Artisan Bread and Baking as an Art

The Art of Artisan Bread Baking

Artisan bread is more than just hand-made, fresh-baked bread. As the name implies, artisan bread is all about the art of baking and about the craftperson working on it.

We talked to Marco Bianco, Head Bread Baker at Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix, Arizona, to learn more about the artisan bread movement and why it’s taking the culinary world by storm.

Q: What makes artisan bread special?

MB: What makes the basic Artisan bread special is using only four ingredients: whole wheat flour, water, salt and leaven (sourdough).

Another thing that makes Artisan bread unique is the benefits of nutrition and health, flavor and, of course, the smell. There are many ways to ferment breads: with pre-ferments, Biga, Poolish, soakers and sponges, which are different ways a baker can manipulate fermentation of grain and flour for development of lift, flavor and nutritional benefits.

In the bread-baking world, the “best of the best” is when a bread baker is able to use and maintain a leaven or sourdough culture over time with balance of yeast and lactic acid. Bacteria development will present these benefits –and the major factor of these benefits is a result of the longer time of fermentation of 12 hours or more.

This, combined with whole ancient and heirloom wheat grown by local famers, is known to naturally improve the nutritional content of the bread. This is in part due to natural growing and milling practices: since the grain is milled via lower temperatures in the 80 to 100 degree range, it retains the entire bran, germ & endosperm (flour) intact.

Q: How is artisan bread different from regular bread?

MB: Regular bread (better known as commercial bread) is large-scale baking. This type of bread baking is focused on lowering cost of production and to me is the biggest reason of more exposure of gluten in the American diet. Gluten comes from the greater amounts of baker’s yeast added to commercial bread to speed up the fermentation process. Unfortunately, this process does not  break down the  gluten enough as a result  of the short fermentation time (less than 3 hours long).

Also, commercial bread has a lot of added artificial preservatives for longer shelf life. In artisan sourdough, the lactic acid bacteria is the natural component that preserves the breads up to six days, because acid prevents development of mold, breaks downs gluten during the longer ferments of 12 hours, and lowers the glycemic content of the bread.

Commercial bread also contains larger amounts of Phytic acid. In grains, the phytic acid is located in the bran and needs to be broken down as low as possible because larger amounts of Phytic acid prevent the body from absorbing the nutrients (Iron, magnesium and calcium) present in the grain. To prevent this, the lactic acid bacteria needs time (12 hours or more) to slow natural fermentation and break this phytic acid down, which allows the body to receive these benefits.

Artificial acids, vitamins, and enzymes are added to commercial breads to mimic what natural fermentation does with longer time. Commercial breads adds up to 30 different ingredients to artificially mimic what longer ferments do naturally. Artisan sourdough breaks the microflora of natural yeast to work along with your digestive system, not against it.

Artisan breads break down gluten levels and give individuals a chance to re-introduce sourdough breads back into their diets. This is how low the glucose content of artisan bread is. On the other hand, two slices of commercial bread can increase your sugar levels to the same level as a can of Cola.

When it comes to baking the perfect artisan bread, Bianco says that, for him, the process starts 24 hours prior of mixing the final batch. “The heart and soul of artisan bread baking sourdough is the continuous refreshing or refeeding of your sourdough culture,” he explains. This means the bread goes through a process of mixing, adding more sourdough culture, and mixing again for several hours.

And it’s that long relationship with every single loaf of bread is what makes artisan bread so special. What Bianco calls “ the soul” of artisan bread.

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Diana Bocco is a writer and author who writes for Yahoo!, the Discovery Channel website, Marie Claire, Poplar Mechanics, and more. You can find more about her work on her website

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