Artisanal bread. Artisan bread. How do I know thee? Let me count the ways.
It’s made using ingredients whose names we can pronounce. (Just kidding, but it’s almost true.)
It’s made without intense mechanical mixing and kneading.
It’s made with the expectation that it will take more time than regular bread. It may, in fact, be made over a period of a few days.
It will usually have some form of preferment in it.
It will, finally, be the embodiment of the truism that great bread starts with careful fermentation. This must be followed by careful shaping, rising and baking, but the heart of the artisanal bread movement is fermentation. Notice how all the attributes above compliment careful fermentation; this isn’t an accident. You can fudge a bit on mixing or shaping, but if your fermentation is hurried or just wrong, you run the risk of making dreadful bread.
Mention artisanal bread to most people and they immediately think of French baguettes and Italian boules. These are both wonderful breads, but you can use artisanal techniques to enhance the flavor, appearance and keeping qualities of any bread you bake. As you’ll notice on the site, I’ve used artisanal techniques to make a lot of breads that you wouldn’t think of as being artisanal breads, things like pita and English muffins. As your bread baking progresses, you should try to work in as many artisanal techniques and processes as possible — the result will be better bread.
I’ve included recipes for several unquestioned artisanal breads. Give these a try and see what all the noise is about; I guarantee you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the quality of bread you can make.