Learn The Basics of Breadmaking

Richard Bertinet, Bath’s bread boffin, shares his ultimate breadmaking tips. You'll be a cracking baker in a flash with these simple bits of advice.

Becoming a baker is hard. Becoming an expert baker is even harder. If you don’t know who Richard Bertinet is, he’s one of the latter. Bread is one of life’s most essential foods and Richard is a master at making loaves that have lived more than most. Richard Bertinet has been baking professionally since the age of 14 and he’s even launched his very own BBC Maestro course to help you get hands-on with bread yourself.

His award-winning book, Dough, revolutionised the simplicity of breadmaking and Richard was kind enough to share some knowledge about the basics of breadmaking with us here at Mob. His no-nonsense approach to baking is a breath of fresh air in the world of delicate measurements and meticulous proving times. There’s no need to have a fear of baking. Just follow a few of these simple tips and you should be right as rain.

1. Start With The Basics

A plain white bread dough is good. You can use it to make a whole host of things from rolls, tin loaves, pizza or add fruit or nuts to it for something different. You can leave it overnight in the fridge and make baguettes with it. It is a foundation dough and really getting to grips with just one dough like this enables you to perfect your skills before you try anything else. By working with the same dough for a while you will start to get a real feel for texture, temperature and how responsive the dough is. This will help you achieve consistency - which really is the holy grail of baking. Leave the sourdoughs for later.


2. Use Your Head Before Your Hands

After years of teaching and watching people learn, I have seen that people's default response is to touch the dough, to put their hands in it. Then when they don’t know what to do next there is a slight feeling of panic. So I ask people to really think things through before they put their hands in the dough. One way to do this is to tell yourself out loud what you are going to do before you start. If you are in any doubt, go back and consult your notes or recipe (or watch the video again). Only get your hands messy when you have everything clear in your head. You are far less likely to make mistakes this way.

3. Don’t Be Scared of Sticky Dough.

If you want a light dough you need to embrace the stickiness. Flour and water is sticky – but if you learn to handle them correctly you can manage the dough so it does not cause you any problems.

The recipe has been carefully thought through and if you add extra flour or oil to the dough or the work surface while you are mixing it, then you will change the recipe. The first problem is that is likely to make your dough heavier and you may end up creating a brick rather than a lovely light airy loaf. The second is that you will not be measuring the amount of flour you add into the dough in this way. Next time you make the same dough you will in all likelihood add a different amount of flour and the two bakes will not be consistent.

4. Trust Your Instincts

Fermentation, no matter whether you are using yeast or a ferment, is something that it takes time and practice to master. It is, after all, a new skill. The more often you bake, the more you will learn. Make notes and compare what happened each time. The weather and humidity of your environment will make a difference as will the batch of flour you are using. And you may need to make some adjustments. This is where your instincts come in. Once you have been baking for a while you will know how the dough should feel. If it doesn’t feel right, then adjust. If the flour feels like it is absorbing more water then add a little more. If the weather is cold use warmer water when you make the dough. If its really hot, use cooler water.


5. Practice, Practice, Practice

When I teach a class, I describe baking like a big filing cabinet. You have to work through the drawers in the right order. If you miss one out then things won’t work out as planned. As you learn, you fill the drawers with reference files which give you an increasing amount of knowledge to compare your bakes to. I have a very very full filing cabinet (I have been at it for many years), yours might be a little more empty, but there are no failures, just steps on your learning journey and files in your cabinet!

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