The Art of Artisan Bread
What makes bread truly artisan?
BY VICKI MARTINEZ
The tell-tale flour-dusted crust is a hallmark of many an artisan-style loaf, but that’s the grand finale of the entire process. What truly distinguishes artisan bread from other loaves is three-fold: technique, texture, and taste.
Artisan bread is crafted using traditional bread making methods and simple ingredients. The beginning of an artisan loaf is composed of only four main ingredients: flour, water, yeast and salt. (In the case of sourdough, a lactobacillus culture is often used as the leavening agent instead of yeast.)
True artisan-style bread is developed through a longer fermentation process. Rather than using additives and processing aids to speed up the fermentation process, the chemical reactions of the yeast occur naturally. The longer dough is left to ferment, the more developed the structure inside.
Although kneading dough by hand is quite common for small batches, technological advances allow for automated mixers that still treat the dough with the TLC it requires.
If there’s one defining characteristic of true artisan bread, it’s the porous texture of the crumb. An open, airy crumb structure that’s moist, chewy, and soft is a standard in artisanal bread-making.
The term “crumb” refers to the soft interior part of the bread that’s framed inside the crust (not those annoying little pieces you need to brush off your lap after eating a piece of toast).
When it comes to artisan-style loaves, taste and time are synonymous. When dough is allowed a long fermentation time, the result is that rich, full flavor that makes artisan bread so unique. Depending on the artisan or bakery, additional ingredients are often added to create unique flavor combinations, varying textures, and gluten-free options.
A true artisan bread has no chemical additives or artificial preservatives on the ingredient list —one reason artisan bread has a shorter shelf life than standard bread.