(adapted from my blog post at Olduvai Reads
William Alexander is a man who goes all out.
He is intent on perfecting perfect bread. And just one type of bread. Peasant bread or pain de campagne.
And that’s one loaf of bread baked each week for a year. Equals… Yes you got that right, 52 Loaves. Well technically more than that as there are plenty of loaves baked during a baking course he takes in Paris and plenty more in a monastery.
More on the monastery later.
As with most decent non-fiction reads, Alexander goes in search of the experts. The commercial yeast maker, the bread baker, millers and owners of professional ovens. All while making his own bread. And growing his own wheat. Yeah this is man who doesn’t like shortcuts. He even grinds his own home-grown wheat, with what is probably an old Indian grindstone! Can you beat that???
“I continued grinding, playing with the motion, moving from a back-and-forth action to a tight circular one, humming a mock Indian song – that is, I’m sorry to say, the Atlanta Braves war chant.”
He disdains the popular no-knead bread which I think isn’t quite the right reaction. Sure it’s a bit tasteless (add more salt) but it got people baking bread. Like me! Before attempting the no-knead bread, I had given bread-making a try but it’s just way too hot in Singapore to knead and I just didn’t want to do more.
But after successfully making the no-knead bread – and then getting a Kitchenaid mixer with that very useful dough hook – made me want to give other breads, kneaded or not, a try. So the no-knead bread isn’t to be pooh-poohed at. It is a great way to get started with doughs and yeasts and all that. Just, you know, add more salt than the recipe calls for.
Anyway, this book ought to come with a warning sticker: Will make you hungry for bread.
Because I was. And you it led me to bake up a couple of loaves (and some cookies).
And my kitchen – and most of the house – smelled oh so good…..!
Just thinking of those wonderful smells and that delicious crusty bread (sadly, long gone) makes me want to eat bake some bread.
I’ve sidetracked long enough!
52 Loaves was at times amusing (in that self-deprecating way) and I have to put it to Alexander to giving breadmaking such utter devotion. But the problem with a book that details 52 weeks is that not every week makes for good reading – at one point he decided to sleep in a separate room from his wife (I’m sure plenty of couples sleep in separate beds, I just didn’t need to know the details). As a result the book is a little uneven.
The time he spends in France though are the highlight. He somehow weasels his way as a guest at a monastery in Normandy (told you I’d get back to the monastery bit) where he finds himself having to train an apprentice baker (when he’s still more or less an apprentice himself), and meticulously planning a baking schedule around their services!