I LIKE TO SOP UP BARBECUE SAUCE WITH WHITE BREAD as much as the next person, but when it comes to making a sandwich fancier than peanut butter and jelly, I want something besides the doughy, pallid stuff that masquerades as the staff of life in supermarkets. That’s why I remember the day I discovered the Empire Baking Co., a then-new Dallas bakery, in 1993. Its display cases were stocked with gorgeous, crusty, golden-brown loaves that looked as if they had been sent over from Central Casting. I bought a couple to take home and, right there in my car, without leaving the parking lot, tore into one of them—the raisin pecan. I can still taste that bread—fragrant, moist, chewy, and full-bodied.
Although the Empire was not the first bakery in the state to make what has come to be called artisan bread, it was in the vanguard. Today, all of Texas’ big cities have one or more boutique bakeries that specialize in the kind of old-fashioned, handcrafted bread that was the norm before commercial bakeries sent it packing decades ago. The basic definition of artisan bread, which is also called rustic or European style, is simple: hand-shaped bread made from untreated flour, using natural starters in place of commercial