Due to rapid industrialization, the baking industry has experienced immense technological and engineering input. Thus, the market has evolved from street-corner bakery shops where people shopped for specialty items such as breads, rolls, buns, Danish pastry, cookies, cakes and pastries, to large supermarkets and wholesale stores where bakery products are available in mass quantities.

In the early 1990s, people paid more attention to the presentation and aesthetics of products. Thus, an assorted array of commercially manufactured pleated breads, rolls, iced cakes and pastries dominated the shelves. Eventually, convenience and availability played dominant roles in consumer choice.

Coming full circle, consumers again are demanding handmade, specialty baked goods. Artisan baked goods can be defined as handmade, individually shaped, baked items free of chemicals or additives, which contrast with mass-produced, commercial varieties sold in supermarkets. Local artisan baked goods shops deliver products based on the needs of clientele known to them personally. Cakes and pastries, particularly, are sold this way. Apart from the original recipes and gourmet flavors, even the pack size is chosen keeping the local customer in mind.

The key to making quality artisan goods is to use quality ingredients, and to understand each ingredient's role in the final product. A listing of the main ingredient players follows.

Flour. Wheat flour is the major ingredient in any kind of bakery product. The strength of wheat flour depends on the quality of gluten present. Weak flours contain less gluten than strong flours. Gluten helps the batter retain gas during fermentation, giving the bread a porous structure and facilitating loaf volume. The physical characteristics of gluten and protein content are responsible for good baking results. Wet gluten washed from a strong flour is elastic and can be stretched considerably without tearing or breaking, whereas a smaller amount of gluten washed from weak flour has a softer texture and is likely to tear when stretched. Hence, some high-protein flours do not produce good bread because gluten is tough and not readily extensible. Gluten in a strong flour forms a perforated colloidal gel (shown by its hydration capacity), as compared to gluten in a soft flour.

The flour's protein content is determined by the type of bread and finish qualities desired by the baker. Very 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. The lower protein content tends to give a flatter shape, while higher protein content results in a more rounded shape. High-protein flour develops into strong dough that can withstand rough handling by commercial baking equipment. For artisan bakery products, the protein content of flour typically ranges between 10.5%-11%. Proteins that can withstand a lot of water, long fermentation periods and that have high extensibility after mixing and resting, are desired by artisan bakers.

Flexible Fats. Fats are used in baked goods to add flavor to products, and they act as shortening agents in various preparations like biscuits and cakes. Shortenings serve as tenderizing agents. They act to interfere with the development of firm masses or strands of the wheat protein gluten, actually shortening the strands and imparting tenderness.

Butter, blends of vegetable and animal fat, and hydrogenated fats can be used as shortening agents. Hydrogenated oil used as a shortening agent is only partially hydrogenated, as complete hydrogenation would make it too hard.

Different shortening agents are used in different products. In biscuits, a hard fat should be used, so that the fat can be distributed to give the desired flakiness to the biscuit. Shortened cakes are made using a little “plastic fat,” which combines readily with the ingredients in the flour mixture. Butter and commercial shortenings are used in cookie preparations. Fat also contributes to the incorporation and retention of air in the batter. Carbon dioxide and steam diffuse into these air cells during baking. Thus, fat contributes to the grain and volume of baked products.

Sugar. Sugar not only acts as a sweetening agent but is an ingredient helpful in the non-enzymatic browning of foods. It helps give color to items such as bread crusts and cakes. In baked goods, sugar also contributes to the development of volume and texture (with its ability to help aerate the batter) and acts as a substrate for yeast during fermentation. Sugar has the ability to stabilize egg white foam, producing firmness (as in royal icing).

Water. Liquid is essential in bread dough to hydrate flour proteins and contribute to the development of gluten. In addition, it is essential for the partial gelatinization of starch, making an important contribution to bread structure. It also acts as a solvent for sugar and salt, and is necessary in hydrating yeast when making bread. Water is essential for the formation of gluten, the protein of flour. The gliadin and glutenin form gluten when mixed with water. When starch granules are added to cold water, a small amount of water is absorbed, and it starts swelling. The liquid used in bread may be milk, water or whey water.

Eggs. Certain properties such as color, viscosity, flavor, emulsifying ability and coagulability make eggs valuable in bakery. The coagulation of eggs increases the rigidity of the cell wall and of crusts in numerous doughs and batters. The yolk contains lipoproteins (lipid materials) such as phospholipids; these, in combination with protein, make the egg yolk valuable as an emulsifying agent. The surface activity of the egg proteins also makes eggs useful in the production of films that hold air, creating a foam. This characteristic aids in the leavening of various food mixtures. Most foods to which eggs are added are improved in flavor and color. Eggs act as leavening agents and emulsifying agents.

Yeast. Authentic artisan baked goods do not employ baker's yeast for their products. This is in contrast with commercial baking, which relies heavily on the use of baker's yeast. Artisan bakers use a fermented mixture of water and potato, wheat or rye grains to develop a leavening system. Using a sour or ferment, dough is leavened. Wild yeasts and bacteria are incorporated from the surface of the grain and from the air.

Flavors. True artisan bakers do not use synthetic flavors. They try to incorporate fresh ingredients such as nuts, fruits, vegetables, spices, cheeses and chocolate chips to impart desired flavor and add richness to products.

Cooking Methods. Most artisan breads are baked with steam, which assists the dough in retaining its symmetrical shape during baking. Steam also adds crispness and shine to the crust. Steam helps the dough expand, develop color and caramelize available sugars in the crust during baking. Using deck or tunnel ovens, an adequate amount of heat and steam can be generated for baking; convection ovens are not needed.

Artisan bakeries prefer wood-fired ovens to gas or electric ovens. This imparts a particular flavor to the bread, depending on which type of wood is used (e.g., mesquite, hickory and apple). For artisan breads, a wood fire reinforces the notion of “rustic.”

Fermentation Time. Artisan bakers allow longer fermentation times when compared to commercial bakers. This enables the dough to have a long and slow rise, and to develop a rich, deep grainy flavor and porous interior. Also, certain unique flavors are developed during the long fermentation process.

Flour Quality. Artisan bakers, as a rule, use untreated, unbleached, unbromated flours for all their products. Also, wheat varieties with good flavors are preferred by artisan bakers over ordinary wheat.

The relationship between raw ingredients affects the texture, taste and final appearance of baked goods. Using this knowledge to make optimal products, artisan bakers can deliver high-quality, good-tasting products to gain repeat customers.

Sidebar: Showcase: Dietary Fiber and Grains

Consumers are increasingly interested in foods that deliver dietary fiber. Here is a selection of grains and dietary fiber ingredients for use in baked foods or other prepared food products.

Rice flours are available in a variety of grades--from meal to super fine--and can be used in breads, cakes and cookies. PGP International is a leading manufacturer of white and fiber-rich brown rice flours made from California medium grain and sweet rice. The company also offers a variety of fiber-rich, extruded particulates and cereal pieces made from rice, corn, wheat, oats, barley, flax and sorghum in a variety of shapes, sizes, densities and colors. These pieces are great in energy bars, ready-to-eat breakfast cereals, confectionery bars, snacks and trail mixes. PGP International, Cary Maigret-Baptiste, 800-333-0110, cmaigret@pacgrain.com, www.pacgrain.com

Negligible in net carbs (< 3.0%), whole-milled flaxseed is an excellent source of omega-3s (20%), dietary fiber (27%) and lignans. Just-approved FDA nutrient-content claims and Daily Values for omega-3s mean that foods that provide just 1.3g whole milled flaxseed per daily serving can be a “rich” source of ALA omega-3s. Pleasant-tasting, Pizzey's milled whole-grain flaxseed replaces up to 30% of the carbs from flour in reduced net-carb breads, nutrition bars, cookies, crackers, pizza crusts, tortillas or batters and breadings, also transforming them into rich sources of ALA omega-3. Pizzey's Milling, Daniel Best, 847-714-9527, sales@pizzeys.com, www.pizzeys.com

This resistant starch has delivered the health advantages of fiber without changing the taste or convenience of foods for more than a decade. Hi-maize™ is a natural, type-2 resistant starch (RS2) and, because it is not chemically modified, it can be designated simply as "starch" on food product labels. More than 40 published, peer-reviewed, human clinical studies have shown that RS2 starches contribute specific benefits for weight management, energy management, immune system support and digestive health. National Starch, Rhonda Witwer, 908-685-2742, Rhonda.Witwer@nstarch.com

A soluble dietary fiber that enables one to add fiber to products without changing the color, texture or flavor of existing products is now available. Novartis Nutrition's Benefiber provides excellent stability to heat for retort and aseptic processing, and no change with homogenization. Benefiber delivers 80% dietary fiber (AOAC method) and is made from partially hydrolyzed guar gum. Benefiber works well in beverages, yogurts, cereals, confections, frozen shakes and numerous other products. Samples available. Novartis Nutrition Corporation, Rose Underhill, 952-848-6164, rose.underhill@ch.novartis.com

Fiber enrichment is an important strategy in formulating or enhancing lower-carb foods. Cargill offers a wealth of fiber-enhancing ingredients and applications expertise to help you get the best performance from your products. Grain-based fiber sources include whole-wheat flour, higher-fiber corn masa flour and barley beta glucan. Other sources of fiber include Oliggo-Fiber® inulin--a chicory root derivative--and ActiStar™ resistant starch, derived from tapioca starch. Cargill, Megan Speas, 952-742-2714, megan_speas@cargill.com

Long-known for its health benefits, fiber has become even more important to consumers. Nutriant (Kerry) offers Toasted Soy Bran, a dietary fiber from the hull of soybeans, and Soy ISOfiber, a unique dietary fiber from cotyledon (the cell-wall of soybeans). The fiber products function well in many applications where nutritional positions and/or water management are valued: baked goods, cereals and snacks, meats and meat analogues. Nutriant fibers are available in non-genetically engineered and organic forms and feature an excellent flavor profile. Nutriant, Kerry, Terry Gieseke, 636-225-5853, tgieseke@kerrygroup.com

Companies hoping their food, beverage and nutraceutical applications will improve calcium absorption and enhance gastrointestinal health should consider adding "invisible" fiber as a prebiotic enrichment. ORAFTI offers ground-breaking nutritional and functional properties with soluble, all-natural RAFTILINE® (inulin), RAFTILOSE® (oligofructose) and Synergy 1. RAFTILINE replaces fat and RAFTILOSE replaces sugar without adversely affecting taste or mouthfeel. RAFTILOSE Synergy 1 offers enhanced calcium absorption at lower use levels. Orafti, Kathy Niness, 610-889-9828, Kniness@orafti-us.com, www.orafti.com

The popularity of today's low-carb and health and wellness applications make fiber a very significant formulation ingredient. Paselli FP from AVEBE is a blend of insoluble and soluble fiber sourced from the potato. The fiber is typical of potato, with an excellent clean flavor profile allowing its use in delicately flavored systems. Paselli FP works well in baked applications and is even stable enough for foodservice use. AVEBE America Inc., Jane Petrolino, 609-951-2044, petrolinoj@avebe.com

Manufacturers can increase the protein and nutritional content of low-carbohydrate baked goods, energy bars and meal replacement systems by using this ingredient. A&B Ingredients, leading suppliers of rice-based ingredients, introduce Remypro N80+, an all-natural rice protein concentrate that contains 80% rice protein. The concentrate is unique because it is not thixotropic so, unlike most proteins, it can be used at high levels without thickening. Also, because Remypro N80+ is rice-based, it is hypo-allergenic, unlike proteins derived from wheat, milk, eggs and soy. A&B Ingredients, Gil Bakal, 973-227-1390, gbakal@abingredients.com

Low-carb formulations? GMO-free demands? Fiber fortification? FIBREGUM™ from Colloides Naturels International (CNI) can fill all your demands for a multi-functional fiber. FIBREGUM is an excellent source of soluble dietary fiber (90%) with zero “net impact carbs.” The ingredient is all-natural, GMO-free, non-cariogenic and easy to disperse in dry blends or liquids. Clinical studies have confirmed FIBREGUM as a prebiotic providing enhanced digestive health. Functional benefits of FIBREGUM include superior stabilization, texture improvement and increased shelflife. Colloides Naturels International, Sharrann Simmons or Rachel Tepper, 800-872-1850, www.cniworld.com

Hazelnuts are an “all-natural dietary supplement.” They are a nutrient- and energy-dense food that provides health benefits as a snack or as an inclusion in a wide array of food items. They are an excellent source of mono-unsaturated fats and a good source of dietary fiber, manganese, potassium, copper, thiamin, vitamins B6 and E, folate and antioxidants. They have a qualified health claim for heart health and can effectively be used to reduce carbohydrates in many products. Hazelnut Marketing Board, Polly Owen, 503-678-6823, hazelnut@oregonhazelnuts.org, oregonhazelnuts.org