100 Techniques

Technique #34: Learn to Bake a Loaf of Artisan Bread

Who needs a trip to the bakery when you can make airy, soft bread at home?

Published Sept. 28, 2023.

This is Technique #34 from our 100 Techniques Every Home Cook Can Master

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Maybe you think it’s too intimidating and best left to the bakery; or maybe you’ve tried and been disappointed with the results. But with the right technique, baking a simple artisan loaf can become a straightforward and enjoyable part of your cooking routine.

Choose Your Starter

Many recipes use a starter, a bubbly culture of yeast and bacteria “grown” from flour, water, and yeast or sourdough culture, to leaven the bread and create flavor. But for a simpler bread, you can use beer instead of a starter. Because it’s fermented, beer contains flavor compounds similar to those in a starter, so it gives bread those complex, rustic flavors. And the beer’s carbonation mimics the starter’s leavening action.

As for the alchemy: Kneading the dough until it’s smooth and elastic develops proper gluten structure. Then, during the first rise, the yeast creates carbon dioxide bubbles that cause the dough to expand. Deflating, folding, and shaping the risen dough into a taut loaf ensures an evenly shaped and textured final bread.

Slash Your Bread

Because the yeast gets redistributed during all that folding and shaping, a second rise allows the shaped loaf to regain volume. Slashing the top of the loaf before baking isn’t just a dramatic touch: It allows the loaf to rise evenly in the oven by creating designated weak spots in the gluten sheath; without slashing, the bread will expand irregularly wherever a random weak spot happens to occur.

Collect the Right Ingredients

We use bread flour for artisan loaves, which has a higher protein content than all-purpose flour, ensuring the strong gluten development essential to rustic breads. We also prefer instant (rapid-rise) yeast, which can be added directly to dry ingredients. Active dry yeast is heated more aggressively during production, which kills the outer cells, so it must be dissolved in warm liquid to reactivate it before use. 

To knead the dough, we recommend using a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment. It’s easy to add too much flour when you knead by hand, which will compromise the rustic texture and chew of your well-earned loaf.


Everyday Bread

Introducing the only cookbook to make homemade bread baking convenient by letting you choose what to do and when. Learn seven core failproof recipes that offer pauses in prep and baking tasks, and then manipulate the dough into different shapes and flavors with ease for a practically endless array of breads.

Step by Step: How to Make an Artisan Loaf

While this method isn't completely devoid of kneading, it will definitely save you plenty of elbow grease by letting a stand mixer do most of the hard labor. Your role will simply to be to lightly knead and roll the dough into a bowl before the first rise.

Once the dough has risen, stretching and forming the loaf is all that's left to do before letting it rise a second time, and baking in the oven.

We'll use our Classic Italian Bread recipe to illustrate this technique. Once you read through that recipe, follow our step by step guide to learn about key steps.

Step 1: Mix the Dough

Mix dough using dough hook on low speed, scraping down bowl. Increase speed to medium-low and knead until dough is smooth and elastic and clears sides of bowl.

Step 2: Knead

Knead by hand to form smooth, round ball. Place seam side down in greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise until doubled.

Step 3: Press and Stretch

Gently press to deflate gas pockets. Press and stretch into 10-inch square. Fold top corners into center and press to seal.

Step 4: Form Loaf

Stretch and fold upper third toward center and press seam to seal. Stretch and fold in half toward you to form rough loaf and pinch seam closed.

Step 5: Roll

Starting at center and working toward ends, roll and stretch to 15 inches long by 4 inches wide. Transfer seam side down to peel.

Step 6: Let Rise

Cover loosely with greased plastic and let rise until loaf rises by half and dough springs back minimally when poked with knuckle.

Step 7: Bake

Make 1⁄2-inch-deep slash along top of loaf. Mist with water, slide onto hot baking stone, and bake.

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Recipes That Use This Technique

Now that you’ve learned how to make a simple from-scratch bread, you no longer need to settle for pale, doughy supermarket loaves or make a detour to a bakery. Try out your new skills in these recipes.


Classic Italian Bread

Our homemade bread is inspired by a classic supermarket Italian loaf, soft-crusted and chewy yet tender.
Get the Recipe

Rustic Italian Bread

We set out to turn four basic ingredients—flour, water, yeast, and salt—into a chewy, crusty bread that would put supermarket loaves to shame.
Get the Recipe

Panzanella (Italian Bread Salad)

The biggest challenge in making this classic Italian tomato-bread salad is solving an age-old quandary: What's the best way to deal with the bread?
Get the Recipe

Crispy Garlic Bread

A few small tricks separate adequate from awesome.
Get the Recipe

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