Learn Artisan baking Skills

This is a free course page where you will learn artisan skills so you can make showcase bread at home. Bread that you will be truly proud of with some advanced technical knowledge that will power up your bread in the future. 

If you’ve not already completed the activities on the bread basics page then you might want to check it out first of all.

Some of the techniques we covered on that page will be added to so to get the most out of this content I would advise you to check that page.

The 7 Things You’re (Probably) Doing Wrong!

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If you’ve already completed it or feel confident you know enough and wish to progress, let’s proceed!

learn to make bread school

The first artisan baking skill we are going to cover is bakers percentages, so get yourself comfortable and let’s take a look…

Understanding bakers percentages

Read to discover all the stages of bread making and learn how different bread recipes work by changing the stages to create different textures, flavours and colours in bread. This is the best place to start for a new bread maker and for someone who wants to recap on the basics of baking bread.

Preferments

Preferments are forms of hydrated flour that have undergone a period of fermentation. We often combine these with a small amount of yeast, though sourdough is a type of preferment. 

The prefermented flour is left typically overnight to develop and is then added in combination to further flour, water and yeast to the dough mix before kneading. The inclusion of a preferment improves changes three main factors of the dough:

  1. Flour that has undergone fermentation will have a lower Ph value, making the bread more acidic
  2. The yeast is given time to develop which breaks down complex starches in the flour
  3. The gluten strands are well hydrated and allowed to unwind

Which gives the following benefits:

  1. The resulting bread will have more flavour, better keeping quality and more cohesive
  2. Unlocks deeper dark colours and flavours
  3. A stronger gluten network that is better at retaining gas and is able to support large air pockets leading to an open crumb

So as you can see, using flour that has been fermented (prefermented) helps increase flavour, structure, appearance and crumb. The most common question that I get asked now is:

Why can’t I just ferment a dough for longer and not use a preferement?

Well, overall you can, kinda.

Dough that undergoes a long fermentation period will create these characteristics in the bread. It’s the bulk fermentation that you extend, the final proof stage relates to getting the dough ready for the oven.

For a long fermentation, you will have to either reduce the amount of levain, reduce the temperature or quite likely both. Though doing this means the final proof will take much longer to rise. The range that this varies further, for example, a 12-14 hour rise compared to a 2 – 2 1/2 hour rise is a bigger gap to schedule your baking timetable too. It also leads to the final proof step fermenting the dough further which can mean the gluten strands can collapse, creating a flat loaf.

Prefermenting part of the flour means the following bulk fermentation and final proof times are reduced as more yeast and fresh flour are added. Whilst still having the benefits of well-developed dough.

Take a look at the next article which explains the types of preferments that are commonly used:

How does a levain makes bread rise – let’s understand yeast, preferments & sourdough

Learn the other types of levains that are used to raise the bread. Learn how they work, what makes them good and why it’s sometimes a good idea to not use a particular one. Learn about preferment levains in order to make them in future recipes in this course.

Next, we are going to follow a recipe that involves the use of a biga preferment. This is one of my personal favourites, the pane cassericio. This bread uses a touch of olive oil to help soften and achieve a crust with a golden colour.

This bread highlights the power of adding a preferment and follows a simple shaping technique. By now you should be reasonably comfortable with handling dough and the basic shaping techniques. If you are struggling to shape the dough correctly, don’t worry this bread is really easy to shape and it doesn’t really matter if it looks a bit rustic.

Try the pane cassericio – rustic Italian bread recipe

Temperature control – in bread baking

As you can see temperature is really important in bread baking. Changing the doughs temperature will alter its structure and flavour. There is more variance to the final dough temperature when hand kneading so it’s especially variable when making bread by hand. To control temperature when you make bread follow these three steps:

A selection of breads

How to check the temperature when baking bread

Step 1 – Work out the desired water temperature

Determine the desired dough temperature that you are aiming for. Take temperature reads of the ingredients and use one of the formulas to calculate the water temperature that you want to achieve. 

Step 2 – Adjust the water temperature

Cool or warm the water to use in your dough. Don’t forget to make enough water for your mix. Use ice or chill the water beforehand if it’s really cold.

Step 3 – Knead and take a temperature reading of the dough

After you have finished take a temperature reading so you can see if your desired temperature was achieved.

Step 4 – Adjust the temperature of the environment

Hopefully, you have achieved the ideal temperature, if not change the bulk fermentation temperature by cooling the dough in the fridge or warming it in a hot area.

“All I really need is flour. It still amazes me what a versatile commodity it is, as you can do so many different things with it, and I never tire of trying new blends and recipes.”

Paul Hollywood

Let’s look at a recipe that uses temperature in another way, hot oil. These doughnuts are amazing and so nice to look at. They shout elegance.

You can choose to make them bigger if you like, I find it hard to control the oil temperature using domestic equipment so to prevent raw dough in the centre I stick to small ones. Make Petits Beignets with creme patissiere.

cooling stage
Bread dough rising

Autolyse

You may remember that I covered autolyse in the 15 steps of bread making article, right at the start of our journey. We’ve not used it yet, it is not 100% necessary for making quality bread, but it can help.

Especially in bread that requires being stretched out, it is a good idea to autolyse without the salt. Before I introduce a new recipe, let’s take a look at autolyse in more detail:

What is autolyse? Is it needed?

Learn the effects of autolyse, how easy it is to do and the benefits it has for bread makers. It just takes time! This is a full guide on how autolyse works and what bread doughs are commonly autolysed.

As we can see, autolyse has many benefits for bread makers. You may wish to try making the sourdough recipe from the bread basics section with a autolyse at the start. It’s a common step for home bread bakers to autolyse sourdough and it’s a bit of a nice “cheat” to reduce time and energy hand kneading.

Here’s a  recipe that I always autolyse for authentic focaccia. It combines the use of a biga, autolyses, a long kneading process and the use of temperature to create a fantastic showpiece bread. It’s a great bread for sharing and I have a list of people that beg me to make this for them. Now you can too, try this brilliant focaccia recipe with biga.

Follow the toppings I suggest, make your own or stalk a true Italian baker to find what they use, like this one.

Back to a French-influenced recipe, try using a poolish which is similar to the biga we used in the focaccia. This recipe uses a seed soaker and is really popular – it might be worth doubling the recipe so you can give one to friends!

This next recipe is special. Actually, it’s one of my most popular loaves of bread, so I urge you to give it a go, and preferably not to sell it! This is my Caton three seeded bread with poolish.

Baking bread with fruit

artisan baking skills

Dried fruit is a common additive to sweet breads, often used in panettone, tea loaves, hot cross buns and Chelsea buns. It is also possible to use moist fruit such as olives and sundried tomatoes in bread making. For a fantastic fruity flavour consider using cooled fruit tea, just reduce the fermentation time if the fruit contains vitamin C.

The next bread we are going to make is a fantastic fruit bread that’s oozing with juicy fruit. To enhance dried fruit we will soak them in brandy overnight. The soaker also stops the fruit from absorbing water in the dough during fermentation which can dry out the dough.

Traditional British plumbed fruit loaf with a fruit soaker

Taking dough fermentation to the next stage

We covered a basic dough fermentation guide together in the previous course. Take a look at this one, it will answer any questions you may have about dough fermentation a will help you bake better bread!

The dough fermentation process explained in detail

The basics of dough fermentation as part of the beginner’s course gives a fairly good basic representation of the process. In this post, there is a more detailed explanation that explains all the stages of dough fermentation. You’ll understand the benefits of bulk fermentation, why kneading is so important and more about prefermented dough and sourdough. It’s a must-read for anyone serious about baking bread!

Difficult Breads

Challenge yourself…

The following breads are difficult to master, they use the techniques that have been covered before but should only be attempted once you are comfortable with working and shaping the dough.

Many of these recipes have taken years of practice to perfect so consider going over some of the previous recipes again or trying some easy ones from the bread recipes section.

For the next couple of recipes, we are going to use a couche. A couche is a piece of cloth that can be used for supporting dough during the final proof stage. We place pieces of dough on top of a flour-dusted couche, fold a crease in the couche along the edge of the dough and place another dough piece alongside.

We use a couche for making authentic stone-baked ciabatta and baguettes. If you want to get a couche, you can get one, or use a tea towel if you can’t wait.

This ciabatta recipe uses a large amount of a thick biga which makes it very heavy to handle. We also split the addition of water like the focaccia which helps give us an uneven crumb.

The next challenge is a real traditional ciabatta recipe with biga recipe.

Next up is one of the hardest bread to make in bread baking, the baguette. Though the recipe contains just flour, water, salt and yeast it’s the shaping that is the challenge. I’ve tested many shaping techniques and the one I show in the video is by far the easiest and most successful way to make baguettes.

One of the most challenging pieces of bread is next, the baguette! Here is my authentic french baguette recipe with poolish.

The most authentic baguettes have a bouncy, whilst crispy crust and an open and slightly irregular crumb. If you can get T55 or better still T65 French bread flour to make these you’ll find it really worth it. They taste like eating butter!

You may have seen baguette trays available in cook stores or in use at supermarket bakeries. These are classed as Moule baguettes in France and although tasty they are deemed inferior as they use dough improvers. You can of course use baguette trays, though the cris-cross texture at the bottom of the bread is not always preferred.

You might also want to try this sourdough baguette recipe for something extra special.

These taste fantastic! – Sourdough baguette recipe

Learning to bake bread is not a sprint, it’s a journey

A final few recipes to bake

The last two recipes are made using high amounts of butter and like the baguette originate from France. Controlling temperature is crucial to making a success of these loaves of bread. They are so rewarding to make I love making them and try to share them out before I eat too many and feel sick!

The first recipe is an Italian take on French Brioche, it’s softer and I find it easier to combine with ice cream, chocolate and fruit.

Here is the recipe for Sicilian style soft Italian brioche.

Lamination

A laminated dough is classed as one that includes fat or sugar. A lamination is slightly different. To complete a lamination, the dough is stretched out and an ingredient is added to the centre of the dough, following this the dough is stretched over the ingredient to cover it. The dough is then compressed using a rolling pin and then folded over itself to create layers of ingredients and dough.

Typical ingredients for lamination is butter or margarine but creating a lamination of fruit or cheese are also used. 

There is also a lamination technique that is completed without any additional ingredients. The dough is stretched out and folded over itself to give it strength during bulk fermentation. This is similar and arguably more effective than a stretch and fold.

For our final recipe in this series, we are going to use a lamination of butter to make croissants. It’s a challenging recipe however, it is important to stick to the timings stated in the recipe very closely to avoid the dough becoming over-proofed and the layers of fat merging into the dough.

With many bread recipes, you can deviate from the timings slightly in the bulk fermentation and stretch and fold regimes. For this recipe, follow it as closely as possible for the best results.

Once you have made these croissants you will find it hard to buy them again!

Next steps:

We’ve covered many of the techniques you are going to encounter in bread baking. It’s not a definite list, one of those does not exist. There’s always plenty more to learn in bread making.

The best thing you can do is to practice these loaves of bread and other bread recipes, there’s plenty more on this site and of course plenty of places online and books that have some great recipes for you to follow. As you build up confidence and your skills, why not experiment a little bit more!

Take a look at more recipes or take a look at the working in the bakery industry article.