Loaf of Artisan Bread
The alchemy of bread baking is unlike that of any other kitchen project. Producing a loaf of artisan bread—with a chewy, airy crumb, crisp crust, and complex flavor and aroma—can seem magical and mysterious.
Maybe you think it’s too intimidating and best left to the bakery; or maybe you’ve tried and been disappointed with the results. But with the right technique, baking a simple artisan loaf can become a straightforward and enjoyable part of your cooking routine.
Many recipes use a starter, a bubbly culture of yeast and bacteria “grown” from flour, water, and yeast or sourdough culture, to leaven the bread and create flavor . But for a simpler bread, you can use beer instead of a starter. Because it’s fermented, beer contains flavor compounds similar to those in a starter, so it gives bread those complex, rustic flavors. And the beer’s carbonation mimics the starter’s leavening action.
As for the alchemy: Kneading the dough until it’s smooth and elastic develops proper gluten structure. Then, during the first rise, the yeast creates carbon dioxide bubbles that cause the dough to expand.
Deflating, folding, and shaping the risen dough into a taut loaf ensures an evenly shaped and textured final bread. Because the yeast gets redistributed during all that folding and shaping, a second rise allows the shaped loaf to regain volume. Slashing the top of the loaf before baking isn’t just a dramatic touch: It allows the loaf to rise evenly in the oven by creating designated weak spots in the gluten sheath; without slashing, the bread will expand irregularly wherever a random weak spot happens to occur.
We use bread flour for artisan loaves, which has a higher protein content than all-purpose flour, ensuring the strong gluten development
essential to rustic breads. We also prefer instant (rapid-rise) yeast, which can be added directly to dry ingredients. Active dry yeast is heated more aggressively during production, which kills the outer cells, so it must be dissolved in warm liquid to reactivate it before use. To knead the dough, we recommend using a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment. It’s easy to add too much flour when you knead by hand, which will compromise the rustic texture and chew of your well-earned loaf.
1 Mix dough using dough hook on low speed, scraping down bowl. Increase speed to medium-low and knead until dough is smooth and elastic and clears sides of bowl.
2 Knead by hand to form smooth, round ball. Place seam side down in greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise until doubled.
3 Gently press to deflate gas pockets. Press and stretch into 10-inch square. Fold top corners into center and press to seal.
4 Stretch and fold upper third toward center and press seam to seal. Stretch and fold in half toward you to form rough loaf and pinch seam closed.
5 Starting at center and working toward ends, roll and stretch to 15 inches long by 4 inches wide. Transfer seam side down to peel.
6 Cover loosely with greased plastic and let rise until loaf rises by half and dough springs back minimally when poked with knuckle.
7 Make ½-inch-deep slash along top of loaf. Mist with water, slide onto hot baking stone, and bake.