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In Search of the Perfect Loaf: A Home Baker's Odyssey

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An irresistible account of bread, bread baking, and one home baker’s journey to master his craft

In 2009, journalist Samuel Fromartz was offered the assignment of a lifetime: to travel to France to work in a boulangerie. So began his quest to hone not just his homemade baguette—which later beat out professional bakeries to win the "Best Baguette of D.C."—but his knowledge of bread, from seed to table.

For the next four years, Fromartz traveled across the United States and Europe, perfecting his sourdough in California, his whole grain rye in Berlin, and his country wheat in the South of France. Along the way, he met historians, millers, farmers, wheat geneticists, sourdough biochemists, and everyone in between, learning about the history of breadmaking, the science of fermentation, and more. The result is an informative yet personal account of bread and breadbaking, complete with detailed recipes, tips, and beautiful photographs.

Entertaining and inspiring, this book will be a touchstone for a new generation of bakers and a must-read for anyone who wants to take a deeper look at this deceptively ordinary, exceptionally delicious staple: handmade bread.

320 pages, Hardcover

First published September 4, 2014

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Samuel Fromartz

2 books13 followers

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 115 reviews
Profile Image for Heather K (dentist in my spare time).
3,857 reviews5,629 followers
February 17, 2019
As an aspiring (but supremely crappy) baker, I've been interested in books about bread and how to turn my exceptionally dense logs into something more edible.

In Search of the Perfect Loaf: A Home Baker's Odyssey by Samuel Fromartz had some very, very good parts to it and some that will test your ability to stay awake while reading. I was particularly interested in his techniques and recipes, especially in the early chapters, because I wanted some tidbits I could use in my daily life. I was also fascinated by his trip to Berlin and his exploration of his Jewish heritage in the context of that trip.

I consider myself an academic and I can read about minutia on the daily, but some of the later chapters about rare grains made my eyes cross. I couldn't focus on them, and found myself skimming a bit near the end of the story.

Still, I found the book to be a very worthy use of time, and I bookmarked numerous pages to return to when I'm feeling brave.

Profile Image for Charlie.
348 reviews21 followers
July 8, 2014
IF you really like BREAD, I mean, Really, Really, REALLY like bread, then this is the book for you. Does have some recipes, could have used more, but the Author's search for that perfect 'how to make' bread is, well, something else. He seeks out the elite bread makers from all over the world and tries his best to form his own - bread making. Quite the Adventure.
I like Bread --- I'll eat the homemade stuff and also buy from the grocery store to satisfy my taste buds for a good bread.
Profile Image for Curt Fox.
35 reviews8 followers
August 15, 2014
Via Goodreads First Reads:

I'll confess to a fondness for books of a culinary bent, especially when they're presented as a journey or a quest. So yes, Fromartz's book is, by default, up my alley. But it's the overall strength and coherency of the telling of his journey that makes this book enjoyable.

Now, do not expect a cookbook. Yes, it has recipes, but they are rather few, and they anticipate some measure of breadmaking experience on the part of the reader. If, like me, you are not a veteran home baker, you might be better served finding recipes more catered to neophytes. Or, you can dive in, and hope for the best. But, at the least, I have to recommend getting further guidance from the internet to make sure you stay on the right path. And conveniently, Sam has included a couple handy websites to help you on your adventure.

Sam's prose displays a charming mix of ego and humility, and when he waxes poetic on the odd occasion, he does so with a grounding in the same earth that produces the grains with which he makes his breads. But the real stars of his books are the bakers and farmers and millers and merchants who populate the pages. He visited artisans in America, France, and Germany in his pursuit for "connaissance de pain," and in doing so met up with people who not only share his passion for bread, but also for sharing what they know.

This book will not make you a great bread baker. What it will do is put you in touch with a side of baking that too many of us take for granted. You'll understand what the grains are, where they come from, how they're milled, how they react to fermentation and baking, and why they make such a diverse galaxy of breads. You'll pick up tips, perhaps, and some ideas, and if you really do enjoy bread, some motivation as well. Sam makes his passion contagious, and chances are, if you're reading his book, you'll be infected as well.

There are times I felt myself becoming just a bit glassy-eyed during extended explanations about autolysis or exopolysaccharides, but overall, you come away with knowledge you didn't have before, and that's always a positive.
But the book has made me aware of a complaint I hadn't realized I have. It seems that my area, South Jersey, is disturbingly devoid of genuinely artisanal bread bakers. So those flavors he's left me craving just aren't to be savored. But then, perhaps I should think about following Sam's example and satisfying those cravings myself.
Profile Image for Amberle Husbands.
Author 15 books24 followers
August 22, 2014
I received a copy of this book through a Goodreads giveaway.
At first, I was a little bit disappointed to see how few recipes were included in this book, compared to the bulk of storytelling prose. Then, as I began reading, I began to appreciate the story being told a lot more than the recipes anyway. The narration is effortless, elegant, and mildly addictive; I was midway through the book before I realized I was hooked. The author has a good habit of tricking you into reading things you probably wouldn't normally; the biblical begats of wheat, for instance, or the biogenetics of what exactly gluten is. Some of the driest topics in this book turned out to be the subjects that lingered longest in my mind.
However, the actual recipes do leave a lot to be desired, in my opinion. All measurements are given in weights and while I know this is the more accurate way of baking, I think lots of home bakers will be thrown by it. And that's what this book bills itself as -- a story of bread making from one home baker to other home bakers.
Ultimately, though, I really enjoyed this book. I would recommend it to people just beginning to have an interest in baking, and to someone who'd spent their lives chasing culinary affairs.
But not to people on diets... no, not to them.
537 reviews47 followers
December 31, 2014
As a bread baker, Samuel Fromartz is wa-a-a-a-y out of my league, and his book is more than I ever thought I wanted or needed to know about everything about baking bread. Nevertheless I found In Search of the Perfect Loaf an entertaining read, and along the way I actually did learn some helpful things that I hope I can incorporate into my not particularly frequent experiments in the art of home bread baking.
More of a history book with a lot of science and agriculture thrown in, Fromartz is an excellent author and makes even the most mundane information not only readable but quite fascinating.
Profile Image for Tracy.
246 reviews
April 10, 2015
I read it as a cautionary tale of what would happen if I let my own quest for the perfect loaf get out of control.
Profile Image for Suzanne Arcand.
305 reviews23 followers
July 19, 2018
I just finished, “In Search of the Perfect Loaf: A Home Baker’s Odyssey” by Samuel Fromartz. It’s the second book in a row that I’ve been reading on food or beverage, the other being The Monk of Mokha. I don’t know what it says about me or our current foodies culture but both where delectable and instructive. “In Search of the Perfect Loaf” narrates the quest of an amateur baker to turn out the perfect loaf in his home kitchen. Amateur is should be used very loosely since the author goes way beyond the usual non-professional in his quest. As with most quests the lessons are more in the search itself that in the end results no matter how impressive they are. As a reader, it was a pleasure and a privilege to accompany the mister Fromartz on this journey. We visited different countries, met interesting people who share a common obsession about bread and wheat, and learned many facts while being entertained. What more could we ask of a book?

As an added benefit, I came back wanting to bake my own bread. I’m already blessed with a spouse that makes all our bread. He turns out several kinds of very tasty loaves, reliably and efficiently using commercial flour and yeast. I’m not planning to compete with him. Instead, I will to follow and the steps of Samuel Fromartz make my own sourdough and try different grains. I will have to accept that some experiments will unsuccessful but I learned from this book is that it's all in the quest.

Note: “In Search of the Perfect Loaf” will probably be more pertinent to people who have hands-on experience at making bread or who are really curious about the history and chemistry of this food staple.
Profile Image for Marc Faoite.
Author 19 books42 followers
September 10, 2015
I loved this book. Some reviewers seemed to be under the misconception that this is a recipe book. It's not - though there are a few recipes included.

This is a book for bread nerds and is as much about grain as it is about bread, in the way wine books after often more focused on grape varieties than the finished product, which makes sense, though I don't think I had really thought about the relation of grains and flour and bread in quite that way before.

I lived a long time in France and experienced the decline and partial revival in the quality of breads. So many village bakeries are gone now. I found myself nodding with some of his reflections on bread.

I live in the tropics now - which makes for interesting bread making conditions, but a poor choice of flour. I picked up a few useful tips from this book. I had never thought of proving bread in the fridge - I usually leave it overnight when the air is a little cooler. My third attempt on the author's Campagne bread is in the oven as I write, though I left out the cider and let it ferment even longer.

If you are passionate about bread this book is a good addition to your library.
Profile Image for Mysteryfan.
1,588 reviews19 followers
December 17, 2017
Breadmaking requires all the senses: the way the dough feels in your hands while kneading, the way it looks when it's ready, the way bread smells when it's done, even the hollow sound a well-baked loaf makes. The book could have used scratch and sniff paper for the smell of bread. It does have some recipes but that's not the point, as even the author acknowledges. The point of baking is hands-on practice. Along the way, he discusses biodiversity, cultural differences, journeys around several countries, and more. I even liked the technical details about fermentation and yeast. He did explode one of my cherished myths about the air in San Francisco being special to sourdough bread. Even if you aren't a baker (I'm not), I think you'll find this an enjoyable read.
Profile Image for Peggy.
119 reviews
May 28, 2015
I guess I am a real bread nerd-- I found this book very informative and entertaining, and except for the long passages about the chemical basis of fermentation, a compelling reading experience. The author visits bakers and farmers in the US and Europe as he seeks to expand his baking skills, and in the process learns about ancient grains, how Romans made sourdough, and how wasp gut bacteria contribute to baking, etc. The few recipes he's included look worth trying too.

I am also a fan of William Alexander's 52 Loaves, which is a similar account of a home baker persistently pursuing better bread. I'm not as dedicated as either of them, but I have learned a few good tricks from both books.
162 reviews
February 19, 2017
Written by a local D.C. amateur baker, this wide-ranging book gives an introduction not only to a variety of bread-making techniques but also to the history of cultivated grains (and concern/optimism about the future), as well as the science and biology behind it all. You probably have to be interested in the topic to enjoy the book, but if you are, it's a quick and enjoyable read.
Profile Image for Jued.
196 reviews
August 22, 2015
I learned a ton about the intricacies and benefits of sourdough, using rye flour, and the history of the baguette. Someday, I'll have to take a trip to Germany to try all the rye breads he writes about.
Profile Image for Erin.
131 reviews3 followers
September 7, 2015
Super-readable account of Fromartz's quest to perfect certain breads, plus some history of the agriculture of wheat and where it's led us. Recipes look good but a bit advanced - will be trying some for sure.
Profile Image for Pat Urban.
107 reviews
December 17, 2015
I thought I knew a few things about wheat, but I was clearly wrong. Combining copious amounts of information about baking bread and wheat, with his ownquest to perfect his hoe baking, the author shows what a true compulsion means.
59 reviews1 follower
August 2, 2020
I felt like I was reading and learning from a friend about bread. I really enjoyed it.
Profile Image for James.
108 reviews1 follower
February 8, 2022
An interesting read for the bread baking nerds in the crowd. Went pretty quick. A lot of bread history and philosophizing.

Profile Image for Ren.
1,279 reviews13 followers
September 13, 2022
Fun to follow along with Fromartz as he dove deeper into the art of bread making. I haven't bought bread in ages. My own loaves may not always be perfect, but it's always better than grocery store bread!
Profile Image for Faith.
173 reviews2 followers
December 13, 2014
I received this book to review as a Goodreads First-reads. I really enjoyed this book, but I also love to bake. But I erally got caught up in the author's journey to learn about bread and grain and how to make the best loaf possible.

I now want to try to grow heirloom grains and grind them myself and see how much better a loaf of bread can be. This is something my mother did when I was a child (bake bread I mean), and I would like to pass this art down to the next generation, especially to my one grandchild who has a love for cooking and baking. When she is older I will pass this book on to her. Right now it would be a little advanced for her.

While I really liked this book, I think it is probably for a narrow audience, but that's a shame. We sould all take a little time and get back to some basics. The sheer pleasure of fresh, wholesome bread that was created by me for me can't be beat and I think everyone should give it a try. Start with this book, you won't be disappointed. You will get caught up in this story if you give it an opportunity.
Profile Image for Gabriela.
283 reviews1 follower
September 14, 2021
I really wanted to like this book, but I think the author was trying too hard to make it seem like baking bread is an impossible task that only a couple of masters manage to achieve. While it does take practice, it’s not nearly as complicated as the author portrays it. This book may actually discourage people from trying to bake bread because he keeps repeating how exact and perfect everything has to be in order to bake a good piece of bread and if only one of those things is not in the exact point, then you’ll have a crappy outcome. That’s not true at all. You can still bake delicious bread even if you don’t have every single parameter in perfect balance.

Also, why does he need 3-4 pages to describe the recipe of one loaf of bread? I’ve seen many books and recipes and none of them is nearly as complicated as this one.
Profile Image for Audrey.
23 reviews1 follower
September 27, 2014
The thought process behind me picking this book went like this:

Bread is good. I like bread. Maybe I'll read this book about bread.

It has a few recipes that looked good, but I didn't attempt them because they seemed beyond my bread-making abilities. The author was also pretty clear that I wasn't capable of making bread.

I learned a lot about bread by reading this book, but I wasn't inspired to start baking or anything like that. I found the writing to be a bit egotistical, but the storytelling was often interesting, so I went along with it.

I received this book as part of the Goodreads First Reads program.
Profile Image for Koji Iwata.
21 reviews
December 21, 2015
What an informative and inspiring book for an aspiring home baker it is! I learned about a few bakeries I want to try. I am inspired to start a sour dough starter, try making rye breads, and breads using freshly ground flours and heirloom wheats. Initially, I had no idea where to get these things in San Francisco, but a little Internet search actually found me stores (the Mills for freshly ground flours and local heirloom flour from Community Grains at Bi-Lite market) very close to our shop, Q Spa, on Divisadero. (I love living in San Francisco, where these progressive food items can be found.). It will be fun trying to bake these breads.
Profile Image for Fangning Tan.
10 reviews18 followers
May 1, 2018
Be warned: Fromartz's descriptions of bread will leave you hungry and wishing you had his job.

An enjoyable read spanning the history, culture, and science of bread-making that made me look at bread in a new light. Fromartz also has a knack for storytelling, I enjoyed how his personal experiences on his bread-making journey were weaved together with larger observations about the culture of the breadmaker. Personally, as a bread lover (but not so much a baker, at least not yet), I read and liked it not so much for the recipes but for the story he told.

Now I just need to find some time to dive into bread-making.
Profile Image for Amir Sharifi.
1 review
August 12, 2015
As the title reveals, this book is about a home baker's quest for perfection. Sam Fromartz is the pilgrim who travels around the world, searching for his perfect loaf. You really need to be in bread to enjoy this book, as there are parts that get too detailed and scientific, which one might find boring. The stories told in this book are easy to connect with, as the author himself is not a professional baker, but a fellow who is looking to perfect his craft, a job that a lot of us are after.
Profile Image for Daisey.
156 reviews
December 19, 2016
This book is fascinating, but to be clear, it is not a cookbook or instructional guide for bread making, although it includes a few recipes. It is a story of personal exploration and learning that shares information about all aspects of bread. That includes the genetic history of wheat and varieties of grains used through history, diversity of sourdough cultures, specially built wood fire ovens, various mixing and shaping techniques, etc. It is for readers who are serious about bread!
Profile Image for Christopher Farrell.
436 reviews2 followers
April 21, 2016
Too much navel gazing and generally uninteresting writing - I put this book down dozens of times in my effort to finish it. Fromartz's material is really interesting, but he writes in a such a bland way that I didn't find myself engaged at all - and I love bread. Worth a browse for the recipes but not a full read.
October 14, 2014
I am fixated on baking perfect bread. I'm not there yet but any scrap of information I can add to my well of knowledge is welcome. I picked up a few scraps here (I would have picked up more but I already know a lot about bread baking). This book would be quite good for new bread bakers starting from scratch. Worth reading.
October 1, 2021
This book was a birthday gift from my daughter. I'm a long time homebaker. The book had recipes but is more about the author's insatiable desire to perfect his bread baking knowledge and skills. I learned a great deal I hope to incorporate into my baking.
Profile Image for Tammy Hastings.
74 reviews3 followers
September 4, 2014
Received from First Reads.

This was not at all what I thought it was going to be, but it was actually a very interesting read. I'm very glad that I won it.
Profile Image for Liralen.
2,751 reviews157 followers
February 22, 2017
Bread, bread, and more bread. An amateur baker, Fromartz delved deeper and deeper into the world of bread in pursuit of twin goals: to report on the bread world as a freelance writer, and to bake a better loaf of his own.

This is probably a better book for active bakers than it is for the casual curious reader—as the latter, I enjoyed the pieces that dealt with bakers and bakeries and actually physically digging into the dough, but the deep research on growing wheat and investigating yeast and so on and so forth weren't quite so interesting to me. That being said, there were some bits of research that seemed like...I dunno, the payoff for this reader? I particularly enjoyed the discussion of wheat bread versus white bread and some of the reasons that white bread has traditionally been seen as 'higher class': Take into account that coarse flour could contain insects, rodent droppings, dirt, perhaps small stones and straw, and it becomes clear why people valued the more expensive, sifted stuff. Whole flour might have been more healthy, but much of it was fit only for livestock. Plus, white flour wasn't valued only for its social connotations of purity; it was also a more concentrated source of carbohydrates that the body metabolizes more quickly into energy. (138)

There's some interesting snobbery at play at times. I say this without criticism, exactly—Fromartz just has very specific ideas about what's good bread, and he sometimes acknowledges that snobbery—but it tended to give me pause. This was a big change for me, he says of baking rye bread in a bread pan, for I had never baked pan loaves. In fact, I'd looked down on them for years (217). I didn't mind it so much there, but I found the way he talks about the Japanese team's bread at a major bread competition really telling: he calls it oddly green; he took only modest bites and declares it kind of weird (107). I mention this only because the Japanese team won the competition, so by the judges' standards this bread (I assume each team baked multiple kinds) was excellent. Fromartz is coming at it from a very old-school, whites-wheats-sourdoughs-ryes-are-the-way-to-go perspective.

(If I'm going to be grumpy and nitpicky, I'll also note that little errors in research make me distrust other research in the book—although this at least had nothing to do with bread: regarding a Berlin museum, it's not the Typography of Terror (196) but the Topography of Terror.)

Overall...I loved the better sense the book gave me of how much goes into making a really good loaf of bread, and the details about how much a lone element (e.g., a change in temperature or humidity) can change an individual loaf of bread or the way the dough needs to be treated. Still probably more interesting to the serious baker than to the average reader, but interesting enough read.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 115 reviews

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