52 Loaves

Clyde sent me a reading recommendation – 52 Loaves: One Man’s Relentless Pursuit of Truth, Meaning, and a Perfect Crust by Wiliam Alexander.  It’s the year-long journey of a man trying to make the perfect loaf of bread.

I was a bit leery.  I’ve read quite a few of these “set yourself a journey” books in the last few years.  Wild by Cheryl Strayed, Julie & Julia by Julie Powell, Tolstoy & the Purple Chair by Nina Sankovitch – to name a few.  While mostly enjoyable, it started to feel like a fad to set yourself a year-long challenge and then write a book about it. And I was a little worried that after about 8 weeks of bread baking, I’d be ready to toss the book in a 550-degree oven.   But I’ve never gotten an unsatisfactory reading recommendation from Clyde (well, except for that Death by Rhubarb), so I picked up Loaves and read it through.

It was quite nice.  Just about the time you never wanted to hear about air holes and crumb texture again, the author would veer off on a related (or not so related) topic such as the history of pellagra, the maker of the Quik Lock – that little plastic bit that hold a bread bag closed, building an oven in his backyard, a trip through the streets of Morocco.  He does eventually make what he considers a perfect loaf; interestingly enough it’s when he ends up teaching some monks in France how to bake.  And then at the end of the year he realizes that his single-minded pursuit of that loaf of bread had really kept him from enjoying his kitchen and lets it go.  

I used to make more bread.  I have several bread cookbooks and even two bread machines (long story) but these days, bread just doesn’t get eaten fast enough around here.  One of my favorites is a thick, moist oatmeal bread but YA doesn’t like it much and I can’t eat it fast enough before it spoils.   Maybe I should just find a neighbor that I can foist a half loaf on every time I bake!

Any bread stories out there?  Make your own or have a favorite bread bakery?  Knead by hand or with a dough hook?

61 thoughts on “52 Loaves”

  1. Post your spare bread to me, by all means, Sherrilee. Customs, etc, shouldn’t take too many days. Trouble is, we live right near the bakery. Plain packaging please, so’s not to upset Ester and Dani.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Husband is in constant pursuit of the perfect rye bread. He baked two loaves last weekend, one sourdough rye with caraway from The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Berenbaum, and a rye with beer in it. He has thick sourdough rye starter and regular sourdough starter in the freezer. We have packets of sourdough granules from the Breadtopia company to get a starter going quickly. He also has about every variety of rye flour you could name. He is always searching out recipes.

    I make a French type loaf that my family considers perfect, but there is always room for improvement. I combine King Arthur artisan flour with some Swany White flour, add vital wheat gluten and a big pinch of ascorbic acid, and I use fresh yeast. Last weekend when I baked, they turned out too pale. Yes, we baked 6 loaves between the two of us last weekend. We swear there will be no baking this weekend. We will see.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. We also have two electronic bread proofers that provide a moist, draft free, temperature controlled environment for dough to rise. We usually have the temperature set at 79°. We had to get two because we like to bake at the same time.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I recommended death by rhubarb? Have I read that? I will check that out. If I have forgotten it, it was not very memorable or my memory is going.
    I have not finished 52 Loaves. Life got in the way. I believe he also wrote one on search for perfect tomato, I think

    Liked by 3 people

    1. You did not actually recommend it. I don’t even remember what we were talking about but you found the title Death by Rhubarb and posted it. I think we were talking about mystery books . So I’m sure you haven’t read it and it was awful.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Rise and Shine Babooons,

    When we travelled to Norway in 2014, they served a Norwegian Rye bread that the people there swear by. It is dark rye due to the molasses in it, served for breakfast or with soup. We fell in love with it. We found that the Norwegian claims that it manages hunger well to be true, due to the content of more than half whole grains. After we arrived home, both Lou and I learn to make it. You roll the shaped loaf in pumpkin seeds before baking.

    I use my old grizzled KitchenAid mixer to mix it, first with the paddle, then the dough hook.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. I believe the first time I baked bread, I was being competitive with a then boyfriend’s former girlfriend.. It was a Norwegian something loaf that you just put on a baking sheet – surprised me that it turned out passable.

    Husband and I baked bread for a while in early 80s, using the Tassajara Bread Book. Not much action since then, but I’ll try to remember more.

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  7. We are having fun exploring Nordic Baking by Magnus Nilsson. It is a huge cookbook with about every baking recipe from Iceland to Finland and everything inbetween, including the Faroe Islands.

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    1. It seems like every region in the Nordic countries has its own version of crisp breads, flat breads, yeast breads, pancakes, pastries, etc. It all depends on what grains were available. Rye was easier to grow in the north than wheat was, for example, hence all the rye bread recipes.

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      1. The VolksMuseum in Oslo, Norway taught us that every region has its own lace, folk design on Norwegian costumes, lefse, and violins. We even discovered in the display of a farmstead in the province where Lou’s people came from, that they had a unique ramp leading into the barn that was replicated on the farm where he grew up and local farms where he worked.

        Liked by 2 people

  8. I make julekage (a Norwegian enriched dough bread with cardamom) every year – recipe I have makes four loaves. I have learned that it comes out nicely if I bake the loaves in smallish cake tins – I think what I have been using are 7 or 8 inch rounds. In needs a pan, and I like the round loaf. Really good warm out of the oven, toasted, with a bit of gjetost or other cheese…

    I have a recipe from my mother for an oatmeal molasses bread. It’s really good, too heavy for Daughter so I haven’t made it in a really long time. It’s a sticky mess when you knead it, but that’s part of the fun (the original recipe – from some hippie bread book my mom bought in the 1970s – strongly encourages you to flour your hands while you knead so you “don’t look like the tar baby” when you are done). Mom used to make it up every few weeks when I was growing up – she’d get it going and then clean while it was rising. Consequently, Saturdays of my houth make me think of the smell of yeast, Scott’s Liquid Gold, and the sound of “Live from the Met” on public radio.

    I am a “take a Saturday to make bread” kinda gal because I love the smell of bread rising (helps to have a good radiator on an interior wall to perch the dough on while it rises) – and I like to knead by hand. I know I could use my dough hook attachment and there are faster ways to get the dough rising, but if I’m gonna do it, I’m going to take the day. Which means I don’t wind up making bread often – and maybe that makes those loaves a little more special.

    Liked by 5 people

  9. Jane has made bread once or twice lately. The baker shuts down for two weeks every year. I have no idea what type she makes, but it’s OK.
    Isaac’s enthusiasm for baking hasn’t stretched as far as bread yet, but I think he helped knead dough.
    I’m not too good at bread reporting. Sorry.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I have disparaged my mother’s cooking, and she would have agreed with that. She never intended to be anything but a competent Fifties housewife cook who loved Jello salads, Wonder Bread and cakes that started as box mixes.

    But, lordy, she made one dish I’ll never forget. My mother sometimes baked cinnamon roles from scratch, and they were to die for. When she made them the whole house reeked in such a nice way you wanted to keep all the windows shut for a week so the smell couldn’t go away. I suppose that smell was vanilla, yeast and cinnamon, mostly, with maybe some raisins and caramel sauce thrown in. I’ll be thinking of this now for the next several hours.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Neighbor across the street made caramel rolls. She would bake up enough of a batch that her family could eat up and then there were yet more so she could have the neighborhood women over for coffee. Gosh that aroma is fantastic.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. My mother is a lot like yours was, Steve. She never learn to cook properly from her mother (thanks to my grandfather’s OCD) and she never aspired to be a good cook. I may have said this before but when my dad retired, my mom announced that she was retiring as well. They ate out every night after that. Even to this day, my mother thinks that heating up a bowl of Dinty Moore beef stew in the microwave is cooking.

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      1. That’s interesting, Sherrilee. I always thought my mother’s limitations as a cook began with her mother. My grandmother was meddlesome in many ways, but in the kitchen she was a total control freak. While Renee might be Dr. Bossypants, in any contest for the bossiest woman on earth my money would be on my grandmother.

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        1. My maternal great grandmother was a professional cook in Hamburg before her marriage. She was the cook for several wealthy families. Her oldest daughter, my grandmother, said her mom always had bread rising on the back of the stove. She regretted there was no call for the fancy sauces she knew how to make after they immigrated to the US in 1914.

          Liked by 3 people

    3. My mother was mediocre as a cook. She made all our bread, which, like Fenton says below, was decent fresh but half a day made it something on which you slathered butter or peanut butter to kill its taste and texture. She used that dough to make cinnamon rolls, which were sticky and warm and sweet, seldom lasting to get cold, a favorite of my sugar-loving father. Too bad I did not drink coffee then.

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  11. I do have a favourite baker’s shop. It’s Panaderia Dani, and the door of the bakery part is nearly opposite our front door, and the street is very narrow, with no traffic. Dani makes a racket at night, which can bother Jane and Isaac, but I don’t mind it.
    The shop door is up around the corner, in the square. The cash register says “Panaderia Dani,” but one day I’ll grin and say, “Panaderia Ester, no?” I think Ester will laugh and say “Si, si!” But conversations don’t always go the way I think.
    It’s good bread, but it doesn’t keep well. If you freeze it, you’d better freeze it the minute you get it home, and eat it next day at the latest. So I don’t bother, I go four times a week, and try to get everything eaten the same day. I eat too much bread, and the others don’t eat much, so I don’t go every day. I don’t know what sort of bread it is. It’s nice.
    And Dani makes nice cakes. I don’t know what many of them are, so I don’t buy many. I get the same thing in England. In England, if they have Chelsea Buns, I buy them. I don’t know what they’re made of, so I can’t tell Dani about them. Isaac would know. He and Jane made me some. For some reason, if there’s something I like, they only make it once. They won’t make me any shortbread. They keep making excuses. Isaac and Grandma made me some last year, and it was beautiful, and I said, make it exactly like that. So they made some that wasn’t quite as good, and now they won’t make any more. I do say nice, encouraging things about it.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. I am a better cook than Sandy was, which indicates a less than stellar skill, but she made some wonderful breads. Her cardamom was excellent and her potato bread. I used to make bread using interesting grains, but she can really only eat white bread. In the movie Stranger Than Fiction Will Farrell gives bake Maggie Gillynhall a bouquet of flours. Like that movie enough to rewatch it very now and then. The bouquet of flours makes me want to go get my own bouquet to try, but my back and shoulders and hands object.

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  13. Sitting in a hospital room 6 hours a day with someone who often is off in her nether world, or dozing, or in full sleep, who keeps asking to go home but she can’t while sitting in stiff chairs that kill my back is very hard duty.

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  14. OT : I made a big song and dance about the trouble I was going to be in on Friday. Nothing happened. Maybe the axe will fall next Friday. Or the one after……. How long can I live like this?

    Liked by 3 people

  15. Anna’s comment reminds me that I did make a Swedish Cardomom Wreath bread that got to be a Christmas morning tradition for several years when Son was in high school. Makes two loaves, one of which got frozen and then forgotten till summer…

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        1. Well, if you pushed all three of them together, side by side, and added the freezer compartment on top of the fridge in the basement, they probably would be comparable.

          Liked by 4 people

  16. I’ll be trying zucchini bread as soon as the weather gets cooler. Warming up the kitchen isn’t desirable. A friend gave me a huge one which I shredded and froze in bag sizes that fit recipes.
    Coconut flakes are going in there.

    Liked by 5 people

      1. Try parking your unlocked car on the street for a few hours. This time of year that would almost certainly result in a back seat full surplus veggies, and there’s bound to be some zucchini.

        Liked by 4 people

  17. As I’ve mentioned before, we’ve had a bit of a respite from Hans’ baking due to lack of a working oven. I miss his breads, which are surprisingly good, but I sure don’t miss the mess he inevitably leaves on both kitchen counters and floor.

    One of my friend Philip’s caregivers is a woman named Laura. She spends a major portion of each of her shifts baking cookies, bars, cakes, or other treats for Philip and the volunteers to enjoy. His tiny apartment is a mess, cluttered, and not very clean, but it’s always suffused by the smells of freshly baked goods. I’ll be thinking of the baboons, meeting tomorrow at Jacque’s house, indulging in home made tomato/basil soup and cheesy bread. Meanwhile, I’ll be serving Philip a Minnesconsin hot dish, dontcha know. He loves it, and it’s easy to chew even if you’re missing all of your molars. Laura will, no doubt, have left something for dessert, as we all know MM cannot be relied on to provide one.

    Liked by 4 people

  18. The late lamented St. Agnes bakery made a scrumptious rye bread they called Hungarian raisin rye. It was a featured bread at the St Paul Hotel. I bought it at the once-a-month public sales St. Agnes used to have, and it was a wonderful breakfast bread, toasted with butter and maybe some jam or marmalade. I haven’t found anything to compare with it.

    Liked by 4 people

  19. I’ve talked about the Amish Friendship Bread I make, but it’s hardly bread in the sense you’re all talking about bread. I’d never make a sandwich with it.

    Liked by 1 person

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