What is artisanal bread?
Puzzled by the word "artisanal" on every bread lover's lips? It's simple:
think bread your grandmother would have made when you were a kid -- no factories, no additives, no preservatives. Here's a peek beneath the crust.
Check the label
Artisanal is the hottest bakery buzzword right now, and there's no regulatory agency determining who can and can't stamp it on their products. "Even pizza parlours and chains in the States are using it," says Linda Haynes, the cofounder of Ace Bakery.
Dig a little deeper
First, check the ingredients on the packaging; there shouldn't be many listed, and there shouldn't be any words you don't know, says Haynes. Next, visit the company's website to understand how the product is made. "I'm finding that more consumers are looking for products where they are comfortable with the company's philosophy," says Haynes.
Reap the benefits
An artisanal baguette will always be made using a pre-ferment, or starter, that takes about 12 to 15 hours to make. This long fermentation will give the bread depth of flavour. "It gives it an open cell structure and flavour that you taste first at the front of your mouth, then at the back," says Haynes.
Why the extra cost?
A few things can make artisanal breads a bit pricier than their more commercial cousins: many contain organic ingredients, which cost the bakers more. Plus, where the bread is made can impact price. "When you have a long starter time, you're using up more space," says Haynes. "And because the ovens are running for longer and are hotter, that adds up, too."
Go ahead -- make it yourself
While it may seem intimidating at first, it's really not that complicated, and the benefits can surpass simply having a beautifully turned-out baguette (and a house that smells like freshly baked bread).
"It's a ritual," says Haynes. "It's a different rhythm than plonking ingredients into a breadmaker. You really have to slow down and be prepared to wait -- things that people in our society don't like to do." Looking for a shortcut? Ace Bakery now sells three of the flour blends, made by its master baker, and the pre-ferment.
How to buy the best-tasting artisanal loaf
Look for the 3 C's:
"You don't want a bread that's super-white," says Haynes. "That means bleached flour was used or there was too long a mixing time. It should look a little creamy inside."
The inside of artisanal bread (called the crumb) should be dotted with holes and stretch slightly when you pull it apart.
Find a crisp crust that's done to your liking. "Some like it golden and others, quite dark," says Haynes. "It does change the taste a bit."