52 Loaves: One Man's Relentless Pursuit of Truth, Meaning and a Perfect Crust by William Alexander
Click on book cover to visit Bill on his Facebook page.
Bill Alexander brings his bread to a special oven and waits with the
baker, as parents wait for the birth of a their baby.
Lindsay took my loaf out of the oven. “It’s singing!” she said, her eyes lighting up. “Listen!”
Sure enough the bread was crackling, as the crust, a beautiful dark brown with shades of caramel and molasses, came
into contact with the cooler air.
“Is that a good thing?”
“Oh yes, that’s a very good thing,” she said, laughing.
Bill bakes the same recipes each week for one year to find the perfect whole grain artisan loaf. In the course of his Zen-like search for perfection, he fulfills what the subtitle of his book prefigures: One man’s relentless pursuit of truth, meaning and a perfect crust. I told Bill this reminded me of the 1950’s Superman intro, with our hero being introduced by the phrase, “truth, justice and the American way!” And off he flew.
Some moments of Bill's flight are hilarious. My favorite was his bringing his levain (similar to a sour dough starter) through customs and explaining what was this bubbling liquid in the gallon container, and his ensuing discussion of bread making and yeast with a TSA agent. (“My mother never used a scale,” the TSA agent said accusingly.)
Some moments are near religious. I asked Bill why he said he wasn’t going to make the perfect loaf, he was going to find it. “I realized at some point that this would be a journey within and without. It wasn’t going to come to me. I wasn’t going to open a book and find it. I had to go out on a mission.”
Some moments are rebellious. Bill work in technology and so baking bread and growing a garden, which he writes about in The $64 Tomato, is “for me, an aspect of rebelling against the modern world. Whether baking bread from scratch or growing wheat—these are as far from IT or Cable TV as I can go. The human race is still wired to take pleasure in using our hands and making our own food. These are very centering—they have brought me back to myself.”
Having grown up on Wonder Bread or what he calls “bad bakery bread,” Bill was almost overwhelmed upon tasting his first great bread. This memorable artisan bread was for Bill mystical and seductive, what he said exhaled a perfume and levitated him from the table.
Even if you are not a bread maker, you will like reading this book. In fact you might be motivated to start. While you probably won’t want to make the same recipe for an entire year, grow your own wheat, make your own oven, travel to a French monastery and teach the monks how to bake—you might like to try Bill’s baguette recipe. Bill said that he knows that making bread may seem like a lot of work for many people. Having baked bread for more than 30 years, I can say, it’s worth it.