The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

To Artisan or Not To Artisan

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Mike Jordan's picture
Mike Jordan

To Artisan or Not To Artisan

I've been making and baking what everyone calls Artisan bread, with it's over night or multiple night retarding the yeast in the refrigerator and cooking in a dutch oven and all this other stuff for several months now. I'm on my 2nd jar of yeast and have gotten tot he point I've bought flour at Costco in the double 10 pound bag packs.  It's looking good, with decent crumb and the taste isn't bad (the dogs go nuts for any bread I make and I almost never get to finish a slice myself) although I'm not getting the rise that the books say I should and others are getting (although I think I figured that out but I have to test my theory out)... but, it's missing something.  I'm not sure what though. 

So this morning I google through the internet for a French bread recipe (I really prefer Italian but it seams what's Italian is really French or it's pizza dough or I've been led astray most of my life on what I think is Italian bread) to try that isn't a overnight or biga or poolish like all of my books have.  So I find one that takes about 3 hours from start to finish. It has the same increments, flour, water, salt and yeast and one more, vinegar.  I thought, "Vinegar?" and passed it by, but then I went back and looked at it again and did a search on what vinegar brings to the bread. I found that it's used as a booster for the yeast and not for taste. So after printing off 3 likely recipes I decided to give this on a try. I mixed it up per the instructions (I've already gotten spoiled using weight measurements and this recipe didn't list by weight :D) let it rest about an hour, formed it into 2 long French shaped loaves, let it rest for 30 minutes and then baked it for 35. It did say to put a half inch of water in a baking pan for steam while the oven was cold, which I did, which was a lot easier than pouring it into a pre-heated oven and have it splatter, hiss and spit all over the place and I had more steam this way also.  I should have given it 5 less minutes as the top was starting to get really dark and the internal temp was a bit over 200 when I took it out. The crumb was smaller than the other breads I've been making but had a much better texture and I feel had better flavor than most of the bread that the dough sat in the fridge for at least 24 hours. The only one I did that I would say was equal to in flavor or maybe a tiny bit better was the one that sat in the fridge for 5 days. But it was definitely better than the others I've done.

So maybe mom had it right... you mix it, kneed it, proof it, kneed it, form it, proof it and bake it.  More work yes and it sure takes more than 5 minutes a day, but it still comes out as really good bread. Or maybe it's because I'm Scottish and Cherokee and don't have any European roots like so many do. After all, what kind of taste buds could someone have who's ancestors liked haggis. :D




MisterTT's picture

vinegar's primary purpose is to add acidity to the dough, thus changing its handling characteristics and also taste. Note that some bakeries would have used the vinegar in absolutely miniscule amounts, same as ascorbic acid is sometimes added to flour to the tune of "parts per million". If you think bread with vinegar is tasty, try your hand at real sourdough -- you'd love it :)

If you're interested in a more in depth discussion, see

David Esq.'s picture
David Esq.

I am not a baking snob, lack the experience needed to give an opinion based  thereon, and am not certain what you are doing.  However, you reference so-called artisan bread at the beginning and 5 minutes a day at the end. 

If you are using the book by that title, I have read a number of people commenting that artisan bread in five minutes a day yields poor tasting bread. I've not tried it myself, based solely on those opinions. 

I am a one trick pony right now. Sourdough basic country loaf based on Tartine Bread. I can't seem to make the time to try something else because it comes out so good and because I make great tasting pizza with the same dough. Unfortunatly, it takes me a very long time to make the bread. But I console myself by thinking that the time is what makes it "artisan". 

dabrownman's picture

isn't added for flavor in this case but it strengthens the gluten strands.  The acid in SD bread also does the same thing and should allow for a better crumb in commercal yeast breads.   They say longer tome makes for better flavor in all breads though if your taste buds can tell the dofference but I have never gone 5 days with dough in the fridge either.

Will have to try a very small, very unripe poolish and see how that works one day.  My SD breads at 20% levain fully proof in the fridge in 12 hours and in 18 hours with a 15% levain.  The 10% levain bread fully proofs in 24 hours or so.  Even the small poolish pizza dough is ready to go after 24 hours in the fridge,  SD bagels are ready after 18 hours in the fridge.  Getting a yeast dough to make it 60 hours in the fridge will be a challenge worth doing.

DavidEF's picture


5 days in the refrigerator should be no problem for most white bread dough. It would definitely be a challenge for whole grains, because it will fall apart. At one point I was feeding my starter with 100% whole white wheat, keeping it out at room temp, feeding twice a day, trying to get a specific result. Well, I didn't want to throw any of it away, so I kept the "discards" in a bowl in the fridge. After a few days, it wouldn't hold together for anything, not even quick bread. I tried using it in some pancakes and in one batch of biscuits. They were very dense and heavy. Not really good at all. Conversely, I've left plain white dough in the fridge for several days, and it still makes great pizza and decent bread. It's extremely flavorful, too.

hamletcat's picture

I knead mine using the dough cycle on my bread maker.  It tends to get good gluten development and then the dough rises as much as it wants.  I often have to bake it before the 24 hour period or it has poor structure.

hanseata's picture

It would be easier to see what is amiss if you would post the recipe you used before turning to your lastest fast bake. What do you mean by "the yeast" you retard in the fridge? - A pre-ferment's activity level depends on what kind it is, and how long you keep it unrefreshed.

Did you really keep dough in the fridge for 5 days? I retard almost all my doughs for my little home based bakery overnight, but one night only, the taste and acidity level will change, and the crumb structure, too (I think somebody - Jürgen Krauss? - here once did a test on how the same bread changes over days of dough retardation).

I think your satisfaction with taste and looks of the bread are the main thing, if you are happy then it is fine, we don't have to be bread snobs. But, nevertheless, I would be interested in what was the matter with your earlier trials, and why they didn't turn out right.


Mike Jordan's picture
Mike Jordan

Hi and thanks for the comments.  The amount of vinegar in the recipe I used was 1 tsp and it wasn't for flavor, at least not for a sour flavor like with sourdough. The bread had an almost buttery flavor to it. I'm not a big fan of sourdough bread. I'll eat it but if there are any other choices I'll usually go with them. So I've not been that interested in creating a starter or trying any of those recipes.

Karin, most of the non-enriched breads in the book, "The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day" by Jeff hertzberg and Zoe Francois the dough can stay in the refrigerator for up to 14 days... at least according to their book and a lot of people make bread from their recipes. As much as I've read about longer retardation periods used by the various bakers, I'm surprised  anyone on here would be surprised about keeping it in there that long. :D I'm just following the recipes right now and haven't deviated very much along the way yet.

David, I've been putting in 1 cup out of the 6 1/2 cups of flour in the recipe I've been following in the book. They call their recipe "Light, Whole Wheat Bread" and the whole wheat flour gives it a nice flavor without it being too dense (at least in my inexperienced opinion it's a nice flavor).

Although I've tried a few different recipes, rather than jump all over the place (as I have a tendency to do sometimes) I've tried limiting my testing to just a few with all but a few attempts being from two of the recipes out of the book listed above. I can even tell I've learned a lot in the last 3 months and see a difference in my bread from the first few I did when I started doing them by hand rather than in the bread machine.  I do wonder though if expecting more than I should be and one of these days I'm going to take the time to visit some of the artisan bakeries that Portland has a lot of and actually taste the bread that is written about in the books and gets so many raves from well known bakers.  Maybe once I have a solid benchmark to work from I'll have a better idea of just how far off my bread is... or find that I'm close and should act impressed with my accomplishments. :D 


David Esq.'s picture
David Esq.

The "normal" bread making process has you using yeast and allowing the bread to rise for an hour or so followed by some shaping and another hour or so of rising. So when someone suggests a overnight process that is a longer retardation. 

You should bake a loaf at one day, two days, three days, etc., if you haven't done so already and see if you get the loaf you like at any of those times. I expect that if you bake at 4-15 days out you won't like the result. But i haven't tried their formula and methods. In any case, keep experimenting and if nothing works abandon the process. 

My mon does not like sourdough that is sour. But she loves my sourdough bread. My dad loves sour sourdough, and he loves my sourdough bread. I believe if you make good bread, everybody likes it.  My wife loves white bread. She loves my sourdough bread whether made with spelt, or whole wheat.  Children who are picky eaters like my sourdough bread. Except my child, who won't taste it (or much of anything!)

So don't write off sourdough baking too quickly! Sourdough is a process not a flavor. It allows for sour bread but by no means forces it. Shorter rise times result in less flavorful bread. Longer rise times (to a point), more flavorful.  more flavor may translate to more sour. But you find where on the spectrum suits your taste and you make a sourdough that is just right and keeps for a week. 

Mike Jordan's picture
Mike Jordan

Hi David,  I have baked a loaf at the two hour mark (the time it sits out before it goes into the fridge), and each day after that up to the 5 day mark.  Out of all of these, the dough that came out at 5 days had the most flavor.  I suspect you are right though that if I left it in there and baked each day out to the full 14 days that at some point I wouldn't like it. The only reason it went 5 days was I had to leave for a couple of days after it had been in there a couple of days and I baked the last of it the afternoon I got back.

I have to admit that the only sour dough bread that I've had for years and years has been store bought or commercial made bread from the deli sandwich shops. So it's very possible that I've got a warped idea of what well made sour dough should taste like. Sometime when I have the time to give it the attention it needs to get it started, I'll have to give it a try and see if you are right.  If not, I have 6 dogs that just love what I've been doing and if they had thumbs they would be cutting their own slices of bread. :D  It's too funny, I can be puttering around the kitchen and all of the dogs will be elsewhere.  As soon as I pick up the bread knife I can look around and they are all sitting and staring waiting for their piece. I rarely get a chance to finish a slice or a sandwich completely. Which is probably not a bad thing when it comes to bread. :D