The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

ARTISAN BREAD- what exactly is artisan bread? what qualifies it as artisan?

martinah's picture

ARTISAN BREAD- what exactly is artisan bread? what qualifies it as artisan?

I'm from Germany and have always made my own bread. Since I moved to America 3 years ago I have always wondered what exactly Artisan Bread is? What makes bread Artisan?
It's just a question that's always foated through my mind. Maybe you can help me out.Martina

PaddyL's picture

To me, an artisan bread is a rustic-type bread.  Apparently, ordinary old white or brown panned loaves don't count.

Cooky's picture

"Artisan" has more to do with the way the bread is made than the form. That is to say, ordinary white bread baked in a loaf pan qualifies if it is made simply and developed slowly. The whole thing started as a reaction against commercial bread-baking with lots of yeast and dough conditioners to make large quantities in a hurry.  

Low leaven and long ferment are sort of the founding principals of artisan baking. Obviously, there are zillions of variations in techniques, ingredients and shapes, but those are the keys. 


"I am not a cook. But I am sorta cooky."

Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

"Artisan" is a noun that is used to describe a craftsperson, or one who instructs crafterspersons. An artisan is a skilled worker.


A loaf of bread can never become a skilled worker or a craftsperson.


The correct term, not that we hear it very often, is artisanal bread, or bread made by an artisan. Craig Ponsford named his bakery "Artisan Bakers" to make a statement that it's the people who are artisans, not the bread.


In the USA we tend to fawn over French style artisanal breads acting as though they are the only artisanal breads. Some people acknolwedge Italian breads. However, most people seem to ignore the fact that there is a whole world of other delightful bread traditions. I love a good pumpernickel, a good roggenbrot, or any of the dark, heavy, chewy, flavorful breads I enjoyed in Germany. And I'd love to be able to buy some great brotchen. (Despite baking a lot, there are times I like to eat breads made by other people.)


Basically, an artisanal bread is a bread made by a craftsperson using largely traditional techniques. It is usually assumed that such a bread is largely made by hand, however many artisanal bakeries use mixers, hydraulic dividers, and molders so the amount of hands on craftsmanship is greatly dimininshed. There is a lot of argument in artisan bakeries about where the line should be drawn between artisanal bread and arisanal-style bread. The bakers who do everything by hand draw the line differently than the bakers who use lots of automated help.


If you make a loaf of sandwich bread, shaping it by hand, putting it into a bread pan, and baking in your home, it is an artisanal bread. Artisanal bread definitely does not have to be free form!


Best wishes,



Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Mini O

bwraith's picture

I'm OK with fisherman chowder. It exists - 72,700 times on Google Search. "Piscatorial Chowder" exists too, but less so - 1200 times. "Piscan Chowder" doesn't exist in Google.

"Artisan Bread" - 158,000 times on Google Search

"Artisanal Bread" - 11,700 times.

"Maniac Bread" - 7 times

"Maniacal Bread" - 4 times.


Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

Sorry, but Google is not a arbiter of correct usage or taste.


Look for sex and you'll find about 711,000,000 hits (yes, seven hundred eleven million).

Look for romantic love and you'll get about 5 1/2 million hits.


Look for bread, and you'll get around 83 million hits.

Look for whole grain bread and you'll get less than a million - around 604 thousand.

Look for sourdough bread and it's cliser to 400,000 hits.


None of those numbers are particularly significant, but they do remind us that Google is looking at what is, not at what is right.  It shows us what is common.


Common and correct have, at best, a chance alignment 



Floydm's picture

I vote with Bill and Google on this one. One can howl endlessly about how people are butchering the language, but that won't stop language from evolving. Despite being grammatically incorrect, "Artisan Bread" is clearly the term people use to signify bread that is less industrial and closer to handmade (if not actually handmade) than the plastic wrapped stuff you find on grocery store shelves.

bwraith's picture


I somehow manage to be grumpy every time I read these tiresome posts about artisan vs. artisanal. It riles me every time I hear the term artisan bread denigrated as some abomination of the English language. I don't think it's as simple as saying that artisan is a noun, not an adjective. Nouns frequently function as adjectives in English. Insisting on the term "artisanal bread" when "artisan bread" conveys the meaning perfectly clearly and rolls off the tongue more easily is unnecessarily pedantic, given the term artisan bread is far more commonly used.

As you said, Google is a very good way to understand what is most common. My point is that "artisan bread" is by far the more commonly used term. I believe the use of "artisan bread" is justified, to the extent any language as complex as English can be submitted to a momentary set of fixed rules, simply as the more commonly used term of art.

However, I don't think it's all that clear that the term is incorrect grammatically, either.

In many languages, including English, it is possible for nouns to modify other nouns. Unlike adjectives, nouns acting as modifiers (called attributive nouns or noun adjuncts) are not predicative; a red car is red, but a car park is not "car". In English, the modifier often indicates origin ("Virginia reel"), purpose ("work clothes"), or semantic patient ("man eater"). However, it can generally indicate almost any semantic relationship.
We can use a noun as an adjective when it precedes a noun that it modifies; a mountain bike is a bike designed for riding up mountains. 'Mountain' functions as an adjective modifying the noun 'bike'. The second noun takes the plural form, while the first behaves like an adjective and consequently does not, unless the word is normally used in the plural (sports hall) or refers to people (women footballers).
Nouns as adjectives

Some authors advise against using nouns as adjectives, but consider the following example, where the first two words are nouns functioning as adjectives:

            (a) Plant disease diagnosis requires both traditional and new techniques.

To avoid using the nouns as adjectives, you would need to add two prepositional phrases:

            (b) The diagnosis of diseases of plants requires both traditional and new techniques.

How do you decide which is better? As always, use your ear (listen for rhythm or its absence) and most importantly, consider your reader. I would use (a) because the noun string isn't difficult to understand and doesn't wring the rhythm from the sentence, whereas the repetitive start of (b) The diagnosis/ of diseases /of plants/ is deadening. A third version would be fine:
            (c) The diagnosis of plant disease requires both traditional and new techniques.
Chicago Manual of Style
5.30Nouns as adjectives
Words that are ordinarily nouns sometimes function as other parts of speech, such as adjectives or verbs. A noun-to-adjective transition takes place when a noun modifies another noun {the morning newspaper} {a state legislature} {a varsity sport} (morning, state, and varsity are adjectives). Occasionally, using a noun as an adjective can produce an ambiguity. For example, the phrase fast results can be read as meaning either “rapid results” or (less probably but possibly) “the outcome of a fast.” Sometimes the noun and its adjectival form can be used interchangeably—for example, prostate cancer and prostatic cancer both refer to cancer of the prostate gland. But sometimes using the noun instead of the adjective may alter the meaning—for example, a study group is not necessarily a studious group. A preposition may be needed to indicate a noun’s relation to other sentence elements. But if the noun functions as an adjective, the preposition must be omitted; at times this can result in a vague phrase—for example, voter awareness (awareness of voters or by them?). Context might suggest what preposition is missing, but a reader may have to deduce the writer’s meaning.


Maggie Glezer in "Artisan Baking"
When I tell people that I have written a book about artisan baking, I always get a quizzical look - what is artisan bread (as it has come to be called, no one being able to pronounce artisanal)?
Once upon a time, when writing styles were more formal than they are now, some people were very careful never to end a sentence with a preposition. Even then, however, there were stylistic mavericks who let their prepositions fall with abandon. Winston Churchill was one of these people. His secretary, appalled, always revised the drafts of Churchill's speeches to avoid ending sentences with a preposition. Exasperated, Churchill finally sent this message to his secretary: “This is the sort of English up with which I will not put.”


Atropine's picture

If I may :).....

I think there are two different discussions is about proper terminology from a terminology standpoint ("bread cannot be artisan...only people can"  vs  "No, artisan has changed to mean bread too"). 


Then there is the original question--what DENOTES or SEPARATES or RATES as (artisan or artisanal) bread?  The root of the question:  how do I know if I am an artisan?  How do I know if I qualify or rate?  That is the point I would like to address.


I think of it this way:  part of "artisan" is sort of like "artist".  We know the difference between, say, Picasso the artist and someone who buys one of those paint by number kits of a Picasso painting.  The paint by number person is not being an artist, even though they are using paint and a brush and recreating a great work of art.  There is just no "intent" there, no creativity.  It might be difficult for that person, but it is not their work.  It does not require much thought....just match the paint numbers and stay in the lines.


I then ALSO consider the idea of "craftsman" (well skilled) vs "artisan" (skilled but also creative).  RTWS (my spouse) is an excellent woodworker.  Sometimes he uses only hand tools (planes, archemides screw drivers, etc) to do a project.  Sometimes he uses a bandsaw and industrial planer.  Sometimes he uses both.   He uses what will create the best possible effect for the type of wood and project.  Sometimes a wood is iron-hard and requires machinery to get the best out of the wood.  Sometimes an area is so delicate that it requires the gentlest control of the tiniest chisel.  Both are tools used to create..not just "assemble".


Now, sometimes he just builds a box out of spare MDF to hold a computer up off the desk.  That is hardly "craftsman", but rather "assembly".  It IS useful and it IS is even better than what one can buy in a store.  But not really art or exceptional craft.  He IS a craftsman, IS an artist, but that piece is not "artisanal".  It is a 15 minute slap together for him.  He uses what is expedient in order to make something quick and without creativity. 


BUT sometimes he spends a great deal of time and effort on a box that will be used for jewelry.  He might have instructions before him, but he is hands on in his choice of materials, in his care, in his knowledge of what wood would to best, what each wood needs, and spends hours and days making it "just so".  Dovetails and carefully selected wood, sometimes using a power tool, sometimes using an antique handplane or handsaw.  The tool is chosen for its purpose, for what the wood needs to be its best, not automatically discarded because it is too "new".


For me, artisan bread comes down to thought and care, NOT necessarily the qualifications of the baker (a baker can be a professional "assmebly line" baker at work, but be an artisan at home....or can be an artisan at work, if he takes great pains to select ingredients, choose techniques, and is intent on developing a higher level of product, making very small batches, tweaking this or that). 


Nor is artisan bread the qualities of the bread per se.  I can follow a rustic recipe, make a rustic looking, flour-dusted, loaf, but what did *I* add to the process?  Did I carefully select the ingredients...or did I just buy what the recipe listed?  Did I put any creativity or thought into it?  Or did I just follow the instructions?  Was this the bread version of my own original work of art, my own Mona Lisa....or was this "bread by numbers"? :)


I have an english muffin bread that I make from a recipe.  It is VERY delicious, VERY "rustic" looking in it's own way.  Homemade and "better than storebought".  But it is not artisanal, because I was not the artist :).  I follow the recipe, throw whatever flour I happen to have on hand, do not fiddle with the ingredients and have no intent to adjust hydration.


However, I have a very light and fluffy bread, soft as silk and buttery and slightly sweet.  Does not matter the shape I bake it (loaf, roll, boule)...that does not denote artisanal quality for me.  It was the fact that this was a blessing from the Lord, a recipe that developed (ironically, from a recipe that I misread, liked the initial results and  continually tweaked it.), and is now my own work.  That one I might consider artisanal.  I fret over it, share it with pride and deep gratitude that such a magnificent thing could come by my hands.


If you take a recipe that is established ("bread by numbers")....but then change, adapt, nurture, and tweak it til it is far different from what the recipe is...THEN it becomes artisanal...and you are the artisan.  Again, just because you are an artisan, that does not mean that everything you make is automatically "artisanal", IMO.


(Now, one might argue the idea that an artisan is also very accomplished after years of study, etc.  However, i think that a)that is too hard to quantify and b)some people who have been baking for YEARS might have horrible bread and very little love or creativity, while there are some who are talented in nose, eye, touch, and palate who can create incredible breads after a month or two of learning the basics.  There are prodigies in cooking, just like prodigies in anything else, IMO).


This is just my opinion from reading on these boards, from considering work vs industry vs passion vs care vs recipes vs creativity.  Feel free to disagree :)

Floydm's picture

Well said.

Liam's picture

Well, Atropine!

That was some essay; both thoughtful and illustrative.  Can I get  your husband to build me a bookcase or four, a desk, a couple of end tables and a coffee table?  Just kidding, because I suspect that a) you don't live anywhere near me and b)  he is kept pretty busy with domestic projects.

Back to my comment, overall I have to say "amen".  

To quote "The Princess Bride" ........."let me explain - no that takes too long, let me sum up".  Bread baking should result in a luscious loaf which provides joy in the making and the eating.

All of the detailed commentaries apply and are accurate while perhaps being pedantic or persnickety; they do provide for lively exchange of information and stimulation of the brain.  This is one of the functions of forums such as these.  Just because we have a common interest doesn't mean we can't be interesting and interested in other things - as you well know.

The "sum up" part: for me artisan or artisanal bread (as I prefer to  say it) differentiates between "hanging bread" (my son's expression for white, sliced, mass-produced, squishy bread) and something made at home that has a nice brown crust and actual flavour.

Oh and can I have the recipe for the soft, milky buttery bread.  It sounds divine! 

All the above meant in good fun, of course

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

An artist does not label himself but is called an artist by another. The whole artist concept with all its adjectives and nouns is subjective. If I bake horrible bread, but one person likes it and calls me an artist, it is then artisan. Even when it is a favorite door stop.

Mini O

ehanner's picture

Mini, I just looked up Artisanal Baker in this dictionary and can you believe it your picture is there.


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Tell the publisher I prefer to be titled than anal. Flattery will get you nowhere!

So your sourdough is coming along I hear, shall I call you an Artist?

Let it be done... "poof" are now an official Artisanal Baker.

I'm sure I'm not the first to tell you that you have talent. How does it feel? Any bake by number (you can forget the scales now) numbness in those bones? I hope it's an arty picture you plan to put next to mine and ....of course you didn't say which picture of mine was there. This could be interesting....

Mini O

ehanner's picture

Ahhh, Martina, --To me Artisan Bread is simply, good bread, not machine made. I strive to make bread that tastes and looks delicious. If either of those qualities are not present then it's not Artisan Bread, it's just bread.

As you may have noticed, in America we take our selves very seriously, especially when waxing on about trivialities.


hullaf's picture

Ah, don't you just love the debating, the free form discussing, the way of the pen? The world wide web has made us all into writers. (The exponential qualities of communicating are unimaginable.) I think the discussion here is good for the soul, the making of TFL, the making of us all as self-made artists and artisanal bread bakers. Or just someone making plain 'ole bread. 


bwraith's picture

Oxford - In an ironic twist of fate, the Attrib. Quasi-adj entry for the word artisan in the Oxford English Dictionary was recently amended to credit the first use of the term artisan bread, a recently added example phrase in the dictionary for the adjectival use of the word artisan, to a famed artisan bread expert, Mike Avery. Debate about the proper use of the term "artisan bread" rages on various web sites devoted to the topic, including The Fresh Loaf. Mike Avery insists he never used the term "artisan bread" in a sentence in his entire writing career, except in a few examples of incorrect usage. How the term "artisan bread" came to be attributed to him, in spite of his well-known disdain for the term, is unknown.

Mike, I have benefited over and over from your advice here on TFL and especially from the incredibly comprehensive and easy to understand information on your web site. I also purchased your book some years ago, and it continues to sit in a place of honor on my baking bookshelf right next to Reinhart's BBA, Glezer's Artisan Baking (oops, there I go again), and Leader's Local Breads. Mike, I hope you won't take the above the wrong way. I just mean it as a way to lighten up from my previous post.


RMatey's picture

All I wanted to do was find an article about salt and bread dough...instead I get side tracked by this debate...

Which I think is the point.   This is ads-gone-wild...

 Someone in a marketing firm found that they could sell more "french bread" if they had safeway (and others) market it as Artisan(or what not) bread.  That is really all that this argument comes down too.  Are you a baker, a bread scientist, a breader, a Bread Artisan.  It is how you are marketing yourself to get customers who will want your products. 

When all is said and done the proof of the pudding is in the tasting... why worry so much about what you call it...

jefgat's picture

"Artisan" means some marketing guy realized that the word "Artisan" sells bread.

nowhereman's picture

for the hand baker, bread is above such labels ;-)



DJ Brown's picture
DJ Brown

Where I live those who sell "artisan bread" say artisan bread is simply made "old school" sort to speak. Done by hand all the way. They say the ingredients vary a little than conventional bread minus the additives. This is what they tell me.

To me artisan is this,

It has that old days feel and even taste, the way that grandma would make it back for us baby boomers. Made with the hands not machines

As well. it is a good marketing term as well as there are lots of products related to artisan bread.

Just throwing it out there.



JasonYacoub's picture

An Artisan is a word derived from French or Artigiano from Italian meaning hand crafted.

High end bread companies just found a new way to charge more for bread by calling Artisan Bread instead of saying Fresh Handcrafted Bread they say Artisan Bread sound more lavishing thus most costly.

See Wikipedia for meaning of Artisan