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

French Refugee Drama Wins Cannes Top Prize

Dheepan is about a group of Sri Lankan refugees who pretend to be a family in order to flee their war-torn country for a housing project in France More

Photogallery Crisis in Macedonia Requires Meaningful and Swift Measures

The international community has called on Macedonian leadership to take concrete measures in support of democracy in order to exit the crisis More

Activists: IS Executes 217 Civilians, Soldiers Near Palmyra

British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights on Sunday said the victims include nurses, women, children and Syrian government fighters 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.
Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmakingi
X
Bernard Shusman
May 24, 2015 2:55 PM
According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.
Video

Video Scientists Testing Space Propulsion by Light

Can the sun - the heart of our solar system - power a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system? The answer may come from a just-launched small satellite designed to test the efficiency of solar sail propulsion. Once deployed, its large sail will catch the so-called solar wind and slowly reach what scientists hope to be substantial speed. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video FIFA Trains Somali Referees

As stability returns to the once lawless nation of Somalia, the world football governing body, FIFA, is helping to rebuild the country’s sport sector by training referees as well as its young footballers. Abdulaziz Billow has more from Mogadishu.
Video

Video With US Child Obesity Rates on the Rise, Program Promotes Health Eating

In its fifth year, FoodCorps puts more than 180 young Americans into 500 schools across the United States, where they focus on teaching students about nutrition, engaging them with hands-on activities, and improving their access to healthy foods whether in the cafeteria or the greater community. Aru Pande has more.
Video

Video Virginia Neighborhood Draws People to Nostalgic Main Street

In the U.S., people used to grow up in small towns with a main street lined by family-owned shops and restaurants. Today, however, many main streets are worn down and empty because shoppers have been lured away by shopping malls. But in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, main street is thriving. VOA’s Deborah Block reports it has a nostalgic feel with its small restaurants and unique stores.
Video

Video Effort Underway to Limit Damage from California Oil Spill

Cleanup crews are working around the clock to remove oil from the waters off the coastal city of Santa Barbara, in California. About 380,000 liters of oil may have leaked out before a rupture in an onshore, underground pipeline was discovered Tuesday. The environmental disaster hit the popular West Coast resort area before the Memorial Day weekend. VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports investigators have yet to determine what caused the incident.

VOA Blogs