Bread withstands test of time

Members of Peter Burr Bread Bakers Guild craft artisan bread

Members of Peter Burr Bread Bakers Guild craft artisan bread

October 17, 2007|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

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BARDANE, W.Va. - The artisan bread technique has endured centuries of technological change, and the resulting loaves have stood up to more - Bill Theriault's brick.

Theriault, 61, of Hagerstown, is a historian and head of the Peter Burr Bread Bakers Guild, which hosts events at Peter Burr Farm in Bardane.

On Saturday, Oct. 20, the guild will be baking bread in the farm's brick oven as part of a harvest fair.


Theriault, who is finishing up a book on making artisan bread, leads demonstrations about the craft of baking artisan bread. The brick comes into play when he uses it to show one difference between store-bought bread and artisan bread.

Theriault places a brick on top of a loaf of Wonder Bread and then on a loaf of artisan bread. The artisan bread doesn't budge. The Wonder Bread cannot withstand the brick and falls flat to the table.

"It has to do with the bread's structure," said Theriault, in explaining how artisan bread is heartier than what you buy at the store.

He describes artisan bread as bread that is made from natural, unprocessed ingredients and baked in a brick oven. Unlike modern-day breads, which he said taste "yeasty" and have flavorless crusts, the tastes of artisan breads better reflect their ingredients.

Take the guild's cranberry-sage bread as an example.

"It tastes like cranberry sauce," Theriault said.

Artisan breads are best when eaten plain, though something subtle, such as a light olive oil, might help bring out the bread's flavor, Theriault said. Slathering butter or a flavored spread onto an artisan bread is comparable to dumping ketchup on prime rib.

Peter Burr Bread Bakers Guild volunteer Wayne Braunstein met with Theriault to demonstrate the process of baking artisan bread on a recent Monday morning at Burr Farm.

"We all can bake in an oven at home, but there's this romantic notion of baking in a real brick oven," Braunstein said.

Making an artisan loaf can be an enlightening experience. "You understand the history of it at a different level than you would by reading about it in a book," Theriault said.

Opportunities to learn about artisan bread might be spreading to Washington County.

Washington County Rural Heritage Museum will host a bread-tasting event in December. The museum is gauging interest in starting a bread bakers guild and building an oven similar to the one at Peter Burr Farm. There are also plans for Theriault to host one-day artisan bread-baking classes at the museum in January.

True artisan bread is baked in a brick oven, Theriault and Braunstein said.

Even if the same ingredients are used, the construction of brick ovens causes flavor to concentrate in the bread's crust. The same loaf might be slightly less flavorful if baked in a conventional, modern-day oven, Theriault said.

Since most people don't own such brick ovens, Theriault and Braunstein have collaborated on a bread recipe that comes close to what bread bakers did centuries ago.


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