointed as the James Beard Cookbook of the Year. With the heft of a good pumpernickel loaf, Reinhart's work offers the equivalent of a master class in buns, brioche, bagels and baguettes, imparting both the practicality of lessons that must be learned and a reverence for the final result: perfect bread. Checklists of methods used sit alongside an explanation of the importance of "sense of place" in the kitchen. From step-by-step pictures to an almost wine-tasting approach to eating bread, this book might make you an apprentice too.

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