Posts Tagged ‘William Alexander’

Now You’re Cooking With Gas

52 Loaves

During the past few years, baking bread has become more than just a part time obsession.

So, when I saw that William Alexander had a new book out called 52 Loaves, which was all about his year long quest to create the perfect loaf of artisanal bread, the story immediately resonated with me.  I too have been trying to perfect the art and craft of bread baking for quite some time now, (though I’ve never restricted myself to just one kind of bread) so the idea of such an undertaking was entertaining to me.

I’ve been meaning to read his other book The $64 Tomato since I first heard about it 2 years ago, but my Chapters wishlist is one of those things that only balloons as time goes by, yet despite buying several hundred dollars worth at a time the list never shortens.  Having just finished 52 Loaves and generally clicking with his writing style, I’ll be sure to jump his book about my other all-consuming passion (gardening) to the top of the list soon.

52 Loaves chronicles a year in the life of Alexander and his family, as he attempts to recreate a delicious peasant bread he consumed at a restaurant with his wife once.  What begins with the planting of a small field of wheat on his property, quickly escalates into so much more.  Week after week the fleeting memory of the ephemeral loaf haunts him, as the leaden, close-crumbed replicas he churns out in the beginning bear no resemblance to his ideal.  But as months pass, he educates himself further, reaching out to a yeast factory, several famous author/bakers and a growing number of books, culminating in a typical pilgrimage to France, though his is slightly unconventional as he ends up baking in a centuries old monastery, and also teaching the brother monks how to bake again.

Throughout the book hilarity often ensues, as Alexander writes about conventions, lectures, state fairs and a half-assed attempt to build a backyard wood fired oven that he was promised could be completed in a day.  He narrates the story with dry wit and charm, all the while causing the reader to wonder if he’s about to go mad.  One thing I particularly liked about the book was that he agreed with my analysis about the no knead technique, and after attempting it he wasn’t overly impressed either.  By the end of the book, you’re still not sure if he’s found what he’s looking for, but nonetheless he’s amassed scads of knowledge along the way.