William Alexander is determined to bake the perfect loaf of bread. He tasted it long ago, in a restaurant, and has been trying to reproduce it ever since. Without success. But now he’s going to try again--every week for one year--until he gets it right. He will bake his peasant loaf from scratch. And because Alexander is nothing if not thorough, he really means from scratch: growing, harvesting, winnowing, threshing, and milling his own wheat.
Alexander’s often hilarious quest takes our (anti)hero through dangerous back alleys of Morocco, where he bakes his loaf in an ancient communal oven; to Paris, where he enrolls in the cours de boulangerie at the famed École Ritz Escoffier; to a monastery in Normandy, where (his lack of French and faith notwithstanding) he becomes bread baker to the monks; and finally to his own backyard, where he builds a lopsided brick oven and learns that perfection is just a state of mind. Alexander also takes us along on entertaining visits to yeast factories and flour mills, seeks advice from master bread bakers, captures wild yeast to make his own levain, and enters the baking contest at the New York State Fair.
An original take on the six-thousand-year-old staple of life, 52 Loaves explores the nature of obsession, the meditative quality of ritual, the futility of trying to re-create something perfect, our deep connection to the earth, and the mysterious instinct that makes every single person on the planet, regardless of culture or society, respond to the aroma of baking bread.