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52 Loaves: One Man's Relentless Pursuit of Truth, Meaning, and a Perfect Crust Hardcover – Bargain Price, May 4, 2010
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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--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 )
Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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:
1.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
The author relates his quest to bake a loaf of peasant bread that lives up to the “perfect” bread he once had at a restaurant. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Michelle Boytim
I'm currently obsessed with baking a great loaf of bread. Not as obsessed as William Alexander. I enjoyed reading this story; a "Zen and the Art of the Motorcycle" type... Read morePublished 4 months ago by Byron L. Ferguson
This book was as interesting as it was fun to read. The author takes you along on his year long bread baking adventure... from the county fair to Africa. Read morePublished 7 months ago by Jen in NC
Finally I got to my "perfect" loaf. Excellent journey for the baker who is working on improving his skill and meeting with the occasional setback. Read morePublished 8 months ago by John Ulmer