How about an entire year?
That's what William Alexander did on a self-imposed crusade to bake the perfect loaf of peasant bread.
It all started after he dined out at a Paris restaurant on a European vacation and had what he called the perfect peasant bread. Thus, starting a quest to re-create it. The book is divided into 52 chapters (no coincidence) because he baked bread every Sunday for an entire year. Each chapter address a specific concern in this process.
But, unlike those who just experiment in home kitchens, Alexander went much (much) farther: he traveled to Paris to attend a cooking class at The Ritz; went to Morocco in search of a village oven; and revived the art of bread baking in a 1000+ year old French monastery; grew and ground his own wheat, and built an earth oven in his back yard. He created a levian (sourdough starter) that went with him everywhere — on vacation to Maine and to France. The retelling of the airport scene when he tries to explain why he is boarding with a mass of what resembles plastic explosives is very funny.
The historical changes in flour, the milling processes and the differences between U.S. flour and flour in France are explained. Alexander researched pellagra, an early 20th century dietary deficiency disease and its relationship to the diet in the U.S. South, how a tobacco product was included in bread making, and why niacin is present in every bag of enriched flour.
Near the book's end, Alexander tells (some of) what he's learned over the 52 weeks:
- Bread in a healthy diet doesn't make you fat.
- Too much bread eaten with wine, does.
- Do not undertake any project that starts out with the statement that it can be completed in a weekend.
- Don't drink the water in Morocco, or the tea or the coffee. And, you might consider skipping Morocco totally and go to Barbados instead.
- Bread is life.
The book is a fun and easy read even if you don't decide to bake any bread.
Alexander also wrote the $64 Tomato: How One Man Nearly Lost His Sanity, Spent a Fortune, and Endured an Existential Crisis in the Quest for the Perfect Garden.
As as you can tell by these titles, he's a writer and humorist and tends to get over obsessed. (His day job as director of technology at a psychiatric research facility perhaps funds these obsessions.)
I'm reading that one now. However, we're not planning a(nother) garden. This time of year, tomatoes are much easier to buy at the local farm markets and can be less costly as well.