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52 LOAVES by William Alexander


One Man’s Relentless Pursuit of Truth, Meaning, and a Perfect Crust

by William Alexander

Pub Date: May 4th, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-56512-583-4
Publisher: Algonquin

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.