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What is Artisan Bread?

By S. N. Smith
Updated May 16, 2024
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Artisan bread is exactly what its name suggests: bread that is crafted, rather than mass produced. Baked in small batches rather than on a vast assembly line, artisan bread differs from prepackaged supermarket loaves in a number of ways. Special attention to ingredients, process, and a return to the fundamentals of the age-old bread-making tradition set hand-crafted breads apart from soft, preservative-laden commercial breads.

Whereas a store-bought loaf of mass-produced wheat bread might have nearly twenty ingredients, hand-crafted bread will have closer to five. The basic building blocks of bread are flour, water, yeast, and salt. Sourdough is added for some breads; eggs and sugar for others.

For a more complex, flavored hand-crafted bread, the ingredients list might expand to include various other items, all of them recognizable: sliced onions, cheddar cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, olive oil. Bread has been around for centuries. No chemicals were added to the breads baked by ancient Egyptians or those mentioned throughout the Bible, and none are added to artisan breads now.

The process of crafting and baking an artisan bread remains largely the same as then, too. Quality ingredients are mixed, slowly fermented, hand shaped, and baked in small batches in masonry ovens. Often, steam is utilized during the baking process to produce the crispy golden-brown crust characteristic of certain varieties of the artisan loaf.

The texture and flavor of artisan bread are generally superior to those of mass-produced breads because the focus is on selecting high-quality ingredients. Also, acute attention is paid to details of chemistry, resulting in specific crumb and crust textures. Since chemical additives are not used, the flavors of each ingredient are fully developed. Examples of hand-crafted breads include the country French loaf, semolina bread, whole-grain farm-style bread, flavored focaccia, stoneground wheat bread, and ciabatta.

Because this bread is made without chemical additives, it tends to have a much shorter shelf-life than the mass-produced prepackaged store-bought bread. It should be eaten within a day or two of purchase or frozen for extended storage. Leftover artisan bread may be used to make panzanella, an Italian bread salad. Because of its dense texture, hand-crafted bread holds up well in the dressing, and the result is simply delicious.

To make panzanella, dice five or six slices of day-old bread into bite-sized cubes and drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil. Toss to coat. Lay out on a baking sheet and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Toast in a 400 degree F (200 degree C) oven for 7 to 10 minutes, or until lightly browned. Let cool completely.

Assemble the panzanella in a large salad bowl: Combine cooled toasted bread cubes with halved cherry tomatoes, diced mozzarella, chopped fresh basil, thinly sliced red onion, green and/or black olives, minced anchovies, and/or other ingredients as desired. Drizzle all with extra-virgin olive oil and add a few splashes of red wine vinegar, season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper, toss to coat, and let sit for ten minutes before serving.

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Discussion Comments

By anon995584 — On May 11, 2016

"Artisan bread" is just a pretentious term.

By anon975101 — On Oct 24, 2014

Sure, it's just bread, but there are artisans in every hand-made trade. Artisan bread could be described as bread made in a non-mechanized way using high quality ingredients.

I feel that the reason people have developed a distrust of chemicals being added to mass produced foods is because many chemicals have been found to be toxic. For example, 50 years ago the chemical DDT was sprayed everywhere and touted as the savior of man. However, it was discovered to be highly toxic. I wouldn't be surprised if even more of the additives used today in food are found to be toxic as well.

By anon956510 — On Jun 14, 2014

It is sad to see the "It's just bread" comments because those people clearly have never enjoyed a true "artisan" product, be it bread or anything else for that matter.

I hope that someday those commenters will have the same amount of pride in their work as true artisans do. Then perhaps they also will understand the word "artisan".

By anon357974 — On Dec 08, 2013

People, it's just bread. My mother usually made fresh bread for dinner, and sometimes for breakfast when I was growing up. Was her bread artisan as well? I'm not saying that "home-made" bread isn't better than the mass-produced stuff. I'm just saying that baking bread in small batches doesn't make it "art" or the baker an artisan.

Some people try to elevate everything to an art form when what we're really taking about are tasks, crafts, and everyday chores. Just because some people grew up without knowing how to do simple tasks and crafts doesn't mean it's now an art once they've "re-discovered" it.

By anon343352 — On Jul 29, 2013

Folks, this is just a nice and informative thread on what is fairly called "Artisan Bread", especially considering the corporate takeover of food production, distribution and sales of highly processed, altered and "engineered" breads.

By anon304564 — On Nov 20, 2012

Once a week, I make about one pound of sourdough bread, for about three months. The key issue is trial and error. You'll find your way in the process. Indeed, mass production has fed millions of people over the world with convenient cheaper products, but its caveat is quality.

So for those who enjoy good food rather than a quick and cheap food, use artisan anything: cheese, bread, bacon, yogurt, whatever.

By anon294702 — On Oct 02, 2012

I've been making two to four loaves of bread a week -- usually sourdough -- since before it had the fancy moniker of "artisan." The most common comment I get is, "This is the best bread I ever had!"

By anon267758 — On May 11, 2012

@anon252618 and all who believe the same thing: No it's not really just bread.

A little bit of high fructose corn syrup here, a bit

of bread improver there, but you are right. For you, it's all the same because what you eat doesn't matter anyway. Good appetite.

By anon252618 — On Mar 06, 2012

Artisan schmartisan - it's just bread. We get out of the habit of making something because we are seduced away by the much more convenient muck that as a serious violation of the trade descriptions act they dare to call bread in the supermarkets.

Finally, we are so disgusted that finally, someone works out that there was life before Walmart and suddenly we have to invent a brand new name for it. It's bread! Dump this "artisan" business - it's just bread.

By anon164134 — On Mar 30, 2011

Thank god there are assembly line artisan breads for the rest of us who aren't good enough for your snooty homemade breads. But I thought it was the chemical additives that stopped the flavors from being developed?

By anon164133 — On Mar 30, 2011

Fifty years ago, chemicals and automation were the savior of man. Why do we mistrust them today?

By oldbaker — On Feb 14, 2011

Can anyone tell me how to get that "spongy", irregularly shaped hole look to my bread? Mine always seems to look like store bought white bread when I slice it. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks.

By anon100743 — On Jul 31, 2010

I have made artisan bread many times since I bought the book on this bread. It is the best bread that I have ever tasted and it reminded me of my mother's bread -- absolutely delicious!

However, I have never tried it with whole wheat as yet but will very soon when the weather is a little cooler. Everyone whom I have give a loaf or baguette to says the same thing: it's delicious. This will be my bread recipe from now on. It is nice to go back to basics. I have copied a couple of these bread recipes as well. I can't wait to start making it again. --BJS in Nova Scotia, Canada

By anon90788 — On Jun 18, 2010

@Anon60139: Can you advise how much "more" water to flour ratio. because i also have the same problem with dense bread. thanks in advance. --Mabel

By anon60139 — On Jan 12, 2010

If it's too dense it's usually a case of not enough water. I used to have the same problem until I saw someone make a loaf with more water than I would use.

It takes more time to knead and for a while you'll swear that it'll never come together but then it suddenly starts to firm up into a 'proper' dough.

By zoid — On Jul 06, 2009

I have several great recipes for homemade no-kneed artisan breads. It's so easy to make, just requiring a few hours of rising and proofing time. My only frustration with the artisan breads I make at home is that they tend to be more dense than I really like.

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