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52 Loaves: One Man's Relentless Pursuit of Truth, Meaning, and a Perfect Crust Hardcover – Bargain Price, May 4, 2010

4.5 out of 5 stars 80 customer reviews

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Hardcover, Bargain Price, May 4, 2010
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100 Books for a Lifetime of Eating & Drinking
100 Books for a Lifetime of Eating & Drinking
 If you want to make an authentic tagine, bake mouth-watering cakes, or vicariously experience the life of a chef, you’ll find the book for it on this list.
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

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-

(Entertainment Weekly )

"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." --Boston Globe
(Boston Globe )

"Laugh out loud funny . . . Alexander definitely doesn't hold back . . . A great book, simultaneously funny and thoughtful." --Apartment Therapy: The Kitchn
(Apartment Therapy: The Kitchn )

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books (May 4, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1566392454
  • ISBN-13: 978-1566392457
  • ASIN: B00509CSHO
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (80 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,726,535 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By IMNSHO VINE VOICE on May 2, 2010
Format: Hardcover
If you enjoyed watching the movie "My Big Fat Greek Wedding", then you are going to relish reading "52 Loaves". Just as the audience did not have to be Greek to laugh at the hilarious movie scenes and to empathize with the protagonist's experiences, readers do not have to bake bread, to be fully sated with this wonderful book.

For me, the most satisfying book is one that balances character, plot, setting, and theme. In "52 Loaves", all four strands are woven in a tapestry of well-written, thoughtful words.

The main "character" is the author, William Alexander. If you can recall a time in your life when either a meal or food tantalized you with its sublime taste, smell and texture, you can understand the author's dogged attempts to recreate a memorable experience with a loaf of bread. Given bread's many dynamic variables (flour, yeast, time and temperature), replicating a loaf of bread without a recipe, is intricately complicated. As the story enfolds, we laugh heartily as the author encounters one mishap after another in search for this elusive recipe, while admiring his doggedness. The single-focused character who we meet at the beginning of the book becomes introspective and philosophical at the end.

The plot holds the reader's interest as it revolves around the author's activities, his tribulations paired with triumphs, his obstacles followed by revelations. Along with the author, we learn from and enjoy meeting, among others, the miller, the bakers, the hippie, the scientist, the storeowner, and the monk. While we know intuitively that the author will eventually bake a "perfect" loaf, we read on to share in this victory.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Alexander is a fine writer who examines the many processes involved in bread-making and gives wise advise as to each. He has read the books, noted the deficiencies and contradictions in how we are taught to create bread at home, and provided just enough information to enable the already-serious baker to take his or her skills up a notch.

While this is certainly not a book for those new to bread-making (who should read Reinhart, Bertinet, Corriher and Hamelman to gather an appreciation of the difficulty and many approaches), it is a book for those of us who have struggled for years to make a tasty and enjoyable-to-eat loaf and yet have failed.

I can't say there is a magic bullet contained somewhere in the pages, nor even that the recipes work (that is yet to be decided, though early experimentation with the 500-550 degree heat recommendation produced a loaf so leathery that it could not be cut), but I feel he has helped me to systematize and summarize a lot of thoughts I had on the baking process and ingredients - which could also mean he has confirmed my prejudices. In short, and from my own perspective, I found someone who understands the profundities of home bread-baking and the roadblocks that home bakers encounter.

His writing style takes you smoothly and with wit through his learning experience, and his reflections on the many people he encountered on the way are alone worth the cost of the book. I savored, in particular, the last 50 pages or so, knowing I was coming to the end of an adventure that I did not want to end.

I have just two reservations:
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By James on November 21, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The author seemed to be on a quest to make an artisan bread with irregular holes and great taste. After a year, you'd think that he could learn how to do this and relate the results to the reader. No dice. He correctly explains that great bread flavor comes from a long steady rise. But he never cracks the riddle of the holes. As a result the book devolves into an entertaining story about "his" quest to understand how to make better bread and how he fails to reach enlightenment.

At the end of the book, he presents several recipes. As a bread chef, I classify bread recipes I read into three categories. The first are those copied from other cookbooks with little understanding. The second are ones with a unique nuance of some sort that could advance the general knowledge of breadmaking. The third are crap that either cannot be used, are imcomplete or won't work at all. His recipes are mostly classified as the latter. He recommends type 65 flour from France in one, for instance, that is not availble in this country, at least not from common sources. In some of the others, the recipe is incomplete-- for instance because they do not mention that the correct temperature to raise dough is 78 degrees(not 72!), and yes it makes a huge difference. Also he fails to mention in all cases that when the temperature of the inside of the loaf is at a certain temperature, the loaf is done. For a baguette, for instance it is 212 and for a batard it would be 190-195. How about the thickness and crispness of the crust? And I'm not even getting warmed up yet.

As you can see from the above, bread making is fairly technical. A full discussion of all of the factors mentioned above is clearly beyond the scope of a simple review.
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