Making Artisan Bread at Home
The ability to make artisan bread, bread that is created by hand rather than mass-produced, is a skill that can be perfected by anyone who is supplied with the proper ingredients and equipment for bread making. Novice bread bakers, with proper supplies and rudimentary knowledge, can create beautiful loaves of bread.
There are many items useful in making bread at home that can be easily improvised using everyday household items; some equipment, though, should not be substituted.
Each ingredient that goes into bread is equally important. The quality of flour, however, plays one of the most important roles in achieving the best end result. This is not to say that it needs to be the most expensive flour on the market, neither does it necessarily require the use of bread flour. There are some wonderful all-purpose flour brands that perform as well as, or better than, bread flour. Finding the favored flour to make artisan bread will come through experimentation by each home bread maker.
There are some wheat products that go into specialty artisan breads that may be difficult to find. An intensive search through Sacramento, for example, yielded a 0% success rate in the search for rye berries, either whole or cracked. Bread is one of the foods that changes ingredients, tastes and textures from one region of the country to another. A person searching for specialty-type wheat ingredients needed to make artisan bread at home, ingredients such as spelt or rye kernels that may not be found in their region, is best advised to search for these ingredients through one of the many quality mills and flour suppliers found online. Looking for products at places such as Bob's Red Mill or King Arthur Flour will save countless hours and gas consumption that would be spent trying to find the ingredients at a land-based store.
Proofing boxes do wonderfully in the creation of artisan bread, but home bread makers can achieve the same results through improvisation. An excellent loaf of bread can be made by using either a cooler with a heating pad or the chamber of an oven as a proofing box. If using a gas oven, the heat from the pilot light alone (do not turn on the heat) provides adequate heat to proof bread. The chamber of an electric oven offers the same result simply by turning on the light bulb inside the oven.
Proofing baskets, or bannetons, are used to shape the bread during the final proofing stage. There are many of these baskets on the market that can be found for very reasonable prices; the baskets, however, can also be improvised in the home. Wicker baskets or mixing bowls (of glass or stainless steel) that have been lined with smooth fabric make an excellent proofing basket. Line the bowl or basket with any linen-type fabric (including towels, old tablecloths or napkins), mist lightly with spray oil, and dust with flour. Place the dough into the fabric covered bowl and use the overlapping edges to cover the bread. After the proofing has been completed the bowl is inverted onto the baking pan or peel and the fabric is gently removed. The bread is now ready to be prepared for baking.
Parchment Paper versus SilpatÂ®
Parchment paper and SilpatÂ® are both wonderful products to use when making bread at home and are interchangeable. Each item, though, requires a small amount of special care in the use. Parchment paper differs from regular waxed paper in that it has been treated with silicon. The silicon does not release until it hits a temperature of 180Â°F so if the dough will need to be moved around on it before baking (when bread is most vulnerable to damage) the paper will need to be lightly misted with spray oil. SilpatÂ® sheets do not require the misting of oil but they should not be placed onto baking stones or tile for fear that the intense heat of the stone will either melt the sheet or break the sheet down before its time.
If a person is looking to make artisan bread at home, a baking stone is a good investment. The excellent heat retention of these stones provides more even cooking and crispier crusts than regular baking sheets do. Pizza stones can be used, but they give results that are mediocre compared to the thicker, rectangular stones that are made specifically for bread. There are many tiles that perform as well as baking stones though there is a tendency to crack when they get wet (almost a certainty if a person uses the steam-baking process). Regardless, both stones and tiles produce a marvelous crust on the bread.
Just as no two fingerprints or snowflakes look alike, no two ovens cook alike! Unless the temperature regulator undergoes regular and constant calibration the temperature wanted may not be the temperature attained. This rarely has an impact when roasting meats or baking chocolate chip cookies, but a disparity in temperature may have a significant impact on the type of bread being baked at home. An MIU Commercial Oven Thermometer is an inexpensive way to verify the perfect heat required to make artisan bread.
A regular instant read thermometer is a smart idea for the novice artisan bread maker. Temperature plays an important role in the process of making bread, from the temperature of the liquid yeast might be mixed with to the temperature of the dough as it proofs (the cooler the dough temperature, the longer it will need to rise.) During the final stage, the cooling period, the temptation to cut into the bread before it is ready is always there. A thermometer used in this stage will let you know when it is the perfect time to slice and enjoy. Eventually, as experience is gained, a person will be able to gauge the temperatures by hand; until then, though, this is an ideal way to learn the feel of different temperatures.
A person need not outfit the kitchen to mimic the look of a bakery. With a few purchases and a little improvisation anyone can gather the ingredients and equipment to make artisan bread at home.