Baking bread—it is about as fundamental as it gets when it comes to the kitchen arts. The emphasis, of course, is on the artisanal nature of what many bakers consider a skill that takes practice, practice, practice. While anyone can follow a recipe, being an artisan bread baker requires a basic understanding of many elements, including chemical and atmospheric sciences to achieve the proper rise and address humid and arid conditions to ensure the correct dough texture.
But at the heart of this kind of bread-craft is approach. Artisanal bread baking is a way of life and far removed from what goes on in most factories and kitchens. These masters take their sweet time, knowing that quality dough structure and pleasing result come from slow fermentation. There is no rushing in artisanal breadmaking.
While the techniques applied are certainly crucial, success pivots upon intention and sourcing. The goal of the bread artisan is to cull the distinctive characteristics of each ingredient (which never includes a mix, preservatives or dough enhancer) to produce great bread. These bakers know the histories of the flours they use as well as where the wheat is grown, the percentage of protein and how the gluten develops. Some even make their own yeast. While machinery is often relied upon, in many cases, most of the work happens by hand with the bakers manually kneading, shaping and cutting. To touch the dough is to intimately know it.
Across South Carolina, you can experience culinary works of dough art. With every chewy, crusty bite of bread, taste the enthusiasm and pride that went into making beautiful loaves, boules, baguettes and more. Here are five South Carolina baking operations with a dedication to crafting artisanal bread. If there is a particular type of bread you crave, call ahead for availability. And while priced higher than what you will find at your grocery store bakery, remember you are taking home a work of art created by a true labor of love.
Breadsmith, Fort Mill
This Old-World maker of rustic breads shuns additives and preservatives. Though part of a franchise, the breads do not hail from frozen lumps of dough. Everything is made fresh daily using simple, nutritious ingredients. They have snagged top honors from a host of impressive culinary media, including the National Restaurant Association, Modern Baking, International Culinary Salon and Bon Appétit. Cool fact: All breads are baked in a 5-ton, European hearthstone oven.
Best-loved breads: Whole wheat, ciabatta, Cuban bread, French peasant bread, country buttertop, rustic Italian, sourdough
EVO, North Charleston
After five years of stellar pizza service to the Lowcountry, this ambitious little bake shop aimed to fill the artisanal bread niche. In 2012, they opened a dedicated bread bakery next to the pizzeria and it has been a hotspot for fresh breads ever since. European breads are the bakery component’s area of expertise with an eye toward using local ingredients and the application of techniques to produce handcrafted products. In addition to direct sales, they also supply various restaurants and retailers in the region.
Best-loved breads: Semolina, country wheat, Abruzzi rye, sour wheat
Great Harvest Bread Company, Greenville
You’ll know by the smell of warm bread baking that you are nearing this popular artisan bakery. A small but robust operation, it specializes in what they term “honest” breads, harkening back to days of old when baked goods required attention, patience and know-how. They only use flour from non-GMO wheat and no chemicals are found in their ingredients. Everything is also done by hand here—including milling their flour in house—just the way it was back in the day. The results are nothing less than stellar. But don't take our word for it. Stop in and draw your own delicious conclusions.
Best-loved breads: Chipotle cheddar, sun-dried tomato, gluten-free buckwheat brown rice bread, superfood bread, whole grain bread
Henry’s Bread Kitchen, Blythewood
Since 1999, Henry Hunter has been turning out gorgeous, rustic breads that reflect his artisanal aesthetic. While a storefront is in the works, order and delivery is his mode for supplying bread to the local masses. Sometimes, you can find him at area farmers markets; check his Facebook page for details. Henry has a reputation for having a vast knowledge of his craft, and that includes a historical perspective on breadmaking. This informs his technique for cultivating yeast using methods that are thousands of years old. His aim is to offer breads that are authentically produced, rich in flavor, oozing with earthy, warm aromas and, above all, nourishing. “You should be able to pronounce all of the ingredients in your bread. If you can’t, then maybe it’s not bread, but something else altogether.” With a motto like that, you know you are getting the absolute best.
Best-loved breads: Cheddar-basil sourdough loaf, whole grain sourdough, classic Southern sourdough, challah, ancient grain, saffron bread
Sprout Momma Breads, Hilton Head Island
Sprout Momma is burgeoning on Hilton Head Island, turning out fragrant loaves that are overwhelmingly island-approved. What began as a home kitchen operation eventually grew into a bustling family business for Kim Tavino, whose son, Ryan Fennessey, serves as a baker. Their specialty is custom breads using sprouted whole wheat, sprouted ancient grains and natural wild yeast. Organic ingredients are in full force as are some locally produced ingredients. If you are envisioning a particular kind of bread to fit a nutritional profile or have a flavor on your mind, give them a call.
Best-loved breads: Wheat sourdough, rosemary olive oil, buttermilk molasses, almond date whole wheat, cinnamon cranberry