News / USA

Book Details Quest to Bake Perfect Loaf of Bread

Author travels to Europe and Africa during year-long odyssey

William Alexander details his year-long quest to bake the perfect loaf of bread in his book, '52 Loaves: One Man's Relentless Pursuit of Truth, Meaning and a Perfect Crust.'
William Alexander details his year-long quest to bake the perfect loaf of bread in his book, '52 Loaves: One Man's Relentless Pursuit of Truth, Meaning and a Perfect Crust.'

Multimedia

Audio
Faiza Elmasry

Few things in life are as simple or complex as bread.

The same four essential ingredients - flour, water, yeast and salt - can yield 10,000 different combinations.

That's what author William Alexander discovered when he embarked on a year-long odyssey to re-create the perfect loaf of peasant bread. In the process, he says, he learned an important lesson about baking and life.

For most of his life, William Alexander didn't really care much about bread.

"As a kid I never liked bread," he says. "I grew up in the 1950 and 1960s with this horrible cellophane-wrapped pre-sliced white bread. It wasn't until just a few years ago that I tasted real bread. I never knew bread could be this good; the crust was this dark brown, sweet crust that turned chewy in your mouth. And the crumbs, rather than being like dense and mushy like white bread, it was this open-celled, almost honey-combed crumb. It just had a wonderful yeasty smell, just a delicious flavor."

Author William Alexander baked bread with Arab women in Morocco and monks in France.
Author William Alexander baked bread with Arab women in Morocco and monks in France.

Alexander, who had never baked before, says he knew the only way to have this kind of bread again was to learn how to make it himself. He started, literally, from the ground up.

"I planted my own wheat and harvested and threshed and winnowed and ground that wheat into flour," he says. "I even built a hole in my backyard, took mud that came out of that hole and made a clay oven to bake the bread."

Alexander baked a loaf every week for a year. He says it was an exciting learning experience.

"What happened was with each failed loaf, a new questions arose. When the bread didn't rise, I started wondering what yeast was so I went to visit a yeast factory."

Alexander chronicles those experiences in his book, "52 Loaves: One Man's Relentless Pursuit of Truth, Meaning and a Perfect Crust."

Book Details Quest to Bake Perfect Loaf of Bread
Book Details Quest to Bake Perfect Loaf of Bread

"I wanted to go to a place where bread mattered to people," he says. "There had recently been riots in Morocco due to the cost of wheat going up, so I traveled there to bake alongside Arab women in a large village oven. It was the largest oven I'd ever seen. They all brought their own bread there. They would put a mark on it so they would know their family's bread and leave it with the baker. Then they would come back later in the day."

In the course of his bread quest, Alexander won second place in the New York State Fair bread competition. He enrolled in a bread-making seminar in Paris, and spent a few days at an abbey in Normandy, France, where he taught the monks how to make the traditional abbey bread.

"That was about 3 quarters into my year of baking," he adds. "When I found a medieval abbey in France that said they had been baking for 1300 years, but had lost the last monk who knew how to bake bread, I volunteered to come over and bake some bread for them. They came back and said, 'Sure, that sounds like a good idea, but could you train a monk to bake while you are here?' I suddenly realized I was in this absurd situation: I am an amateur baker, I hadn't been in a church in years, I barely speak French, and found myself going over to try to restore the lost 1300-year-old tradition of baking at the abbey."

When Alexander's year long bread making adventure came to its end, he realized that the perfect loaf of bread he was after was whatever loaf he was baking at the time.

This was not Alexander's only attempt to produce his own food. In his previous book, "The $64 Tomato," he chronicled the joys and frustrations of growing his own vegetables.

"If you put me to the test and said, 'Choose one reason why you garden and why you bake,' it's for the food," he says. "I mean anyone with a little effort can make better food and even cheaper food, but mainly better food than you can buy anywhere. You can bake the best loaf of bread you have ever tasted, and you can do it, if not your first try, then your second or third try. It's healthy food. You know exactly what's going into it."

That's the message Alexander hopes readers will take away from his books. He encourages people to get involved with their food, whether it's fruits and vegetables or a loaf of peasant bread.

You May Like

DRC Tries Mega-Farms to Feed Population

Park at Boukanga Lonzo currently has 5,000 hectares under cultivation, crops stretching as far as eye can see, and is start of ambitious large-scale agriculture plan More

Video Survivor Video Testimonies Recount Horrors of Guatemalan Genocide

During a conflict that spanned more than three decades, tens of thousands of indigenous Mayans were killed More

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Areas are spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, source of livelihood for fishermen and herders who have called the marshes home for generations More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs