Bread by the brick

Halfway resident writes book about crafting artisan bread

Halfway resident writes book about crafting artisan bread

September 03, 2008|By JULIE E. GREENE

Modern, mass-produced bread has come a long way from the old ideal of thick crusted, hearty bread. Many modern breads are fine-grained, light and without much flavor - used more as a slab on which to place jam or sandwich fixins'.

Old-fashioned bread, called artisan bread, is different. Artisan bread has a thick crust and is full of flavor. It's denser and chewier inside - chewier in a good way - than many store-bought breads.

With the construction of two brick ovens for baking artisan bread, Tri-State-area residents will have more opportunities to learn how to make the bread in such ovens.

Or they can make it at home, in their own oven, with the use of a cloche - a dome-shaped clay container used to bake a single loaf of bread.


Halfway resident Bill Theriault, who has been involved in artisan bread baking for about nine years, has written "Artisan Bread Baking for Living History Organizations."

The book covers how to make a brick oven, how to bake artisan bread in a regular or brick oven, and how to use a brick oven for fundraising and education.

The cookbook includes a variety of artisan bread recipes, from savory to sweet, that Theriault researched and developed. He's donating proceeds from the sale of the book to the construction of a working replica of an old-fashioned wood-fired brick oven at the Washington County Rural Heritage Museum south of Hagerstown.

"I figure if they ever make a movie out of this, they can get Harrison Ford to play me," says Theriault, 62.

Artisan bread then and now

The story would have to start when the Jefferson County Historical Landmarks Commission, with Theriault as chairman, acquired the Peter Burr Farm in Bardane, W.Va., and started a restoration program. To entice visitors and raise funds for maintenance, the group built a replica of a Colonial-period, wood-fired, brick, bread oven and began a living-history program in which volunteers baked artisan bread to sell to the public.

Before the Civil War, artisan bread would have been a major part of a meal rather than something used to make a sandwich, Theriault said.

In 1790, the time of Peter Burr, such an oven would have been common on a farm to feed the family, Theriault said. Burr had 13 children. Each day, Theriault said, a person could have eaten a half a loaf of bread along with apple cider or water, and stew or soup.

Artisan bread is a sturdy bread, good for grilling and toasting, for making bread pudding or French toast, or for just eating plain.

Theriault's recipes include a five-pepper Cajun bread that he said is good with cheese. The toasted bread makes a great cheese and tomato sandwich.

His cinnamon-carrot bread has the same flavor and ingredients as carrot cake. Instead of frosting, spread some cream cheese on it. Other dessert-type breads include cranberry-chocolate rolls and a chocolate bread, made with bittersweet cocoa powder, that Theriault said is like an intense devil's food, but also is good with chili.

The cookbook also has more traditional artisan bread recipes such as white, whole-what and multigrain.

Learn to make artisan bread

People interested in making artisan bread in their regular oven can buy a cloche for approximately $50 or learn to make one for less than $25 including materials, Theriault said. He said information is available online.

Theriault will teach bread making for beginners at the Rural Heritage Museum on Saturdays, Nov. 8 and Jan. 17. An advanced bread-baking class is scheduled on Saturday, Dec. 13. The class costs $50 and covers how to make a cloche. Each participant will receive live starter - a live yeast culture. For information, call 240-313-2839.

"Artisan Bread Baking for Living History Organizations" was published by the Rural Heritage Museum and is available at the museum shop for $16. Or you can order the book by mailing a check, payable to "Friends of the Museum," to the museum at 7313 Sharpsburg Pike, Boonsboro, MD 21713. Include an extra $2.50 for shipping.

Brick ovens

Residential brick ovens have been growing in popularity in metropolitan areas as outdoor kitchens have become more popular, said Dave Geller, who has built some brick ovens in the Tri-State area.

Geller, owner of Michelangelo Masonry, said the starting price for a 28-inch-interior diameter is about $3,500. A 28-inch interior is large enough to bake bread or pizza.

Geller, an HCC alumnus who lives north of Hagerstown, donated his services to build a 44-inch-diameter multipurpose brick oven at HCC. He also helped get other businesses onboard with donations of material and money. So the college, Geller said, is almost getting the oven for free. As of last week, he expected the project might cost the school $100 - "a bargain," he said, given his regular charge for this size oven would be $13,000 to $15,000, he said.

HCC's oven can be used to bake artisan bread, pizza, and anything you'd cook in a regular oven, Geller said.

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