The word “artisan” has its roots in the French language which means a craftsman or skilled worker. You probably may have heard the word used to describe various items including artisanal food, jewelry, clothing, and furniture.
Artisan bread is substantially different from the commercially-produced loaves of bread lining supermarket shelves. If you appreciate the finer things in life, you will surely enjoy exploring the delicious world of artisan bread, so let’s dive right in!
So, what is artisan bread? Artisan bread is handmade by skilled workers using natural and high-quality ingredients. It is widely recognized as having a superior taste and texture compared to regular bread and has a higher purchase cost.
Read on to find out more about artisan bread, how it compares to regular bread, the different types of artisan bread, and how you can make artisan bread at home.
What Is Artisan Bread?
In the simplest terms, artisan bread is bread that is handcrafted instead of being mass-produced. It is prepared in small batches rather than a factory assembly line and differs from commercially-produced bread in several ways.
What sets it apart from preservative-laden commercial bread brands is the special attention given to high-quality ingredients and the traditional technique of breadmaking. Artisan bread is baked in rounded, rustic shapes and tends to have a hard or chewy exterior compared to soft pre-packaged bread.
The process of making artisan bread involves using quality ingredients that are mixed, fermented, shaped by hand, and baked in small batches. Steam is also often used to produce a crispy golden-brown crust characteristic of several types of artisan bread.
Due to the amount of effort and skill that goes into making artisan bread, it is made in less quantity and is usually sold in farmer’s markets or delis. Also, since it is additive-free, it has a much shorter shelf life.
Artisan Bread vs Regular Bread
While artisan bread and regular bread are both bread, they are certainly not the same. They vary greatly in terms of their quality, flavor, texture, shelf-life, price, and availability.
Let’s take a closer look at all the ways that artisan bread differs from regular bread:
1. Quality of Ingredients
The biggest difference between artisan and regular bread is the quality of ingredients used. Artisan bread focuses on using natural ingredients to make the final product preservative and additive-free.
Many artisan bread bakers also use organic ingredients, making their bread free of pesticides and other harmful chemicals.
On the other hand, most commercial bread, especially packaged ones, are filled with chemical additives such as calcium propionate, amylase, and chlorine dioxide which give them their characteristic soft and fluffy texture and longer shelf life.
2. Quantity of Ingredients
Artisan bread is made using the four basic building blocks of bread: flour, water, yeast, and salt. The same cannot be said for regular bread which can easily have double (or more) the ingredients as artisan bread.
This doesn’t mean that artisan bread can’t have more ingredients. For a more complex flavor profile, bakers like to add seasonings such as rosemary, oregano, and other Italian herbs. It may also include ingredients such as sesame seeds, cheddar cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, and olive oil.
3. Production Method
Artisan bread is almost always handmade by an experienced baker who has the required skill and love for breadmaking in order to create the most delicious bread.
It differs from commercially-produced loaves of bread which are mass-produced in factories and lack the touch of an artisan baker.
Artisan bread goes through a longer production process which can take up to 24 hours, compared to mass-produced bread which uses chemicals to speed up the process.
It allows for extended natural fermentation that requires the dough to be kept at a lower temperature for longer. It also has a higher water content and less reliance on machinery for production.
Artisan bread has a strong aroma and a more wholesome and rounded flavor due to the use of high-quality ingredients and the longer fermentation process.
Compared to regular loaves of bread which can taste somewhat bland, artisan bread is tastier and has more distinct flavors.
The flavors can vary depending on the type of artisan bread made and the ingredients used. Some types of artisan bread have a sour taste while others are known for their sweetness. Some may even have a savory or tangy flavor.
Irrespective of the type of ingredients and flavors used, one thing that can be said for sure is that artisan bread always tastes superior to regular bread.
You will notice that if you touch regular bread, it feels very soft, almost like a sponge. Artisan bread, on the other hand, has a crunchy exterior and a moist and chewy interior due to the large pockets of air.
You can further see the difference if you slice open both types of bread. Mass-produced bread will typically have a closed structure and a dry crumb, whereas artisan bread will have more air pockets that are evenly distributed and a more hydrated crumb.
While the basic ingredients in artisan and regular bread are more or less the same, the difference arises due to the quality of ingredients and the amount of additives.
Artisan bread uses natural, high-quality ingredients which are better in terms of nutrition. Some artisan bread is also made with organic ingredients that further increase its nutritional value.
Also, since artisan bread goes through a longer fermentation process, it creates gut-healthy enzymes that do not spike blood sugar levels and make the bread easier to digest.
Artisan bread is handmade by skilled bakers and requires more time and effort compared to regular mass-produced bread which is made in a factory with little to no human touch.
This makes artisan bread pricier than regular loaves of bread. However, if you ask us if the higher price is justified, it sure is! If it’s real artisan bread made with love by a professional baker using high-quality ingredients, it is worth the few extra dollars!
Types of Artisan Bread
All artisan bread share the same basic characteristics. They are handmade by a skilled baker in small batches using high-quality ingredients.
However, changing the bread’s ingredients and techniques such as the mixing time, water, and fermentation time will allow you to create different flavors and textures for different types of artisan bread.
Here are some of the most popular types of artisan bread:
A baguette is a long, thin loaf of bread associated with France, in particular Paris, which is now popular in several countries around the world.
It has a distinctive shape that can be described as oblong or cylindrical, and it measures around 15 inches long, although the length may vary depending on the country it is made.
Its characteristic feature is its crisp golden-brown crust and light, airy, and slightly chewy interior. It has a hint of sweetness from the use of high-quality flour and it tastes great in sandwiches, crostini, and even on its own.
Sourdough bread is another type of artisan bread that undergoes a long fermentation process. What sets it apart from other types of bread is that it doesn’t require commercial yeast to rise.
Instead, it uses a sourdough starter, which is a live fermented culture that acts as a natural leavening agent. The starter ferments over time and gives the sourdough bread its distinctive slightly acidic flavor.
Sourdough bread is known for its tangy flavor and crunchy and airy texture. Although it is relatively easy to make, it can be a little time-consuming compared to other types of bread.
Focaccia is a unique type of Italian bread similar to pizza dough baked in a flat sheet pan. It features an open, irregular crumb topped with a variety of toppings including olive oil, herbs, and vegetables.
There are many variations of focaccia bread depending on the type of toppings you go with. The most common toppings include olive oil, mushrooms, green onions, and tomatoes. Rosemary and sage are two herbs that taste incredible on focaccia.
Focaccia can be enjoyed on its own and can be cut into various shapes depending on your preference. Since it is thick, it can be sliced in half and used for making delicious sandwiches.
Rye bread is bread made from a mixture of flour and rye grain. While you can make a loaf of rye bread that is 100% rye, it can be quite dense and heavy and has a dark color. It is also sometimes referred to as black bread.
Loaves that are golden brown are usually made from a mixture of wheat and rye and are more commonly used. They have a balanced flavor and better gluten structure.
Rye bread has an earthy flavor and can often be made with additions such as molasses and cocoa powder for extra flavor and color.
Brioche is a soft, rich, lightly sweet French bread made with enriched flour which gives it its soft texture and amazing taste.
Often used as an upgrade to regular bread, brioche works well in sweet as well as savory dishes. It can be used to make sandwiches, burgers, French toast, bread and butter pudding, and so much more!
While most bread recipes call for basic ingredients such as flour, yeast, salt, and water, brioche uses a generous amount of eggs, milk, and butter to enrich the dough. Due to this, it is often considered a Viennoiserie – meaning that it has the characteristics of a pastry.
Ciabatta, which means “slipper”, is a rustic Italian bread made using wheat flour, salt, yeast, water, and olive oil. It gets its name from its elongated, broad, and flat shape that resembles a slipper.
It can be made in different shapes such as long rectangles and small squares. Regardless of the shape, its texture remains the same, which is crispy and chewy on the outside and airy and honeycomb-like on the inside.
The soft and chewy texture and the honeycomb interior of ciabatta make it a great option for dunking into soups. It is also perfect for making sandwiches with layers of meat, cheese, sauces, and balsamic vinegar.
How to Make Artisan Bread at Home?
There is nothing better than making fresh bread at home. It makes your home smell like a little bakery and just makes you feel nice and warm.
The good news is that making artisan bread at home is very easy! It requires just a couple of ingredients and can be prepared without using any fancy equipment.
To make artisan bread at home, you will need:
- Bread flour: although you can use all-purpose flour to make artisan bread, we strongly recommend using bread flour as it produces stronger, chewier bread.
- Instant yeast: yeast is an important ingredient responsible for making the dough rise and giving the bread airy pockets. You can substitute instant yeast with active dry yeast as well.
- Salt: salt is used to add flavor to the bread. Without it, the bread will end up tasting bland. For the best flavor, go with coarse sea salt.
- Water: although warm water is usually preferred when working with dough as it helps the yeast work faster, in this case, it is best to use cool water (about 70°F). The longer the dough will take to rise, the better the flavor of the bread will be.
- Cornmeal (optional): you can dust the pan with some cornmeal to give the bread a little crunch at the bottom. This is completely optional and not a requirement.
Note: You can also add your choice of herbs and seasonings such as rosemary, sage, dill, garlic, chopped onion, shredded cheese, nuts, and dried fruit for extra flavor.
Here are step-by-step instructions for making homemade artisan bread:
- Whisk the flour, yeast, and salt in a large mixing bowl.
- Gently pour in the water and mix using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon.
- Keep mixing it until there is no dry flour left. You may use your hands to work the ingredients together.
- After all the ingredients have been well incorporated, you’ll be left with a sticky dough. Don’t worry about it being too sticky as the stickier it is, the bigger the air pockets will be.
- Shape the dough into a ball and cover the bowl tightly with some plastic wrap or aluminum foil.
- Let the dough rest at room temperature for 2 to 3 hours to allow the dough to rise to about double its size.
- For best results, let the risen dough rest in the refrigerator for a minimum of 12 hours and a maximum of 3 days. You may skip this step if you are short on time.
- Lightly dust a large non-stick baking sheet with some flour and/or cornmeal and shape the cold dough into a loaf.
- Cover it loosely and allow it to rest for an additional 45 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 475°F while you wait.
- Use a sharp knife to score (make a shallow cut) the bread loaf with 3 slashes.
- Place the dough in the preheated oven on the center rack and let it bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown.
- You can gently tap the bread to check its doneness. If it sounds hollow, it is ready. Alternatively, you can use an instant-read thermometer to check if the center of the loaf reads 195°F.
- Remove the bread from the oven and let it rest for at least 5 minutes before slicing and serving.