What is it that makes a loaf of bread an artisan bread? It’s an interesting question, especially to us here at Brasserie Bread.
Made By An Artisan
When you talk about artisan bread you’re talking about bread made by an artisan – someone skilled in the craft of bread making. It’s not about how rustic the loaf looks or how uneven the crumb, although these are attractive qualities that indicate the changing nature of bread from day to day.
It’s not even about how hands-on the process is, as there are very few artisan bakers who have not embraced the time and energy-saving potential of technology. At one end you have bakeries, like us, that rely on a dough mixer to mix and knead the dough to those that are entirely automated.
And it’s not even about size, despite many of us holding to the romantic ideal of a baker toiling away in the wee hours in his own, small, family-run village bakery. Bakeries the world over, including Brasserie Bread, want to grow. But does that mean we’re no longer making artisan bread because we’re big?
We believe that what fundamentally makes an artisan bread ‘artisan’ is integrity. It’s about making choices about how the bread is made, from the type of flour you use to the length of the fermentation process (we choose a long fermentation that develops a unique flavour). And without question, artisan bread is made using a natural starter, made with flour, water and salt, and is baked on the hearth – even if it is a hearthstone in a modern deck oven.
Skill & Knowledge
Skill and knowledge are integral to making artisan bread. The sourdough starter, the best flour, the dough… they are nothing without an attending baker who knows how to use them. These skills are developed over time and, says Brasserie Bread’s Michael Klausen, who has been baking bread for over 20 years, it’s a life-long learning process. “The more you know the more you realise you don’t know,” he says.
The modern era of artisan bread is still new. For every artisan bakery there is a different approach, especially when it comes to balancing business growth and authenticity. Everyone is experimenting. In Paris, renowned bakery Poilâne has expanded to a large premise in Bièvres, where around 15,000 loaves are baked daily and flown directly to London and America. La Brea Bakery, which was started by Nancy Silverton in 1989 in Los Angeles, has a different approach, par-baking their famous sourdough for distribution around the country.
Like artisan bakers everywhere, we’re working out how to hold to the traditional methods of baking and learn from the skills and knowledge of the bakers who have gone before us and apply, where we can, advances in technology that can help us continue to make the best bread we can.