An original take on the six-thousand-year-old staple of life, 52 Loaves explores the nature of obsession, the meditative quality of ritual, the futility of trying to re-create something perfect, our deep connection to the earth, and the mysterious instinct that makes all of us respond to the aroma of baking bread.
Obsession takes many forms. Alexander, already a seasoned horticultural adept, now turns his attention to producing the ultimate loaf of bread. To achieve perfection in so simple a creation (yeast, water, flour), Alexander husbands his own field of wheat. He learns to raise this ancient grass, harvest it, prepare the grain, grind it to flour, knead it with the purest water, generate the active microorganisms to puff up the dough, and then bake that dough to produce a properly satisfying crumb within a flawless crunchy brown crust. He researches his topic thoroughly, but realizes he needs more hands-on tutelage. Moreover, the definition of a perfect loaf changes both by place and time. Alexander travels the world to learn from masters of bread baking in various styles, ending up in a Norman monastery. Impressed with the monks’ daily spiritual discipline, Alexander structures this account of his quest according to the ancient canonical hours. –Mark Knoblauch
“Nitpicking Obsessiveness was never so appetizing.” –Entertainment Weekly, Grade A- (Boston Globe)”Laugh out loud funny . . . Alexander definitely doesn’t hold back . . . A great book, simultaneously funny and thoughtful.” –Apartment Therapy: The Kitchn“Alexander’s breathless, witty memoir is a joy to read. It’s equal parts fact and fun . . . Alexander is wildly entertaining on the page, dropping clever one-liners in the form of footnotes and parenthetical afterthoughts throughout.” —The Boston Globe“Nitpicking obsessiveness was never so appetizing. A-.” —Entertainment Weekly“A warm, laugh-out-loud [memoir] . . . Alexander writes about the ups (few), the downs (numerous) and a lively history of bread itself, all recounted in a self-effacing but often irreverent voice . . . There is much to savor here, and Alexander entertainingly unravels many of the staff of life’s deep mysteries for the uninitiated.” —The Oregonian“The world would be a less interesting place without the William Alexanders who walk among us—the people who pursue all sorts of Holy grails and latch like ticks onto particular passions, yet who have the good grace to tell us all about their exploits with humor.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
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I really loved Alexander’s The $64 Tomato, so I was eager to read this book. Having tried to perfect baking bread myself, I found myself able to relate to much of what he went through. (Of course, I was not nearly as fanatical about my efforts, and that’s probably why my stories about bread baking seem utterly boring in comparison to his.) While I thoroughly enjoyed the book, I didn’t find it nearly as laugh-out-loud funny as The $64 Tomato. On a scale from “humor” to “memoir,” this book definitely sits further over towards the memoir side. That’s not to say that it isn’t humorous, but it mostly made me smile rather than laugh. I definitely recommend it, but it’s not quite the same flavor as his previous book.
It did not matter what it was about: the minute I discovered William Alexander had another book out, I bought it. His first, The $64 Tomato, was that much fun and information that I was ready to follow him anywhere. I am happy to report that 52 Loaves exceeded expectation. The $64 Tomato chronicles Alexander’s Olympian gander at vegetable and flower gardening, starting out as a no-nothing and ending up as a knows-more, with much humor and information imparted. So goes 52 Loaves, this time with a goal to baking bread at least once a week, in an effort to achieve the perfect loaf emulating his muse, an artisan bread served in an upscale restaurant. I was ahead of the author at the outset of the book–I’ve baked weekly for years and achieved the large hole crumb via the Jim Lahey method (the one Mark Bittman profiled in the NY Times)–but Alexander pulled out and around me and kept on going, to making his own levain (leavening agent = yeast), visiting professionals, getting to the bottom of “enriched” flour (pellagra, anyone?), building a brick oven from the ground up, planting his own wheat crop, and then, in a flying leap, heading to the cradle of leavened bread culture (Morocco) and an ancient monastery in France to bake in what he had hoped would be Ur circumstances. To say more would be to spoil what becomes a suspenseful story on more than one level: Will he achieve the perfect loaf? Will bread make him fat? Will he remain sane? Did he plant the right kind of wheat? Can he keep doing this and keep his day job? Should his family stage an intervention? 52 Loaves is very human, energetic, philosophical, informative and entertaining.
I started on William Alexander with $64 Tomato, and was instantly hooked. 52 Loaves really took me through his pain and love of bread, and has inspired me to make some myself! Alexander is a masterful storyteller, weaving in the parts that make you miss home, make you laugh, and make you cry. A true story of one man’s obsession, and how we all get in over our heads. A must read for any baker, cook, or DIY’er.
- Title: 52 Loaves: One Man’s Relentless Pursuit of Truth, Meaning, and a Perfect Crust
- Autor: William Alexander
- Publisher (Publication Date): Algonquin Books; First Edition edition (May 4, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: | 1616200502
- ISBN-13: | 978-1616200503
- Download File Format: EPUB, PDF