Fruits, vegetables and spices can be incorporated into artisan breads for added flavor and aesthetics.
No matter how you say it—pan (Spanish), pane (Italian) or pain (French), good bread is an essential part of a meal in many cultures.

Europeans have enjoyed crusty loaves of bread for centuries. With the trend toward comfort foods, Americans have rediscovered these Old World delights and will gladly pay $3.50 to $5.50 for a loaf of bread in specialty bakery or bread shops and in-store bakeries in supermarkets.

Artisan breads may best be described as “open-textured fragrant loaves with chewy interiors and crisp flour-dusted crusts that call to you from the cutting board until there's nothing left but crumbs,” according to information from McGlynn Bakery's website.

By definition, artisans are skilled crafts-people who have honed their skills in a particular field. The craft of baking bread goes back for centuries when skilled hands lovingly made each loaf of bread.

Strictly speaking, artisan breads contain only flour, water, salt and leavening and may contain vegetables, fruits, nuts, cheeses and spices for extra flavor. Artisan bakers start from scratch with the freshest ingredients available.

Unlike most white pan bread purchased in this country that has a rectangular, uniform appearance, soft crumb and crust, closed grain structure and long shelf life, artisan breads come in various shapes and sizes, with thick crust, chewy texture, open grain and short shelf life.

Romantic-sounding names, such as ciabatta, pugliese, and pan bigio, are just some of the types of artisan breads that are available on the market today.

Although the true artisan baker uses Old World ingredients and minimal equipment to bake bread in small batches, today large-scale bread baking operations have integrated sophisticated equipment to further their goals of mass production and distribution.

Artisan Baking

Some but not all true artisan breads are made with little or no commercial yeast. Instead, natural or wild yeast is captured from the air. Flour and water are combined with the yeast to form a starter or sponge that bubbles and rises until it reaches its fullest flavor.

The secret to great bread is time, according to artisan bread bakers. In order to develop a rich, deep grain flavor and porous interior, the dough needs a long, slow rise. During the long fermentation process, unique flavors develop.

Artisan bread bakers tend to use untreated unbleached flours and long fermentation times to bring out the flavors. The average fermentation time for a loaf of artisan bread is between 15 to 24 hours.

This is in contrast to American pan breads where the dough is mixed longer than for artisan breads to develop the gluten in higher protein dough. However, fermentation periods are much shorter for pan breads.

Instead of using convection ovens, artisan breads can be baked in deck or tunnel ovens to provide adequate bottom heat and steam. Steam helps the dough expand, develop color and caramelize available sugars in the crust during baking. While the use of brick European stone hearth or wood-burning ovens are not necessary, bakers of artisan breads may choose to use these.


While most artisan breads contain only flour, water, yeast and salt, some contain vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, spices, whole grains and other ingredients for flavor.

Flour is the key component of artisan breads. “We are always looking for better flour—flours with flavor,” says Jim Murphy, chairman of the board of The Bread Bakers Guild of America and co-owner of Sweetish Hill Bakery, Austin, Texas. “We are slowly developing farmer, miller, baker links so we can have input as to what wheat varieties have good flavors and good characteristics for the types of breads we produce.”

Artisan bread bakers generally use hard red winter wheat that has a better flavor because it has been in the ground longer, says Murphy. Unbleached, unbromated flours are the norm.

High protein flour is not necessary to make good artisan bread. While manufacturers of white pan bread typically use flours with protein contents ranging from 11.5-12.5%, true artisan bakers use flour with lower protein content. “We use flour with a protein content between 10.5 to 11%,” says Murphy. “You need protein quality, not quantity. You need proteins that can withstand a lot of water, long fermentation and extensibility after it's mixed and rested.”

The protein content depends on the type of bread and the finished qualities desired by the baker. Lower protein content tends to give a flatter shape, while higher protein will give a more rounded shape. High-protein flour develops into strong dough that can withstand rough handling by commercial baking equipment.

A recent trend in artisan breads is using organic flours. Currently, Murphy uses organic rye and some organic wheat. “One of our goals in the Guild is identity preservation in different wheat varieties from farmer to baker. We want to identify 'wheats' that work well and are grown organically. We think if we can achieve this, we will bake better products and farmers will reap economic benefits.”

Several years ago, bakers could not get consistent quality in organic flours, but this is not the case today. “We are now using 100% certified organic flour—we work closely with millers to meet our needs,” says Bob Kulpinski, president of Concept 2 Bakers (C2B), a division of McGlynn Bakeries, Minneapolis. C2B produces a variety of par-baked artisan breads under the Panné Provincio® label. Par-baked dough is frozen and baked directly without thawing—a convenient method for in-store bakeries and restaurants.

Yeast. Most artisan breads are produced without the addition of baker's yeast. Generally, yeast is added to baguette and ciabatta doughs. Prior to commercial yeast, bakers used a fermented mixture of water and potatoes, wheat or rye grains to develop a leavening system. Using a sour or ferment, the basis of sourdough fermentation, wild yeasts and bacteria are incorporated from the surface of the grain and from the air.

The type of grain is key to the type of sour. Using refined flour to start the sour will give less activity than using whole grain, because the refined flour's surface has been milled off. In general, baker's yeast gives a more neutral flavor, while a sourdough culture combined with a longer fermentation results in more flavor and a chewy texture.

Time and temperature control leavening activity. Optimum temperature for a normal fermentation is between 75° and 85°F. A slower fermentation that builds more flavor requires temperatures between 55° and 65°F, with slightly lower temperatures if proofing overnight.

Fermentation has a significant impact on bread quality. Longer fermentation times produce breads with more flavor, improved eating quality and a distinctive appearance.

Flavorings. Artisan breads rely on slow, careful fermentation to develop unique flavors. While industrial flavorings may be added to breads, these are not considered authentic artisan breads. Bakers generally use fresh ingredients that include cheeses, nuts, fruits, vegetables, olives, spices and even chocolate.

“We strive to use fresh ingredients wherever we can,” says Kulpinski. “We've tried fresh and dried rosemary and feel that we get a cleaner flavor with fresh rosemary.” Although depitted Kalamata olives are used, bakers still must watch out for the occasional pit. “We sort through the olives by hand to make sure we don't get any olives with pits in the bread. Although we sacrifice piece integrity, we'd much rather have a slightly smaller piece of olive than broken teeth,” says Kulpinski.

Although it has been discontinued, C2B's fruit medley bread contained an interesting blend of ingredients—cardamom, apricots, pears and raisins. “It was a delicious and unique bread, but it had too much flavor impact for the general public, so we no longer make it,” says Kulpinski.

While roasted garlic bread is the top seller in the C2B flavored bread line, black bean and salsa bread is popular in certain areas. The bread has the fresh ingredients of salsa with chunks of bell peppers, jalapeño peppers, corn pieces and black turtle beans.

Other bread varieties from C2B include Monterey sourdough, raisin walnut, cranberry walnut, pane alla cioccolata (chocolate bread), onion dill and tomato rosemary.

Incorporating cinnamon into yeast-leavened breads can present problems for some bakers. “Cinnamic aldehyde, cinnamon's main volatile component, inhibits yeast performance, resulting in decreased amounts of carbon dioxide produced by the yeast, and breads with low volume,” says Vernetta Dally, applications manager for Balchem Corp., Slate Hill, N.Y. Skilled bakers can work around these problems by adding the ingredients toward the latter production stages, or by using these ingredients as toppings or swirls, and by proofing the bread longer.

Flavor companies offer encapsulated spice products that can be added to produce yeast-raised doughs with good volume. Balchem's new line of encapsulated cinnamon is specially formulated for yeast-leavened baked goods. “The lipid-based technology used to stabilize and deliver fresh cinnamon flavor allows bakers to get the volume and color they are looking for,” notes Carl Pacifico, new venture development leader.

High-Speed Production

As more consumers discover the joy of artisan breads, manufacturers are stepping up production.

Up until a short time ago, the words high-speed and artisan bread were never mentioned in the same sentence.

“We are on the cutting edge of automation,” says Kulpinski. “When we got into the business six years ago, there was no such thing as high-speed artisan bread—it was an oxymoron. While you can't rush the fermentation of a good loaf of bread, producing more loaves per minute is possible. Automation allows more consumers to obtain good quality bread.”

One area that is not automated at C2B is the scoring of the bread. “Robotics are great when everything is perfectly consistent, but with artisan bread everything is not this way. Dough will tend to migrate to one side during the proofing process, which makes it impossible to predict exactly where your dough piece will end up. However, I think someone will make a machine to handle this someday.”

There are always two sides to every coin, with artisan bakers who use very little or no automation in their bread production.

“The major factor that distinguishes artisan breads from the others is that we don't try to hurry our bread production,” say Murphy. “Baking high-quality bread takes skilled bakers that can mix and feel doughs for proper development. There are certain aspects of it that can be automated in terms of hand mixing the doughs. There are some machines that can cut ciabattas. But most of the breads, such as baguettes, have to be hand formed.

“High quality artisan bread has large, irregular holes, a nice creamy color inside and a soft mellow flavor. These are things that are not easily handled by machines. Machines can be hard on the doughs—they knock too much air out of them resulting in a hard tight hole structure.”

Some artisan bakers have automated the loading and unloading of breads from the oven, but choose to step no further into the world of high-speed production, says Murphy.

Although ciabatta dough is amongst the wettest and stickiest, this long rectangular bread does not require much shaping. Today, several bakeries have automated ciabatta production using sophisticated European or Japanese equipment.

“I believe we will be seeing more automation in the industry—the lines will continue to blur between true artisan bread and artisan-style breads,” says Murphy.

Specialty Breads Rise in Foodservice

The retail trend of artisan bread growth also extends into foodservice. For example, Panera Bread Company, which owns and franchises 262 bakery-cafes under the Panera Bread and St. Louis Bread Co. names in the U.S., saw sales rise 73% last year to $351 million. System-wide comparable bakery-café sales increased 9%. The Richmond Heights, Mo.-based chain was rated number three in growth from 1999 to 2000, according to Technomic Inc.'s annual survey of the Top 100 chain restaurant companies.

Last year, 81 new bakery-cafes were opened, bringing the total to 262 units in 28 states. As of December 30, 2000, there were franchise commitments in place for the development of an additional 561 outlets.

All meals at the quick, casual dining units revolve around bread. Diners at the bakery-cafés can choose traditional sourdough bread, flavored sourdoughs, plus other breads. Soups are served in a fresh-baked sourdough bread bowl.

With its excellent food quality and quick service, Panera is helping to define a new restaurant category called fast casual.

Last month, Panera Bread announced it will open 20 Panera Bread bakery-cafes in Long Island, N.Y., under an agreement with Doherty Enterprises of New Jersey, with the first slated to open by March 2002. Other stores are slated to open this year in other areas around the country.