How To Bake Like A Professional

Homemade crusty loaf with sesame seeds
The time has come. Want to take your homemade bread to new levels of amazing? This week I have been learning some new skills and I want to invite you along on the adventure.

Look, it's ok to make 'ok' bread. It really is. When time is tight and you need bread now, you just want it to be tasty and edible, with minimum fuss. That's what this site is about, mostly: how to use ingredients you can trust to produce reliable, delicious fresh bread with no hassle. It's the bish bash bosh approach to bread making, if you like.

If you're looking for speed and efficiency, follow this link to Get An Easy Recipe for a brisk and businesslike approach to baking the family's bread. Or use this Formula For Great Dough to create homemade bread recipes on any scale. But if you're feeling more adventurous, read on.

If you're ready to get a bit more technical and you want to know how to make your bread more professional, more attractive and better textured, I present to you:

My Life In Baking, by Clive Mellum*
*This is an affiliate link to the book on Amazon. I bought the Kindle version because it was slightly cheaper and I could download it immediately. Waiting: not my strong point.

Yes, I did mention it last week (in All You Need To Know About The Skilly Wash). Well spotted. And I may well mention it next week too because this book is changing the course of my baking journey.

It was recommended to me by Geof (Blame Geof. He started it) because he was telling me about the skilly wash. Of course I wanted to know more, so I bought the Kindle version of the book and was soon having my bread-making technique - erm - reshaped.

I have this Awesome Everyday Loaf recipe that I usually use at least once a week - maybe altering the balance of white and wholemeal flours, occasionally adding seeds or oats or something to make a change, but it's the same basic recipe, every time. And you know why I keep coming back to that recipe? Because it works every time. It requires minimal effort, it's (dare I say) foolproof and forgiving. It can cope with a bit too much water, or a bit too little water, for that matter. It's reliable. That's what I usually need: reliable outcomes, in time for lunch, whilst I get on with being a home-educating mum of three. No hassle.

But, surprisingly, I have absolutely loved experimenting with a bit of hassle, over the past week or so. This book is quite technical. Clive Mellum has had me calculating and measuring the exact temperature of the water I use. And there's no question of just 'sloshing in a bit' of anything, either. I've carefully measured the correct amount of water for the appropriate dough hydration (quite proud to say I did already know something of dough hydration before, but I'd never yet given it this level of attention). I've even been fastidiously kneading until the dough is 'silky smooth'.

Smooth ball of bread dough
Is this smooth enough for you, Mr M?

Mr Mellum also has a measured approach to what I had deemed my Simple Sourdough Solution - taking a bit of today's dough and keeping it to add to tomorrow's. It turns out that this is an Actual Thing. It's called 'pinchback' and there's a 'proper' way to do it (using a certain quantity of pinchback, added at a certain time).

Here's where I added the white pinchback to a white-wholemeal-mix dough:

Adding pinchback to bread dough

And that had to be kneaded 'silky smooth' too, which is not entirely possible with wholemeal flour but I did my best:

A silky smooth ball of bread dough

And the shaping of the dough matters. (You can find lots of good advice on shaping in my ebook tutorial package, How To Bake Beautiful Bread) It's not just for looks. It affects the texture of the bread and the finish of the crust. Suddenly I have an extra incentive to spend a little longer on the shaping of the loaf.

Clive Mellum takes you through a 'workshop' to make several different shapes of bread: a cottage loaf, a plait and some pitta breads. I opted not to make the pittas but to keep that portion of dough as the pinchback, instead.

Here is the dough portioned out for three strands of a plait and one cottage loaf:

Bread dough portions

And here are the breads, proving:

Three stranded plait bread

Cottage loaf proving

My cottage loaf was a little wonky but I was pleased with how it held together.

In the oven:

Bread in the oven

Ta da! The finished breads:

Two loaves of bread

They were quite dense - perhaps because of the wholemeal flour that I used, or maybe I could have let them prove for longer - but they were soft and tasty, with an excellent crust.

Plaited bread sliced

Cob loaf sliced

Reading this book is an eye-opener. Clive Mellum takes the things you think you know about making bread and throws new light on them. He doesn't just tell you what to do; he explains why. You'll emerge wiser, understanding what is happening to the flour and yeast at every stage of the process.

Better, though, than merely being more informed; you will be inspired. Mellum makes professional-standard bread baking accessible to home bakers. He guides you, matter-of-factly, through each step until you have created wonderful, professional looking (and tasting!) bread.

I don't tend to read bread making books. I am happy with my old bish bash bosh approach, handed down from my mum. My bread is generally good, or at least good enough. I'm not looking to spend hours on it, I just want nice wholesome food for my family. But, you know, it's been really fun to bake like a professional for a while. And there are certainly a good few tips and tricks that I will continue to use, even after the initial novelty has worn off.

Let me know if you try the Clive Mellum way too!

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