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

At Khmer Rouge Court, Long-Awaited Verdict Approaches

First phase of trial, which is coming to an end, has focused on forced exodus of Phnom Penh in 1975 - and now many are hopeful justice will be served More

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities More

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

Downing of Malaysian airliner, allegations of cross-border shelling move information war in war-torn country to a new level 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.
Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
July 31, 2014 8:13 PM
The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.

AppleAndroid