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52 Loaves: One Man's Relentless Pursuit of Truth, Meaning, and a Perfect Crust
     

52 Loaves: One Man's Relentless Pursuit of Truth, Meaning, and a Perfect Crust

4.8 5
by William Alexander
 

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William Alexander is determined to bake the perfect loaf of bread. He tasted it long ago, in a restaurant, and has been trying to reproduce it ever since. Without success. Now, on the theory that practice makes perfect, he sets out to bake peasant bread every week until he gets it right. He bakes his loaf from scratch. And because Alexander is nothing if not thorough,

Overview

William Alexander is determined to bake the perfect loaf of bread. He tasted it long ago, in a restaurant, and has been trying to reproduce it ever since. Without success. Now, on the theory that practice makes perfect, he sets out to bake peasant bread every week until he gets it right. He bakes his loaf from scratch. And because Alexander is nothing if not thorough, he really means from scratch: growing, harvesting, winnowing, threshing, and milling his own wheat.
 
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.

Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
A clever weekend baker learns some life lessons, loaf by loaf. As in his previous book (The $64 Tomato: How One Man Nearly Lost His Sanity, Spent a Fortune, and Endured an Existential Crisis in the Quest for the Perfect Garden, 2006), Alexander sets a fairly lofty goal-this time he wants to bake perfect bread. The author established a time frame for his task of a loaf per week for a year. That undertaking may not be as showy, perhaps, as cooking all of Julia Child's recipes in the same time period, but it's a formidable task nonetheless. Alexander used just four ingredients, baking his peasant yet artisanal bread from scratch using water, salt, wheat and yeast-a 6,000-year-old recipe "found scratched on the inside of a pyramid." The author built a rudimentary oven, separated wheat from chaff by hand and worked diligently to produce the ever-important gas bubbles in his bread's texture. Some of his baking, presented to an obliging family, was tasty, while some went against the grain. He considered sponge and crust, crumb and batter and the magical qualities of the ubiquitous ancient fungus, yeast. He also traveled quite a bit, baking in New England, at the Ritz in Paris, in a medina in Morocco and finally in l'Abbaye Saint-Wandrille, a modest seventh-century French abbey where he produced his best loaf. During his quest, Alexander learned plenty. For example, the professed atheist found something numinous in the loaves, and especially the process. His bright writing highlights a pleasing variety of comical misadventures. Recipes appended. Entertaining and educative.
Entertainment Weekly
"Nitpicking Obsessiveness was never so appetizing."
--Entertainment Weekly, Grade A-

Boston Globe

"Nitpicking Obsessiveness was never so appetizing."
--Entertainment Weekly, Grade A-

Apartment Therapy: The Kitchn
"Laugh out loud funny . . . Alexander definitely doesn't hold back . . . A great book, simultaneously funny and thoughtful." —Apartment Therapy: The Kitchn
From the Publisher

"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

Library Journal
Opening with a story about his attempt to take sourdough on an airplane, Alexander (The $64 Tomato) recounts his challenge to make peasant bread every week for a year until he baked the perfect loaf. Bakers will delight in his often humorous mission as he relates leaving out salt, growing his own wheat, discovering parchment paper, and splashing water into the oven in an effort to create steam, "[that] miracle vapor that's indispensable in bread making from start to finish!" Alexander also writes about attending a kneading conference in Maine, spending time in a French monastery, and going to Morocco. During the first week of his quest, the bread books on his shelf weighed two pounds; by week 47, he owned 64 pounds of books. As he sums up, "Bread is life." He includes some recipes and "A Baker's Bookshelf," a list of the books on bread he acquired. VERDICT This humorous memoir is recommended for anyone who has ever tried to bake a loaf.—Nicole Mitchell, Birmingham, AL

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781616200626
Publisher:
Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Publication date:
10/25/2011
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
352
Sales rank:
677,465
File size:
18 MB
Note:
This product may take a few minutes to download.

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What People are Saying About This

Entertainment Weekly
"Serious, irreverent, funny, and informative at the same time, 52 Loaves reflects precisely the frustrating and infuriating—if not impossible—process of creating the perfect bread.” —Jacques Pépin
"Nitpicking Obsessiveness was never so appetizing."
Entertainment Weekly, Grade A-

From the Publisher
"Serious, irreverent, funny, and informative at the same time, 52 Loaves reflects precisely the frustrating and infuriating—if not impossible—process of creating the perfect bread.” —Jacques Pépin

Meet the Author

William Alexander, the author of two critically acclaimed books, lives in New York's Hudson Valley. By day the IT director at a research institute, he made his professional writing debut at the age of fifty-three with a national bestseller about gardening, The $64 Tomato. His second book, 52 Loaves, chronicled his quest to bake the perfect loaf of bread, a journey that took him to such far-flung places as a communal oven in Morocco and an abbey in France, as well as into his own backyard to grow, thresh, and winnow wheat. The Boston Globe called Alexander "wildly entertaining," the New York Times raved that "his timing and his delivery are flawless," and the Minneapolis Star Tribune observed that "the world would be a less interesting place without the William Alexanders who walk among us." A 2006 Quill Book Awards finalist, Alexander won a Bert Greene Award from the IACP for his article on bread, published in Saveur magazine. A passion bordering on obsession unifies all his writing. He has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition and at the National Book Festival in Washington DC and is a frequent contributor to the New York Times op-ed pages, where he has opined on such issues as the Christmas tree threatening to ignite his living room and the difficulties of being organic. Now, in Flirting with French, he turns his considerable writing talents to his perhaps less considerable skills: becoming fluent in the beautiful but maddeningly illogical French language. 


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52 Loaves 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm not the only fool out there who thrives on doing things the hard way. Good to know. This book is funny, thought provoking, and full of fascinating historical and scientific details. Please excuse me now, I have to go peel bark from a pound of pear tree branches so I can dye an ounce of wool pink.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"Yo Jared you here?" I ask.