Artisan bread, ready for the oven. By Rachel Asher
Artisan bread is nutritious, healthy and the opposite of mass-produced: artisan bread is crafted by master bakers and in people's homes. The distinguishing factor that separates artisan bread from all others is the care that goes into it. More often than not, artisan bread is made by hand, contains basic ingredients with no preservatives. Artisan bread implies that there is a craft to baking. Artisan bread can be divided into a few basic categories---each a pleasure to taste.
Artisan farmhouse breads are wholesome, intensely satisfying types of bread. Farmhouse bread is generally divided into two categories: a mix of whole wheat and bleached flour and completely white-flour-based. Because of the high level of white flour in the farmhouse bread, it is light, fluffy and an excellent sandwich bread. It generally consists of flour, yeast, sugar, salt, corn oil, milk or water, and the dough needs to rise twice before baking. Farmhouse bread originated in the late 1800s, following the industrialisation of the flour milling process in Europe and the United States. At this time, steel milling was introduced as a replacement to the less efficient stone milling process, and flour became cheaper and more readily available to the masses.
Artisan Sourdough Bread
Sourdough bread is one of the oldest forms of leavened bread: the first sourdough breads are dated back to ancient Egypt, around 1500BC. At that time, wild yeast spores were used to activate the bread, producing a light and fluffy version of the flat breads that were common in this period. What distinguishes sourdough breads from all others is what's known as a "starter." This is usually a piece of raw dough, full of yeast and bacteria, left over from a previous loaf. Artisan sourdough bread contains a piece of starter, flour, oil or butter, sugar and salt.
Cultural Tradition and Artisan Sourdough Bread
Anyone can make a starter for sourdough bread by following a recipe, but starters also have strong historic and cultural significance for artisan bakers. Starters can be passed down for generations, and in certain countries like Finland, receiving your mother's or grandmother's starter is a wedding tradition. A starter can be passed down for centuries, giving a particular artisan sourdough bread its unique flavour. One sourdough starter was even rescued from the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco: this starter was used by the Boudin family master bakers since 1849, and it is still used today in their family bakery on 10th Avenue.
Artisan Irish Brown Bread
Irish brown bread is another type of artisan bread, and its dense, grainy, nutty texture is unmistakable. There are few ingredients in Irish brown, although it does not contain yeast. The main ingredients are white and whole grain wheat flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar and milk. For Irish brown, the baking powder and soda act as rising agents in place of yeast. Traditionally, Irish brown breads are formed into rounds and baked on baking trays. Some artisan bakers cut crosses into the tops of the bread as an homage to their Catholic heritage.
The French Artisan Baguette
French breads fall into a class of their own, and artisan French bakers are recognised worldwide for their talents. While there are a multitude of artisan French breads, one is absolutely iconic to French culture and artisan bread making: the baguette. This long, thin loaf is the most common daily bread in France, and on any ordinary day, French people---old and young, male and female---are seen carrying sticks home at all hours. The baguette is an adaptation of a Viennese bread, invented during the mid-1800s when steam ovens were invented. While baguettes can now be bought in supermarkets, there is a special "something" that makes an artisan baguette different. The crust of an artisan baguette is darker brown and crustier, with a creamier inside that is less uniform and with a slightly spongier texture.
- Artisan bread, ready for the oven. By Rachel Asher