Daniel Leader founded Bread Alone Bakery in the Catskill Mountains (N.Y.) in 1983. Two large wood-fired brick ovens were built in a new bakery in 1987 by the French master mason André Lefort and since then, Bread Alone has produced more wood-fired, organic bread than most bakeries in North America.
Dan Leader is also the author of four books on bread (“Bread Alone,” “Local Breads,” “Simply Great Breads” and “Panini Express“). His fifth book, “Living Bread,” is forthcoming in 2018, twenty-five years after “Bread Alone,” with a focus on farmers, millers and bakers driving innovation in the world of baking.
Today, Bread Alone is a very large baking business. In its new facility in Kingston (N.Y.), it can handle tens of thousands of pounds of flour every week. From “country baker” and “global village baker” (as he describes himself in his first book), Dan Leader has grown into a leader and spokesperson in the world of artisanal and commercial baking. He describes himself as a “very driven person,” and it is without surprise that Bread Alone’s website lists forward ambition, entrepreneurship and improvement as the bakery’s core values.
Home and small-scale bakers who self-consciously adopt an “artisanal” approach to bread making usually argue that the modernization, mechanization and industrialization of bread are unreconcilable with craftsmanship and artisanship. The common view is that bread industries can only make “bad” bread; bread that is not healthy for people, not ecological and not legitimately artisanal. In other words, the view is that a bakery needs to be a small-scale business if it is to consider itself, or if it expects others to consider it, as artisanal.
There are enough reasons from both sides, from the one-baker operation to the large-volume bread manufactory, to let us assume that artisanship in the world of bread is a contested reality. Here are Dan Leader’s opinion and observations on the matter.
Evolution of the Artisanal Bread Movement in North America
The American artisanal bread movement started in the 1970s, with “The Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book.” It was a grassroots movement that revived the bread baking tradition from the ground up. The “Bread Alone” book may have been part of the second wave when a new generation of New World bakers traveled to Europe to learn from master bakers. Long time observers of the North American bread scene, such as Peter Reinhart and Jeffrey Hamelman, have much contributed to influencing the movement.
The third wave of the bread movement, inspired by Alan Scott, mainstreamed the use of wood-fired brick ovens by microbakeries operating at a local level. Now, the current trend is contributing to the popularization of ancient grains, whole grains, sprouted grains as well as home and bakery milling.
These waves have all been led and represented by passionate bakers. As Dan Leader commented: “The quality of artisanal bread has improved dramatically. Certainly, the artisanal bread movement has had a big influence on the industrial artisanal bread. The bread world is very different than it was twenty years ago.”