Annual Manual » Annual Manual: Food

The Art of Bread

Bakers keep traditions alive and mouths watering



Flour dusts everything from counter to floor. Its powdery smell fills the air and blends with the savory scents of butter, olive oil and rosemary—just enough to make the mouth water.

In this kitchen of few machines, bakers move quickly to keep up with the rising dough. One baker pours olive oil generously over slabs of focaccia dough and then uses his fingers to press dimples into their surface.

More than 10 varieties of bread are created by hand through the course of a day. Simple, pure, preservative-free ingredients mingle to create robust-flavored loaves. What comes out of the oven is like a fine-crafted microbrew—tasty, distinct and worth the wait.

This is the artisan bread bakery.

Because of a growing demand for great local food, several of these bakeries are thriving in Boise. Their ingredients are grown in Idaho and their products are found in many of the best local restaurants in town—Fork and Bardenay, to name a couple.

"People recognize what a good bread does for a meal. You can have a phenomenal sandwich if you upgrade the bread," said Zeppole Bakery owner Charles Alpers.

Most of the artisan bread bakeries are producing for resell. Though Salt Tears Coffeehouse and Noshery, which opened just over a year ago, crafts breads solely for its sandwiches.

When Gary Ebert opened Zeppole back in 1993, many people didn't know about artisan breads, Alpers said. Since that time, interest in artisan breads has grown—now people travel from places like Pocatello to buy bread in Boise.

While there's a bit of truth to the culinary cliche, "cooking is art, baking is science," artisan bread-making is about much more than combining precise ratios.

"The art comes in any time you touch the dough," said Mike Runsvold, head baker at Le Cafe de Paris/Gaston's Bakery. "It's something you become familiar with, something hard to describe in words, knowing when it's just right."

Runsvold, who has worked with artisan breads for 10 years, said bakers typically train for two years to work skillfully with artisan breads.

Many ingredients lend themselves to the richness found in artisan breads. Key among them is pre-fermented dough, known by names such as mother, starter and poolish. Pre-fermented dough has been given time—usually 16-24 hours—to ferment prior to mixing it with a batch of dough. Some starters are kept for several years but must be given flour and water daily to keep the culture alive. It's this kind of labor-intensive, constant process that separates average bread from artisan bread.

"A great baker I used to work with would say 'laziness and ignorance are the only reason professional bakeries would make bread without the use of a preferment,'" Runsvold said. "It makes that much of a difference in the complexity of the final product."

The delicious burst of flavor in sourdough bread, for example, can be attributed to its starter. This final product is what draws people to artisan breads. With several bakeries practicing this art, foodies can select from an artisan-bread smorgasbord in Boise.

One of Gaston's best-selling artisan breads is the poulichette, which is a high-hydration, low-yeast version of a traditional French baguette. Zeppole's specialties include its sourdough bread and Ciabatta. Zeppole uses 100 percent wheat flour from Pendleton Flour Mills in Blackfoot and Gaston's Bakery uses locally milled organic flour from Canyon Bounty Farms in Nampa.

Through incorporating local grains, artisan bread makers are creating rich tastes and supporting local farms.

"I'm excited about the future of baking in Boise," Runsvold said. "I hope we can move toward using more local flavors and come up with Idaho's breads."


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