Bread is a staple, a seemingly humble foundation for many meals. Bread production is a millennia-old endeavor, and in some ways it's taken that long to perfect the art of creating artisan bread. As The Week defines it, artisan bread is that which has been handmade of high-quality ingredients without the assistance of technology. Well, as you can imagine, with that comes some challenges. It's the ability to overcome these challenges that makes bakers masters at their craft — in other words, true artisans.

Loaves Spread Out

One tricky problem artisan bakers have to overcome is the dough spreading out instead of rising up. The structure of the bread comes from gluten, which breaks down during the kneading process. The gluten creates a lattice that supports gas-trapping cells. If the baker doesn't knead the bread enough, the gluten doesn't create that lattice structure. The amount of kneading required often depends on the type of bread. Not only do artisan bakers learn how much to knead, they develop tests for the dough to determine its readiness.

Loaves Don't Rise

A similar problem is when the dough doesn't rise much. It could stem from the same problem as the loaf spread-out. However, sometimes ingredients are the culprit. Artisan bakers have to ensure there's the correct ratio of yeast, salt, and sugar in the dough. The gas in the cells comes from yeast fermentation, so too little yeast yields too little gas. Too much salt can kill off the yeast, or at least slow it down. Sugar interacts with the water. Too much sugar can limit the amount of water the yeast has available, again slowing its fermentation down.

Loaves Rise Too Much

The opposite problem is when dough rises too much. Not only can this cause a misshapen loaf that touches other loaves in the oven, it can alter the texture of the crumb. Again, the ratio of ingredients can be a problem, specifically too little salt. Salt controls the yeast activity, so too little salt results in overactive yeast. Artisan bakers must also know how long to allow the bread to proof, which is the final rise of the shaped loaves. If the loaves haven't had enough time to proof, the yeast can become overactive in the oven and create the oven spring problem — too much rise.

Next time you enjoy your artisan bread, take a moment to remember how much craftmanship went into its making.