“Artisan bread” is a term that gets thrown around quite a bit these days. But what does it mean? What makes artisan bread different from other types of bread?
Artisan bread is handcrafted in small batches using simple, wholesome ingredients such as flour, water, yeast, and salt. True artisan bread takes a long time to make and is never mass-produced. Some examples of artisan bread include ciabatta, brioche, and focaccia.
Read on to learn more about what sets artisan bread apart, how it compares to “regular” bread, where to find artisan bread, and how to make your own.
Artisan Bread: What Makes it Different?
Artisan breads are known for their distinct yeasty flavors and unique looks. In fact, it’s challenging to define artisan bread simply because there are so many different kinds. If you’ve ever made a loaf of bread from scratch, you could call it artisan bread.
In this section, we’ll take a look at some of the defining characteristics that most artisan breads share.
The History of Artisan Bread
The history of bread making goes back as far as 5000 years. There’s evidence that ancient cultures, such as the Egyptians and Mesopotamians, made an early type of bread.
Throughout the centuries, people have made bread to feed their families, to sell, and to share. By today’s standards, all of this bread would be considered “artisan.” The concept of factory made mass produced bread is a relatively new concept.
Process: How Artisan Bread is Made
The process of making artisan bread can take up to 24 hours. Whereas mass produced bread is made with chemicals to speed up the yeast fermentation process, artisan bread bakers allow the dough all the time it needs to ferment naturally.
This natural fermentation process is what gives artisan bread its savory textures and flavors. It is also partly responsible for the wide variety of artisan bread types. Bread dough that ferments for a longer period of time will have a different taste and texture than bread that ferments for a shorter period.
There are nearly infinite ways to make artisan bread. Because it is made by hand, it is most often made only a few loaves at a time. Each loaf and each batch is unique from the last.
By contrast, factory made bread is produced in huge uniform batches where every loaf is exactly the same as all the others. The fermentation process is sped up so that the greatest amount of bread can be produced in the shortest period of time.
What Is Artisan Bread Made From?
Most artisan breads rely on four basic ingredients: flour, yeast, salt, and water. The flour used is often freshly ground whole grain flour. Extra ingredients are sometimes added for different types of artisan bread or to produce different flavors.
Some artisan breads add sugar and eggs, while others add milk, butter for a richer flavor. Some use olive oil for a moister bread; others add in olives, onions, garlic, or sun-dried tomatoes. Some even use nuts and seeds.
Artisan bakers never use chemicals or artificial additives. Every ingredient they add to the bread is wholesome and natural.
What is the Meaning of Artisan Bread?
The word “artisan” has artistic connotations and refers to making things by hand. It is much the same when applied to food. Artisan bakers select the ingredients, the utensils, and the methods they want to use. They may experiment with different techniques until they’ve perfected their own unique bread.
Therefore, “artisan bread” means “bread that was handcrafted and made with quality ingredients.” It means that a lot of time and care went into every loaf that was produced. It means that the finished product is almost always healthier and tastier than any bread produced in a factory.
How Does Artisan Bread Compare to Regular Bread?
If you regularly eat artisan bread, you might argue that there is no comparison. Most people agree that artisan breads have a stronger flavor and a more desirable texture than normal mass produced bread.
With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at some of the specific differences between artisan bread and factory made bread.
How It Tastes
With artisan bread, the fresh and natural ingredients work together with the long fermentation process to create a truly stunning blend of flavors. People who are used to the relatively tasteless processed bread may be shocked by the difference in flavors.
Depending on the ingredients used, artisan breads may be sweet, sour, savory, tangy, or yeasty. They may have a dense, crusty texture or a soft, moist texture, or any kind of texture in between.
Processed breads, on the other hand, are typically bland because they’re packed with filler ingredients and produced assembly-line-style. The breads may be mildly sweet, but they usually don’t have much of a distinct flavor. They’re usually soft and spongy and may become doughy if they get squished.
How It’s Made
We touched on the bread making process earlier, but it’s worth reiterating here.
Artisan breads are made by hand by someone who takes pride in their craft and is trying to make the best bread possible. The process usually takes a long time. The bread is usually baked on a baking stone, often in a specialized type of oven. Sometimes steam is added to the baking process, as this produces a thicker crust.
Meanwhile, mass produced breads are mixed up in huge batches at factories where the goal is simply to churn out as much of it as possible in the shortest amount of time. Dough conditioners and other additives speed up the fermentation process, and the loaves are baked in large ovens under standardized conditions.
Every batch comes out exactly the same; if one comes out looking a little different, it is thrown away.
Ingredients in Both Artisan VS Regular Bread
As mentioned, artisan bread is made of wholesome and completely natural ingredients. The ingredients are usually of the highest quality as well. The basics are flour, yeast, water, and salt, with optional additions such as sugar, cheese, garlic, olive oil, or sesame seeds.
Factory made breads often contain four or five times as many ingredients as artisan bread, many of which you wouldn’t be able to pronounce. Many of these additives do nothing to improve the taste and may even be harmful to your health.
Price of Both Breads
As you might imagine, because of the natural ingredients and the work that goes into it, a loaf of artisan bread is going to cost you a bit more than regular bread. While a typical pre-packaged loaf of white bread may cost you a couple of dollars, buying an artisan loaf from the grocery store bakery may cost $5 or $6.
If you were to buy artisan bread from a specialty bakery, it might cost significantly more. And even if you choose to make your own artisan bread, the cost of ingredients and time put in may not save you a lot of money.
So is artisan bread worth the extra cost? Many people would say it is, but that’s up to you to determine for yourself.
Types of Artisan Bread
The different types of artisan bread are almost as numerous as the bakers who create them. Still, there are certain types of artisan bread that have become a little more “standardized;” that is, the methods for making them follow similar patterns and produce similar results.
Even these more “standard” artisan breads are numerous and diverse, and you will probably find that certain kinds are popular in some countries while other countries seem to specialize in other kinds.
That said, let’s take a look at some of the most widely popular and well known types of artisan bread and the characteristics of each.
Sourdough bread was the only type of leavened bread people made before yeast became available. It is well known and loved for its tangy, sour flavor and crusty texture.
The leavening for sourdough comes from a “starter,” which is made by fermenting flour and water in a warm environment for several days. During the fermenting process, lactobacillus bacteria interact with sugars naturally present in the flour, causing the mixture to bubble.
Once the starter is ready, flour, water, and salt are mixed in, then the dough is allowed to rest. This resting period will vary from baker to baker. The dough is then folded or kneaded gently, shaped into loaves, and allowed to rise in a warm place for up to twelve hours.
Sourdough is often baked in a dutch oven to produce a moist environment. This baking environment is what gives it that nice thick crust.
Artisan sourdough takes a long time to make and may be pricey, but it’s so worth it if you love that mouthwatering sour taste.
“Ciabatta” is the Italian word for “slipper,” and this artisan bread is so-named because of its long, squarish shape. As you might have guessed, it originated in Italy, though it has gained popularity in other parts of the world as well.
Ciabatta bread is made using “sponge,” a type of starter made from yeast, water, and flour. The sponge has to sit for about a day after it’s mixed up; during that time, it takes on a bubbly, spongy texture.
The bread itself is made by mixing together the starter, additional yeast, water, milk, oil, and flour. After kneading or mixing, the dough is allowed to rise for a couple of hours, shaped into loaves, and set aside to rise again. It is baked on a baking stone at a higher than average heat for a relatively short amount of time.
Ciabatta loaves are more moist and spongy than most artisan breads. This is largely due to the addition of olive oil in the dough. Ciabatta is generally milder than sourdough but still has a slightly tangy, rustic sort of flavor.
Focaccia, another popular Italian artisan bread, is in some ways similar to pizza. It is usually baked as a slab in a wide, flat baking dish or stone. Traditionally, it is topped with sea salt and rosemary, but other popular toppings include olives, tomatoes, peppers, and other herbs.
Focaccia is made by mixing yeast, semolina flour, salt, olive oil, and usually rosemary into warm water. The dough is kneaded for several minutes as more olive oil is incorporated. After kneading, the dough is left to rise for an hour or two, turned out onto a pan or stone, and pressed down to about an inch thick. It then rises for another half an hour or so.
At this point, the baker “pokes holes” in the surface, pressing out any large air bubbles and dimpling the surface. The bread is then brushed with more olive oil, allowed to rise for 45 minutes to an hour, and topped with herbs or other toppings of choice. It’s baked at high heat for about 15 minutes and drizzled with a bit more olive oil after coming out of the oven.
Focaccia is usually served at room temperature cut into squares. It’s a delicious savory bread that is great for snacking on or eating as part of a meal.
Brioche bread originated in France and comes in many different forms and styles. As a general rule, brioche refers to any bread made with eggs and butter added. The eggs and butter give this bread a rich, soft, pastry-like texture.
Brioche bread makers generally dissolve yeast in water, allowing it to stand for 10-15 minutes until it starts to become foamy. Meanwhile, flour, salt, and sugar are combined in a separate bowl. Some types of brioche may be sweeter than others, so the amount of sugar is adjusted accordingly; but a small amount of sugar is almost always added to increase yeast activity.
Eggs and the yeast-water are added to the dry ingredients and mixed well; then the dough is kneaded for several minutes.
This is where the process gets interesting.
There are different ways to add in the butter. It is usually added a little bit at a time as kneading continues. Some bakers will flatten the dough, spread a bit of softened butter, and fold the dough over on itself, then knead the dough to incorporate the butter. This process is repeated until all the butter is evenly distributed in the dough.
Regardless of how the butter is incorporated, it is always added near the end of the kneading process. If the butter is added too early, it will interfere with gluten development, causing the bread to be crumbly like a pastry instead of spongy like bread.
After the butter has been kneaded in, the bread is left to rise for an hour or two. It may then be refrigerated for several hours or overnight. Once the dough is chilled, it is divided into loaves, allowed to rise for an hour, glazed with an egg wash, and baked.
Baguettes are what some people know simply as “French bread.” They come in long, thin loaves and have a dense, crusty texture.
In terms of ingredients, French baguettes are the classic artisan bread: all that goes into them are flour, yeast, salt, and water.
The yeast is mixed with warm water, then the salt and flour are immediately added. The baker then beats the dough by hand until all ingredients are well mixed and the dough has a sticky, spongy appearance.
The dough is left to rise for at least twelve hours. It is then scraped onto a floured surface, divided and shaped into loaves, and the loaves are placed on a baking sheet dusted with cornmeal. The loaves are allowed to rise for another hour and a half.
The loaves are sprayed with water, then baked at high heat in a steam-filled oven to produce the crusty outer surface. Baking usually takes just 10 or 15 minutes.
Some bread lovers consider bagels to be a type of artisan bread. Though commonly mass-produced and sold in the bread aisle, there are, in fact, some types of bagels that are handcrafted with much more care.
Artisan bagels may be made from a starter or simply by mixing yeast with warm water. The starter is made a couple of hours ahead of time from yeast, flour, water, and, optionally, wheat gluten.
The prepared starter or yeast-water mixture is blended with flour, salt, and sugar and may be kneaded or blended with a dough hook. The dough is formed into bagel shapes and may be allowed to rise slowly for up to two days in the refrigerator.
Before baking, the bagels are boiled for ten seconds per side in baking soda water. They are then baked at a high heat until they are golden brown.
Of course, bagels can also have various other ingredients added such as sesame seeds, cinnamon, or cheese.
Artisan bread is handcrafted from high-quality ingredients to produce a delicious and unique final product. If you’re a bread lover, why not give it a try? Chances are, you won’t be disappointed.