Artisan bread is just that — artistic. It has its “artistry” baked in, much like an oak table that is painstakingly pieced together by its maker, cut, polished and filled with pride. Like that table, artisan bread is hand-crafted, produced either one at a time or in small batches, with no two alike. These loaves claim a historic past that goes back to our country’s very beginnings, when women mixed and kneaded basic ingredients such as yeast, flour, water and salt.
Artisan bread’s popularity waned when commercial bakeries came out with sweet, soft white bread. By the 1950s, Wonder Bread had become the sandwich maker of choice, and busy families could plop the colorfully wrapped loaf into their shopping carts. No more kneading or mixing, and who wanted to put up with that mess anyway? Wonder Bread exemplified life back then. Easy, laid back. There was an innocence about the bread, a naïveté that seemed to reflect us as a nation.
Now we’re getting back to our roots, as artisan bread is making a comeback. Nutrition, health and well-being are the buzz words, and good old-fashioned whole-grain breads are part of that vocabulary. According to Sandi Smith, owner with husband Tom of Sandi’s Breads, with locations at the Farmstead Farmers Market in Palmyra and Stauffer’s of Kissel Hill in Mechanicsburg, it’s the freshly milled wheat and natural ingredients, along with all that special attention, that separate their artisan bread from those on grocers’ shelves.
“The wheat we use is certified chemical-free,” Smith says. “The freshly milled flour goes from the mill into the mixer bowl, leaving little time for nutrient breakdown. People are looking to do good things for their bodies.”
Smith started baking her own breads because she wanted to offer something both delicious and healthy for the couple’s children. She started Sandi’s Breads in her home kitchen in 2001 after a request from a local farmers’ market to provide some baked goods for sale. Starting with a single variety of whole-wheat bread, Smith had so much fun interacting with the customers that day that she decided to become a regular presence at the market. Over the next three years, Smith added four more bread varieties along with her trademarked Grab-A-Nola Bars. As the breads rose and expanded, so did the business. She began developing new and original loaves after customers requested more “stuff” in the bread or “something to crunch on.” In 2007, the couple decided to focus all their efforts on the business and relocated the entire bakery, including their bread-making equipment, from their kitchen to a stand at the Farmstead Farmers Market.
Hours before the market opens at 8 on Friday and Saturday mornings, Smith and her small team of bakers begin milling, mixing, shaping the loaves and baking the breads, muffins and cookies. Artisan bread offerings listed on the sign above the counter include such delights as country French, French baguettes and Italian. Some original concoctions include “cheese volcano,” which bursts from the inside with a special blend of assorted cheeses, and the pesto bread, comprised of a French dough incorporating basil or tomato pesto. There’s also Smith’s oatmeal loaf, a dill and veggie loaf and a loaf swirled with fresh-roasted garlic and feta.
“My brain never turns off,” Smith says with a laugh. “I’ll browse the spice aisle at the supermarket and come up with something to bake into the bread. A restaurant once asked us for an apple loaf, but all I had was apricots, so I created a spiced apricot loaf. I get excited about different recipes.”
But according to Smith, the preference for artisan bread goes beyond history, and beyond health awareness. Artisan bread demands attention. It’s not something one can eat without taking notice. Artisan bread, Smith says, is its “own experience.”
“Bite into it and it crackles and crunches,” she says. “Italian loaves have a hearty crust. It can wipe that sauce off the plate. French loaves have a tender-crisp crust. It’s the whole tactile thing that happens when you eat bread. You hold that bread in your hands; it has texture. Artisan bread speaks to you when you put it in your mouth.”
Bakery equipment lines Smith’s stand at the Palmyra farmers’ market, but only a mixer is used in the creation of artisan bread. The rest is done by hand and, much to the delight of customers, the bread-making process can be witnessed by anyone walking by. “It’s like being on stage,” Smith explains. They can watch us fold it and smush it. “That’s how love gets into the bread.”
Smith saw that love up close and personal while growing up. She used to watch her mother bake her own bread. It was white bread, nothing fancy. Yet ironically, Smith wasn’t satisfied and would complain.
“I would ask her, ‘Why can’t we buy Wonder Bread?’,” Smith recalls. “She would cringe.”
Gruyere-Stuffed Crusty Loaves
1¼ cups King Arthur unbleached bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon King Arthur instant yeast
½ cup cool water
All of the starter
1 cup + 2 Tablespoons to 1¼ cups lukewarm water*
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon King Arthur pizza dough flavor (optional)
3½ cups King Arthur unbleached bread flour
½ teaspoon King Arthur instant yeast
*Use the greater amount of water in winter, when conditions are dry; the lesser amount in summer, when the weather is humid.
2½ cups grated Gruyère cheese, or the grated/shredded cheese of your choice (a mixture of provolone and mozzarella is tasty)
1 Tablespoon garlic oil (optional)
1 Tablespoon King Arthur pizza seasoning (optional)
To make the starter: Mix the flour, salt, yeast and water in a medium-sized bowl. Mix till well combined; the starter will be very dry. Cover and let rest overnight at room temperature; it’ll become bubbly.
To make the dough: Combine the risen starter with the water, salt, flour and yeast. Knead by hand, mixer or bread machine set on the dough cycle to make a smooth dough.
Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover and let it rise for 1½ to 2 hours, till it’s nearly doubled in bulk.
Gently deflate the dough, and pat and stretch it into a ¾-inch-thick rectangle, about 9x12 inches. Spritz with water and sprinkle with the grated cheese.
Starting with a long side, roll it into a log, pinching the seam to seal. Place the log, seam side down, on a lightly floured or lightly oiled surface.
Cover it and let it rise for 1 to 1½ hours, till it’s puffy, though not doubled in bulk. Toward the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 425°F.
Gently cut the log into four crosswise slices for mini-breads; or simply cut the dough in half for two normal-size loaves. Place them on 1 (for 2 loaves) or 2 (for 4 mini-loaves) lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheets, cut side up. Spread them open a bit, if necessary, to more fully expose the cheese. Spritz with warm water and immediately place them in the preheated oven.
Bake for 20 minutes (for the mini-loaves), or 35 minutes (for the full-sized loaves), or until the cheese is melted and loaves are a very deep golden brown. Remove them from the oven and cool on a rack.
From Bakers’ Banter, the King Arthur Flour blog. Used with permission. For step-by-step photos illustrating how to make this bread, click here.
Homemade pizza crust
1 cup water
2 teaspoon yeast
2 teaspoon olive oil
2 cups all-purpose flour (for a more authentic texture, replace ½ cup flour with ½ cup semolina)
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 teaspoon garlic salt
½ teaspoon Italian seasoning
Proof yeast in warm water. Combine all dry ingredients in separate bowl. Add proofed yeast and oil to dry ingredients. Mix together, add more flour as needed, but keep dough fairly sticky. Knead. Let rise until doubled. Form into pizza crust. Let rise. Bake at 450-500°F about 8 minutes. Remove from oven, add toppings. Return to oven to heat/bake toppings, about 5 minutes. Remove from oven, let cool slightly.
½ cup ricotta cheese
½ cup sour cream
½ cup mayonnaise
1 cup grated Parmesan
1 cup shredded mozzarella
½ bulb garlic, chopped (about 1 Tablespoon)
2 14-oz. cans artichoke hearts
Combine first six ingredients, blend well. Coarsely chop artichoke hearts and fold into mixture. Pour into shallow baking dish. Bake until golden on top and bubbly. Serve with slices of Sandi’s Breads’ Country French or Italian breads that have been toasted in the oven until crisp.
Courtesy Sandi Smith
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