Books like this are my version of beach reading. A quirky memoir of an amateur baker's year-long quest to make the perfect loaf of bread, complete with reports on his bread-induced weight gain? I couldn't wait to stuff my bag under the seat in front of me, buckle my safety belt, and settle into this book before the plane took off.
Part of what I loved about this book is how it traced my own journey as a home baker. William Alexander (author of The $64 Tomato, by the way) starts with a vision for a very specific loaf of bread and starts tinkering with a recipe. Before he knows it, he's scheduling his Saturdays around the rising and shaping of his loaves with a live sourdough starter in the fridge and a bookshelf of bread-related books weighing 64 pounds. Been there. Done that.
Between reports on his own baking experiments, Alexander also takes time to do things like visit one of the factories where yeast is made, figure out why niacin is present in every bag of enriched flour, and learn how to build an earth oven in his back yard. These are all things that I've been curious about at one point or another and it was fascinating to learn about them here.
This book is also laugh out loud funny. I'm afraid I startled my seat-companions on that airplane several times with involuntary bursts of laughter. Alexander definitely doesn't hold back, whether it's confessing to tending a loaf of bread over an afternoon tryst with his wife or describing the looks of pity he received after unwittingly asking a "stupid" question at a lecture.
I thought this was a great book, simultaneously funny and thoughtful. As someone who tends to get a little obsessive about the color of my crusts and the angle of my grigne, I took this as a friendly reminder to just relax, sit back, and have a piece of bread.
Buy It! 52 Loaves: One Man's Relentless Pursuit of Truth, Meaning, and a Perfect Crust by William Alexander, $16 at Amazon.com
(Image: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill)