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

Somalia: No Popular Elections in 2016

In interview Wednesday with VOA, President Mohamud says 'one person, one vote' elections will not be possible due to continuing insecurity More

Scientists Predict Climate Change Will Increase Child Malnutrition

Public health expert in Germany says that by 2050, 25 million more children's lives will be put at risk because of lack of nutrients tied to climate change More

Erdogan in China Amid Tensions on Uighurs, Missile System

Turkey's president has criticized China's heavy-handed policies toward Uighurs in violence-plagued Xinjiang region, where China says it is fighting foreign-backed separatists 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.
Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponentsi
X
Henry Ridgwell
July 28, 2015 9:53 PM
A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video Special Olympics Athletes Meet International Friends

The Special Olympics are underway in Los Angeles, California, with athletes from 165 countries participating in an event that gives people with intellectual disabilities the chance to take part in an international competition. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that for athletes and their families, it's also an opportunity to make new friends in an international setting.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Iran Nuclear Pact Wins Few New US Congressional Backers

Later this week, President Barack Obama returns from a trip to Africa to confront a U.S. Congress roiled by the nuclear accord with Iran, an agreement that has received the blessing of the U.N. Security Council. Days of intensive lobbying and testimony by top administration officials have won few new congressional supporters of the pact. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Critics of Japan Defense Policy Focus on Okinawa

In Okinawa, many locals have long complained that Tokyo places an unfair burden on the tiny island by locating most of Japan's U.S. military bases there. As Japan's government moves toward strengthening and expanding the country's defense policies, opponents of those plans are joining local protesters in Okinawa, voicing concern about where the country is headed. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Okinawa.
Video

Video IS Uses Chemical Weapons in Syrian Attack

Islamic State militants have added a new weapon in their arsenal of fear: chemical weapons. VOA Kurdish service reporter Zana Omer was on the scene within hours of a recent attack in Hasakah, Syria, and has details of the subsequent investigation, in this report narrated by Miguel Amaya.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs