Select one of the keywords
52 Loaves    by William Alexander order for
52 Loaves
by William Alexander
Order:  USA  Can
Algonquin, 2010 (2010)

Read an Excerpt

* * *   Reviewed by Bob Walch

William Alexander's latest book will appeal to a wide range of readers. Not only will it fascinate foodies and those who savor a slice or two of homemade bread, but this narrative will also delight those who enjoy a good read.

You might remember Alexander's previous book, The $64 Tomato, which chronicled his misadventures trying to create the perfect vegetable garden. Now, as he turns his attention to making the perfect loaf of bread from scratch, this slightly obsessive writer embarks on an odyessy that stretches from New England to France and Morocco.

Alexander's game plan was fairly simple. He planned to make bread every week for a year until he created the perfect loaf of peasant bread. As one would imagine, that is easier said than done. Before he accomplishes this noble, if not quixotic, endeavor, the author will pick the minds of some of the country's notable bread experts, build an outdoor oven in his backyard, grow his own wheat in that same yard, spend a week studying breadmaking in the cours de boulangerie at the famed Ecole Ritz Excoffier in Paris, and reintroduce the making of bread in a medieval monastery in Normandy.

Along with sharing the ups and downs of making (or attempting to make) peasant bread, Alexander also digresses into such diverse topics as yeast, wheat and threshing, and pellagra. The later diversion explains why today we have so much vitamin-enriched flour and, thus, bread.

Short chapters and the author's self-deprecating sense of humor make this book not only very entertaining but it is so good you'll devour the pages at about the same rate you might consume a tasty loaf of sourdough French bread.

Although you'll find a few bread recipes and the author's five page Baker's Bookshelf, be forewarned that this is not a how-to volume nor does it resemble a cookbook in any way.

If you are wondering if Alexander actually accomplished what he set out to do, I'll let him speak for himself.

'In search of the perfect loaf, in search of understanding the miracle of bread, I'd driven hundreds of miles to visit yeast factories and flour mills, flown thousands of miles to study in Paris and bake in Africa,' he explains in the closing chapter, 'my bread, although very good and vastly improved since the first week, never, except for the one mystical moment at the abby, reached the mantle of perfection that I'd aimed for.'

I think Alexander was probably a little hard on himself, but no matter. Fortunately, he invited us along on this culinary quest and, from start to finish, it was a lot of fun!

Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.

Find more Travel books on our Shelves or in our book Reviews