Lori Stewart writes in her introduction to 25 Artisan Bread Recipes : How to Bake Beautiful Sweet and Savory Loaves at Home Without A Bread Machine (The Green Gourmet) "...real artisan bread uses only wild yeast starter, flour, water and salt." Thus I found it rather odd that even the single recipe she gives that contains only water, salt, flour and yeast calls for active dry yeast rather than the wild yeast starter she states is the hallmark of real artisan bread. By her own criteria, none of the recipes in 25 Artisan Bread Recipes are artisan bread. While I did find several good recipes, I also found more than a few that were incorrect along with out-of-date advice and more than a few places where critical information was missing. Things like how warm is warm, how hot is too hot, and how to tell when your bread is doubled are all critical bits of information when it comes to bread baking.
One bit of advice author Lori Jane Stewart imparts says "Always use active yeast. If your yeast isn't bubbling when you mix it, then it is most likely no longer active." That was certainly true in times past, but with the development of more modern strains of yeast like Saf Instant Yeast it is no longer necessary to proof your yeast. (Combine the yeast with part of the water and perhaps some sugar to dissolve and start to bloom.) It also isn't necessary or even necessarily desirable to buy yeast in expensive individual packets and most people who regularly bake bread do not. Luckily those of us who regularly bake bread happen to know that one packet of yeast is a scant tablespoon, an equivalent that does not appear in the book.
One thing that is common to nearly all bread recipes is that the flour measurement is usually given as a range, something like "4-5 cups flour". There is a reason for this. The amount of flour that will absorb a given volume of liquid is quite variable. It depends on the brand of flour, where the wheat was raised, how the flour has been stored on the way to the consumer as well as in the kitchen, how old it is and even the weather - and that can vary from day to day and bag to bag, even of the same brand. Most of the recipes in this book do not provide a flour range and I found more than a few that were at best questionable.
The recipe for Braided Sesame Bread calls for 2 cups of all-purpose flour in the ingredients list in a recipe that contains 3 cups of liquid plus butter and 5 eggs. The directions say "Add 2 cups flour and mix until dough is smooth and elastic. Add more flour slowly until dough is stiff." Lori never says how much more flour to add. Most will be very surprised when they are still adding flour more than 4 extra cups later.
There are other problems. The recipe for Unbleached Ciabatta Bread calls for sourdough starter but fails to provide any sort of directions for obtaining one, either purchased or "home caught." (The flour called for in that recipe may also be excessive.) The Candied Hoska recipe specifies scalded milk but does not say how to scald milk and, more importantly, fails to mention that scalded milk must be cooled before using - a critical step. Scalded milk straight from the pan will kill even modern yeasts that are tolerant of higher temperatures. Other significant omissions: how to tell when you've kneaded your bread long enough, the windowpane test and how sticky sticky should be.
Proceed with caution!
UPDATE: Finally, at long last Amazon has issued an updated version notice for this book. Lori has corrected at least some of the problems that I noted above - she gives a list in the comments to this review. I do admire Lori's persistence and I'm going to give her an extra star for it, but I should note in all honesty that some of the problems remain. The new directions for scalding milk are incorrect - you never boil milk - and still don't mention cooling. Sometimes a picture really is worth 1000 words and Lori might have done better to include a picture or a link to a video of the windowpane test. I could go on, but I won't. If you know your way around a dough hook, then there are some interesting bread recipes here. If you are a rank beginner just wanting to learn how to bake bread, this is still probably not the book for you.