Like mad scientists, says Jenn Louis, bread bakers are in a fury of constant research and discovery. "There's a certain chemistry [to baking bread]," explains Louis. Last spring, Louis, a former baker at Wildwood (1221 NW 21st), opened Culinary Artistry to host cooking classes.

One of the oldest foodstuffs, bread is fundamental across the board for every culture, from English crumpets to Zimbabwean flatbreads. The French, who like to believe that they have reached the pinnacle of culture, hold out their rich loaves of bread as evidence of their superiority.

"As far as crust," says Louis, "you need to have enough moisture." Louis heats her oven to a scorching 500 degrees before turning it back to 400 when putting the bread in. She also tosses ice cubes on the bottom of the oven to create a sort of humidifier.

Louis also points out that high-quality flour is essential to good bread. "Like anything in life, better ingredients make it better." She adds, "I don't think that many people realize that there's a shelf life for flour." She recommends the bulk bins at New Seasons (5320 NE 33rd and 1214 SE Tacoma) and The Pastaworks (3735 SE Hawthorne & 735 NW 21st). "Buy only as much as you need."

For those who would rather skip the whole baking process and go straight to the final product, Louis recommends the Pearl Bakery (102 NW 9th) and Ken's Artisan Bakery (338 NW 21st)--although the latter, she says, has quality bread, but not a wide selection. For more widely available bread, she recommends Grand Central (2230 SE Hawthorne). She also mentions the soon-to-open Lucky Farmer (2128 NW Overton), a bakery run and stocked by Wildwood bread makers.