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Artisan bread and baskets

Updated: Mar 7, 2020

This post is inspired by two different sources. After my visit to the nurse to have the dressing on my foot changed, because it was in Kew and because i had to park in the Leo's supermarket car park, I decided to have a browse through Leo's. I don't often get the chance, and I think there are only a couple in Melbourne. It warrants a post of its own.

It's a posh high-end supermarket very useful for difficult to find items but I have to wonder who shops there on a regular basis. It's very expensive. And the bread in particular was pricey. I noticed that they sold Schwob's bread, which I haven't seen for ages (another post another day). Well they may well have had some normal white sliced bread somewhere, but I confess I was just wandering looking for unusual things.

Then last night I managed to watch a cookery program which was one that featured Michel Roux, Jr. talking about artisan bread. He showed us how to do it, visited various trendy bread shops and bakeries and showed us a couple of things you could do with it. Again - another blog - the things he did that is.

I get a bit annoyed by everyone banging on about artisan bread, mostly because if you see anything labelled as such, in a small bakery it is bound to be very expensive. Up to $10.00 a loaf I believe. It's not that I think that the bread is horrible or not made with care, but I just think that it's yet another thing that we all should have access to, but in reality is really only accessible to the rich. Still I suppose from little things big things grow.

Michel Roux, quite rightly said, that back in the years after the war there were lots and lots of small bakeries producing home-made bread. I remember we had one near us. But now in Britain there are just a small number. I cannot remember the numbers but it was a huge drop.

He also said that this was not the case in France. Which is true. Just about every village that has shops has a boulangerie, and more than likely it is an artisan boulangerie. And there are strict rules about what can be called an artisan boulangerie. It has to be made on the premises being the main one. Of course the hypermarkets have factory produced bread, and it's pretty Ok, but not quite the same as that from the small boulangeries. And it's not expensive. I have a memory of a baguette costing one euro which today would be AUD$1.60. So affordable by everyone I would think. Even if it's 2 euros it's still not hugely expensive, though moving that way I guess.

Of course the trend these days is to the artisanal. Apparently sales of the factory produced stuff is declining rapidly in the UK. And we should applaud that.

"Sales of white, sliced factory bread are reported to be in steep decline, and you can buy a sourdough loaf in Asda for £1.40."

The supermarkets are getting in on the act of course, as they are here. And even though factory produced it is still fairly artisanal - if one characteristic of artisanal bread is that it only contains flour, yeast, salt and water. I just checked the ingredients in a rustic baguette from Coles/Laurent and the only extra thing was folic acid and bread improver. But even the No-Knead bread lady tells you to add that.

So you can get 'artisanal' bread from your supermarket at a reasonable price. But not elsewhere. Well not the super trendy little bakeries which are hugely expensive. I confess I have not bought any bread from Baker's Delight for a while so I may be doing them a disservice. It is made on the premises after all.

So let's hope that the white sliced does decline. It's apparently made with a process whose name I have now forgotten and has heaps of extra ingredients. Here in Australia apparently the white sliced accounts for 26.7% of bread sales and artisanal is 14.7%. Which is encouraging. I guess that means the rest of us are compromising and buying the better bread from Bakers Delight and the supermarkets that can't quite be classed as artisanal.

Back to Michel Roux Jr. On one of his bakery trips we were shown the baker proving his dough in a wicker basket - which gives it that pattern you see on artisanal bread. Which intrigued me, so I looked it up. And yes, I see that indeed the artisanal bakers use specially made 'baskets' for the purpose called bannetons or proofing baskets. I think they are the same thing.

Which of course are expensive, and according to one guy on the net, untraceable in France. But of course you can use an ordinary cane basket. Here is a selection that one other man suggested - including a colander, although I think the dough would ooze through the holes on that.

I think there seem to be two reasons for using the baskets. One is that they keep a soft sticky dough in place. But then a bread tin would do that too. The other, rather more important one is that the pattern of the weave imprints itself on the dough and makes it look good.

I have to say that I was rather intrigued by the idea. However, as I investigated further I saw that most people were recommending that you lined the basket with a floured cloth of some kind to prevent it sticking, which I would have thought rather loses the point unless you use a very fine cheesecloth. Most of the pictures I saw had a very heavy linen type lining. But no - you really don't have to do this. Yes it will stick so you flour your basket - and moreover you don't clean it afterwards, you just keep adding flour every time. Which rather goes agains the stricture of only using a basket that was super clean. I guess if you were a commercial producer it would matter, but probably not at home. One lady just used cheap baskets from the Chinese shops.

When it's finished proving you turn it out on to a tray and cut a line - or two or three in the top. And again on the TV one baker did this with a stanley knife and another with a razor blade. A really sharp knife anyway. It's the little things like that that make watching a TV cookery program so worthwhile I think.

I'm tempted to give it a go. I've got baskets.


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