So what have I been doing this week, during Passover, when it’s forbidden me to eat bread? Reading about bread, of course, and wishing I’d written this book, which my mother gave me for my birthday; clever Mum.
American writer William Alexander also wrote a book called The $64 Tomato. He’s not a professional gardener or baker. What he’s great at is capturing the zen, the process and the frustrations of learning to master something that he finds important to master. 52 Loaves is a quick read – I read it in no more than 4 hours – as he covers his subject most efficiently. The gist is that, a lifelong bread hater, he experiences an epiphany upon tasting real bread in a good restaurant, and sets about learning how to make the perfect peasant bread, even growing his own wheat, building a clay oven in the garden and of course developing a levain. He spends quite a lot of time doing research, and is hardly a DIY genius, so it’s a bit surprising that he gets he far as he does in a year (evidently). The culmination of his bread-baking experience is reviving the craft of breadbaking in a French monastery, and you’ll definitely want to read about it; the balance of humility and confidence he has to muster to accomplish this is in itself awe-inspiring.
I think all of my intrepid bread-baking friends – and those who eat their bread – will want to read this book, as many of Alexander’s adventures will be familiar. Alexander is funny and honest, particularly poignantly so about the impact of his project on his family.
The book does include a few recipes; I will try the one he offers for baguettes. The recipes are designed to be manageable; more importantly, I can tell that the details he’s chosen to convey are in fact the result of the experiences he’s relayed in the rest of the book.
- Hardcover: 352 pages
- Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill (4 May 2010)
- Language English
- ISBN-10: 1565125835
- ISBN-13: 978-1565125834
It’s available in the UK at Amazon, and more widely in the US.