A Perfectly Old and Crusty Culinary Class: Artisan Breads
By JoVon Sotak
Bread has been a dietary staple for many cultures over the years, and the importance of affordable, well-made bread is reflected in a number of laws passed throughout history, according to History Magazine. For example, in England in 1266, a law was passed that fixed the price a baker could charge for bread. The law remained in place for over 600 years and wasn't the only law of its kind. Bakers were hanged in Turkey for too-high bread prices, and England and Egypt passed laws in the Middle Ages with severe punishments for bakers selling faulty bread. Today's bakers may forfeit repeat customers instead of facing the pillory, but bread is no less important today.
Artisan breads are breads that are crafted instead of commercially produced. Making these breads is both a science and an art, which is why some culinary arts degree programs dedicate an entire course to their craft.
What to Expect in an Artisan Breads Class
If you're enrolled in culinary degree program, a specialty breads or artisan breads class typically won't be among the first chef classes you'll take. You may have an introductory baking methods or ingredients class that serves as a prerequisite for a specialty breads course. In your speciality breads course, you'll learn to prepare:
- Lean, rich and sour dough breads
- Bagels, pretzels, regional and ethnic breads
- Holiday and seasonal breads
You'll also get instruction on innovative baking methods and learn how to mix, shape, and finish specialty breads. You may have noticed that some types of breads always look the same. This is because there are a number of classic artisan bread shapes that bakers must master. You'll also learn how to stencil dough and to use it decoratively.
The Science of Artisan Bread
Making one loaf may seem manageable, but how can you make sure you get great results every time, no matter how many loaves you're baking or no matter which flour you choose? That's exactly why you'll learn both math and science in culinary school. You'll learn how to properly measure ingredients, how to scale them, and how to properly convert a recipe. For breads, this can be tricky when you start to substitute flours with different properties.
For example, wheat flours must be substituted based on weight rather than volume, but even then a baker must know the properties of the specific wheat in order to properly adjust a recipe. Hard and soft wheat have different levels of protein content, which can affect the weight of the flour and the density of the dough and resulting product.
Chemistry is also an integral part of baking bread. If you've never paused to consider the difference between single-acting and double-acting baking powder, you haven't even scratched the surface of baking and chemistry. What do you do if the batter is thick? How does altitude affect the amount of CO2 required for baking? A variety of factors affect how you use a single ingredient such as baking powder, even before you introduce all the other ingredients and factors of bread making.
Intensive culinary courses in baking are designed to teach you all the factors affecting dough so that you can recognize faults and correct them quickly. Even if bakers aren't facing the pillory, expert bakers are tasked with producing an excellent product with consistent results.
About the Author
JoVon Sotak is a writer, community journalist, and photographer who enjoys living in the middle of nowhere, Nevada. Her articles have appeared in online and print publications in Nevada and throughout the United States.