American Baking Down the Decades, 1990-1999: artisan bread comes home again

225-logoThe King Arthur Flour Company marks its 225th anniversary this year. And we’re celebrating by exploring some of America’s favorite recipes, decade by decade. Join us on this fascinating stroll through American food history.

When did the artisan bread movement start?

Well, it depends on your definition of artisan bread. Picture the early history of our country. Most Americans make their own bread at home – mixing the dough, shaping it by hand, turning it into a pan, and baking the loaves in the family’s wood- or coal-fired oven.

“Artisan bread,” right?

Then, with the invention of the bread slicer in 1928, everything changes. Missouri’s Chillicothe Baking Company sells its first loaf of Kleen Maid sliced bread on July 7, 1928.

Wonder Bread, an American standard since the early 1920s, quickly changes from whole to sliced loaves. And soon “cookie cutter” bread – each loaf, each slice identical to the next – becomes the norm.

Fast forward to the 1960s. The Beatles supplant Pat Boone. Cardigans and bobby socks give way to granny dresses and mini-skirts. The hippie movement is born.

By the 1970s, many of us erstwhile hippies are marrying and starting families; and while perhaps dropping the love beads, we carry with us some of the movement’s more positive pastimes: baking our own bread, for example.

American Baking Down the Decades via @kingarthurflour

While many ’70s bread bakers swear by the famous Tassajara Bread Book, I turn to James Beard, an original American foodie.

To quote the book jacket of 1973’s Beard on Bread, “Crusty on the subject of ersatz products commercially sold as bread, rapturous as he describes a homemade loaf that has the right texture and a good ‘nose,’ relaxed and masterful about the various techniques of kneading, shaping, and baking, James Beard is so persuasive about the simple and joyous art of breadmaking that once you give yourself up to this book and plunge your hands into the dough, you will become a confirmed breadmaker for life.”

I plunge my hands into the dough. And the experience does indeed turn me into a confirmed breadmaker for life.

American Baking Down the Decades via @kingarthurflour

I make this recipe for basic focaccia again and again and again, as the stains on the page testify.

But gradually, as we all get busy with raising our families and building careers, all but the most devoted stop baking homemade bread. Small children aren’t fans of the lusty loaf; they want soft bread for their lunchbox PB & Js. And heck, Pepperidge Farm makes a REALLY tasty sliced bread.

Artisan bread? Off the table – literally.

Jump forward again, this time to the mid-1990s. No longer toddlers or tweens, the kids are more willing to try different foods. Fettuccine. Avocado.

Crusty bread. Perhaps even crusty whole-grain bread.

Inspired by the resurgence of crusty breads at both bakeries and restaurants, we begin to bake again. New artisan bread books from passionate bread bakers/bakery owners like Nancy Silverton (La Brea Bakery), Amy Scherber (Amy’s Bread), and Daniel Leader (Bread Alone) show us the way.

We bake our own baguettes; mastering Julia Child’s 20-page French bread recipe is our mission. We experiment with poolish and preferment; try out baker’s weights and autolyse and spelt.

And finally settle in with our favorite recipes, once again becoming the “breadmakers for life” James Beard (and Tassajara) pushed us to become.

The following recipe – Semolina Rolls with Golden Raisins, Fennel, and Pine Nuts – is loosely based on a ’90s “superstar” bread, one that was on everyone’s lips – literally. Amy Scherber’s semolina bread with golden raisins and fennel is still sold in her NYC bakeries today.

American Baking Down the Decades via @kingarthurflour

At one point back in the ’90s, Amy added pine nuts to the formula; and that’s the version I’ve emulated in these rolls. I love the flavor combination of sweet raisin, mildly licorice-y fennel seed, and toasty, rich pine nuts.

American Baking Down the Decades via @kingarthurflour

Texture-wise, the rolls are very light with, a crunchy exterior that’s part crusty crust, part their coating of semolina.

Looking to launch (or relaunch) your own artisan bread movement? Start here.

American Baking Down the Decades via @kingarthurflour

We’ll begin with a preferment: an overnight starter. Combine the following in a mixing bowl:

3/4 cup semolina*
1/2 cup lukewarm water
1/8 teaspoon instant yeast or active dry yeast

The mixture will look like scrambled eggs, rather than a typical starter; that’s fine. Semolina is a coarse grind of high-protein durum wheat flour, and doesn’t readily form a smooth dough.

Cover the bowl and let the preferment rest at cool room temperature (68°F to 70°F) overnight, or for about 12 to 16 hours.

Next day, combine the following with the preferment:

2 cups semolina*
1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast or active dry yeast
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup lukewarm water

*If you don’t have semolina, don’t want to buy it, and are willing to forgo the golden color and crunch in these rolls, substitute unbleached all-purpose flour in both the preferment and dough. You’ll need to back off on the water a bit; start with 1/3 cup water in the dough, adding more if necessary.

Mix and knead to make a soft, smooth dough. Do this by hand; using a stand or hand mixer; or in your bread machine, set on the dough cycle.

American Baking Down the Decades artisan bread via @kingarthurflour

Notice the dough is smooth and elastic, but still has a tiny bit of stickiness. This is the texture you’re after.

American Baking Down the Decades via @kingarthurflour

Shape the dough into a ball, place it in a lightly greased bowl (or 8-cup measure, as I’ve done here), and let it rise for about 60 to 90 minutes, until it’s very puffy; it should double in bulk.

I was surprised to see my dough more than double after just 60 minutes. Happy yeast!

American Baking Down the Decades artisan bread via @kingarthurflour

Gently deflate the dough, and knead in the following:

2 teaspoons fennel seeds
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
3/4 cup golden raisins

American Baking Down the Decades via @kingarthurflour

Divide the dough into 24 pieces, and round each piece into a ball. Drop the balls into a shallow pan with some semolina (or yellow cornmeal), and roll them around to coat.

Space the balls on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet, leaving about 1 1/2″ between them. Cover the rolls with lightly greased plastic, and let them rise for about 2 hours, until they’re puffy.

Why the long second rise? Sugar from the raisins gradually leaches into the dough, slowing its rise. This is why we don’t add the raisins until after the first rise – to give the yeast a chance to really get going before introducing any sugar.

Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 400°F.

American Baking Down the Decades via @kingarthurflour

Spray the rolls with lukewarm water, and place the pan in the oven. Bake the rolls for about 15 to 20 minutes, until they’re golden brown.

American Baking Down the Decades via @kingarthurflour

Remove the rolls from the oven, and transfer them to a rack to cool. Store well-wrapped for several days at room temperature; freeze for longer storage.

Serve these rolls to your adult kids. They may have turned up their noses at artisan bread back in the ’80s and early ’90s but, as open-minded Millennials, I think they’ll find them a great accompaniment to the interesting meals they’ve learned to cook. Au revoir, PB & J!

Please read, bake, and review our recipe for Semolina Rolls with Golden Raisins, Fennel, and Pine Nuts.

Print just the recipe.

Are you a Boomer who’s gone from bread-baking to bread-buying and back again? Tell us about your journey in comments, below.

See all of our American Baking Down the Decades posts, covering 1900-2015.

PJ Hamel

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!


  1. tmana

    My first bread recipe was the egg challah recipe from Ratner’s Meatless Cook Book. (Ratner’s was a popular Kosher dairy restaurant on New York’s Lower East Side.) During the late 1970s and early 1980s when that was a favorite recipe (both for myself and for bringing home from uni to my parents and grandparents, who were NOT bread bakers), my go-to PBJ was fresh egg challah, freshly-ground peanut butter, and cider jelly.
    My go-to bread cookbook for many years has been the New York Times Bread and Soup Cookbook. Sadly, it’s falling apart as a result of use and environmental light damage…

  2. Home Cook

    As a Boomer, I grew up with a dad who baked bread. I refused to eat Wonder Bread, so he thought I’d buy into homemade. I did not. Nevertheless, I was fascinated by the art of bread-making.. In the mid-1980s-1990s, I gave a lot of dinner parties. I turned to “The Wise Encyclopedia of Cookery.”. I settled on their Italian Bread recipe. Guests raved about it, and I decided I had a winner, so why switch to a different recipe.

    From the mid-1990s until 2000, I made no bread. I also did not buy it. I still did not and do not like bread. In 2000, I discovered a recipe for Cuban Bread in “The Complete Tightwad Gazette.” It makes 2 loaves. I was sold. I started making it to give with dinners I cook for other people to help them out. Eventually, I found this website and your Tuscan-style Herb Bread. It’s a stunner of a loaf, and people love it. I bake bread, because I admire the art of crafting the dough and watching it rise. I also bake bread, because other people genuinely appreciate my effort. It makes them happy. Their happiness makes me happy. I like the applause.

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Consider KAF the base of the bread cheer-leading pyramid – with you and your amazing baked goods at the top. Cheers to all as we enter another new year – and more opportunities for making people happy through baking. Irene@KAF

  3. TheWildOlive

    Always love a PJ post! Could SAF Gold be used to ward off the extra long second rise? Or does Gold not work well in doughs that don’t have a lot of extra sugar/eggs/fat from the start? thx

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Gold yeast is really meant to help aid high sugar recipes so that they rise within a standard 1-2 hours. The longer rises for this bread is used to create structure and flavor, so it wouldn’t be wise to shorten it. Jon@KAF

  4. Lin

    I grew up at the elbow of my Italian grandmother working at her breadboard. (I still have her breadboard) She always gave you dough to shape but she never used a recipe just ” until it felt right or until it looked right”, She baked every week and only rarely bought what she called “toast bread”, Then in the 70’s I started looking for more recipes and though I had Beard on Bread and others I was more of a Laurel’s Kitchen baker. My family loves home made bread and is disappointed when they occasionally have to make due with “air bread” from the grocery store. I have to confess that I do sometimes appreciate the “tools” that make bread making easier. First my Kitchen Aide mixer and then the Zo I bought 25 years ago made it easier to make bread more often. I never bake in it but it makes it so easy to prepare the dough. I keep bags with all the dry ingredients needed for different loaves of bread ready so I just have to add liquids and push the button. I always finish them off and shape them by hand. Though it is easier to get a variety of good tasting whole grain breads in at the store there is nothing like a loaf of bread or pan of rolls fresh from the oven.


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