Edible Art? That’s Why They Call It Artisanal Bread

artisan bread 1So can a baker be an artist? She/he can if they are making artisanal bread. In French it is known as la fabrication artisanale, and it means the art of using hand techniques, slow natural fermentation, a good eye and bread sense. You have to take into account everything from climate to humidity. This is not your Wonder Bread of old rolling down the assembly line and into a twist-tied plastic wrapper. Each batch of artisanal bread is a work of art and typically it is shaped by hand and baked in a wood-fired masonry oven. Of course it goes without saying that the ingredients have to be as pure and natural as possible, so most are organic and the leavening process is all natural as well. No additives or preservatives. This is bread to eat right now and finish today or tomorrow. Sure you can freeze a bread like this, but it’s not the same as buying it to eat right artisan bread 2now.

Some say the artisanal bread revival began on the West Coast about 20 years ago, but the movement has really picked up steam in the last few years. Now there is even a group devoted to the craft – the Bread Bakers Guild of America and it has more than 1,300 members. From baguettes and batardes to levain (sourdough), ciabatta and focaccia, consumers are starting to get as descriminating about their bread as they are about wine and cheese.

wood fired breadMost of all, artisanal bread takes time. There’s the time it takes to gather the right ingredients, the slow leavening with natural starter, the hand-shaping of the dough and the wood-fired oven has to be brought to the right temperature. A big factory can’t bake bread this way -- only a small-scale artisan can do it justice.

If you are shopping for artisanal bread, look for the golden color and lots of ridges in the crust. That’s a pretty good sign that it was baked in a wood-fired oven or hearth. Try tapping the crust to hear a hollow sound that means the loaf isn’t too dense or doughy. And don’t buy bread in a supermarket because it’s got the label “artisan bread.” That means about as much as the word “natural” stamped on everything these days.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

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