With the cold temps, we've now turned on the heat. Unlike during the warmer months, baking is even more appealing. Surrounding yourself with the warmth and smells of freshly baked bread helps take the chill out of the air. I bake year round, but when I'm paying for air conditioning, I'm a bit reluctant to pour hot air from my oven into my cool house. Not that it stops me though! I just don't bake on the very hot days.
Today I want to Muse about artisan breads. What are artisan breads? There's debate about the exact definition of artisan breads and whether the term "artisan" should be applied to the bread vs. the person making the bread. Regardless, the very term "artisan" can be intimidating to a newbie. Please don't let that hold you back!
I've been baking typically made breads (sweet, whole grain and sandwich) for many years. I have used the bread machine to prepare the dough and then traditionally shape and bake in a regular oven. I've also used my Kitchen Aid stand mixer with a dough hook. I rarely hand mix/knead dough, as it is too difficult for me. Some people really enjoy the hand mixing and kneading process, and if you can physically do it, it's certainly a gratifying experience. You also have the benefit of developing and using your skills of sensing the "feel" of the bread dough, and knowing when its texture is just right. But any of the mechanical preparation methods I've just described will work fine too.
Artisan breads sometimes do make use of mechanical preparation, or traditional, extensive hand kneading. However, most artisan preparation methods are less intense, using simple mixing and then folding of the dough or doing very little kneading. Instead, longer rise times (or proofing) develop the gluten and airy textures you strive for. Just think, you can bake some beautiful, delicious, loaves with very little in the way of special equipment or physical work. Be warned! Once you are bitten by the "artisan bug", you WILL want to invest in at least a few special "toys" to experiment with! You can spend as little or as much as you or your budget allows!
Artisan, or artisinal breads have that special rustic look. Some are quite fancy, others are simply round, oblong or long and thin like baguettes. Some can be embellished with designs, patterns, or special shaping. Some are baked on a stone or on a pan/sheet and some are baked in an enclosed vessel. These breads are made with care and attention to ingredients and to appearance. They simply have that "wow" factor when you see them. Think of your reaction when you enter a quality bakery and see racks and shelves of mouth watering, beautiful loaves that make you think "old world", or "handmade".
Earlier this summer, I decided to "up" my baking game, and try making some of these special breads. Little did I know how easy it can be and how much FUN I would have. Yes, eventually I did buy some equipment and tools to improve my baking experiences. However, you can get by with minimal investment when you first get started. Believe it or not, supplies can also be found second hand to keep expenses down. For example, I found a gently used Romertopf clay baker for just 9 dollars, a fraction of what it costs new. It bakes an awesome loaf! Baking artisan breads can be strangely addicting. It is so creative offering countless opportunities to express yourself through your breads. You can find countless recipes online and in print to follow AND you can tweak them to make "your own".
I joined a great group on Facebook called Artisan Bread Bakers. https://www.facebook.com/groups/ArtisanBakers/ This group is huge and comprised of bakers of ALL levels, newbies to professional bakers. Members are supportive and helpful and many are willing to teach and share their expertise, including supporting tentative newbies (like me!). I cannot say enough good things about this group. If you are at all interested in exploring artisan breads, joining this group should be your first step.
Your next step should be doing some research to learn more about what artisan breads are all about. There are countless books written, some more technical than others. Believe me, I think I've read at least 75% of them. Your local library can be great resource. Be sure to use it! I happen to belong to an exceptional library cooperative that allows me access to library collections throughout the state, so if my local library does not have a book, I can probably get it from a library that participates in the cooperative. Can't find it at a library? Don't be shy. Suggest they buy it and add it to the collection! My library has been very receptive to purchase suggestions and have bought quite a few books I have requested.
In future Musings, I will share information about my experiences making artisan breads (some I've already touched on in previous Musings). I'll share what I've learned about ingredients, recipes, equipment, books and on line resources that I've found to be helpful. Be sure to come back and visit for those Musings!
In the meantime, here are some pictures of my projects. (posted in order from earliest to most current bakes) Hope you enjoy them.