Expert bakers share their secrets

Knock the base of a sourdough loaf with your knuckles to test if it's baked.
Knock the base of a sourdough loaf with your knuckles to test if it's baked. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen

1. Make your sourdough starter using biodynamic stone-ground wholemeal flour. Be patient, keep it at 23 degrees, refresh your flour and water every day. (John Downes)

2. Keep a stash of sauces – caramel, dark chocolate, raspberry, banana – in your fridge in squeeze bottles ready to decorate your dessert plate. (Janice Wong)

3. Use a cheese grater with big holes to grate your cold pastry into your shell and then push it into place, rather than rolling it out. This keeps it lighter. This tip originally from chef Theo Randall. (Ruth Rogers)

4. "Stretch and tear" your dough. This produces better gluten. (Justin Gellatly)

5. Use an atomiser to spray water into your oven before and just after you place your bread in to bake. The steam helps produce a lovely leathery crust. (Justin Gellatly)

Anjum Anand recommends resting flatbreads.
Anjum Anand recommends resting flatbreads. Photo: Supplied

6. When making puff pastry start with a hot oven so you get a kick out of your pastry. When you get a little bit of colour turn your oven down. Puff pastry is butter, flour and water – what makes it crisp is the butter frying in between the layers of flour and water. You need to get the temperature up so that butter will fry – it will also give you that lovely nutty flavour. (Mike McEnearney)

7. People don't leave the dough long enough to prove. I encourage people to use a recipe with a low percentage of yeast (if a recipe calls for 40 per cent yeast I'd make it 20 per cent). Leave it overnight, covered with a tea towel in a cupboard away from draft - try filling your kitchen sink with hot water and placing dough underneath. Then bake it first thing in the morning. That eliminates the temptation of baking bread that's under-proved. (Daniel Chirico)

8. To better understand the basics of kneading try experimenting with scones by altering mixing times. Note the difference in result when you simply "put together" a scone mixture compared to a batch you've mixed for five minutes. (Dean Brettschneider)

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9. Use all your senses, including hearing. A well-baked baguette crust should crackle when it first comes out of the oven. You can also knock the base of sourdough loaves with your knuckles. If you hear a hollow sound it's well baked – if it sounds tight the dough may be undercooked. (Dean Brettschneider)

10. Use a sharp razor blade rather than a knife to score your dough. It gives a professional touch to your crusts; also consider buying a pizza stone, which makes a huge difference to the "bum" of your bread. (Dean Brettschneider)

11. Get scientific and follow your cake-baking instructions to the letter using top-rate electronic scales and precise measurements. Use the tin size stipulated in the recipe because this will affect the structure of the cake. Keep a "light hand" and consider buying Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Cake Bible for guidance. (Bill Granger)

12. After you've given your flatbread a really good knead you must let it rest. If you don't let it rest you're going to eat bread that's going to be hard. (Anjum Anand)

Rock up to the Festival Artisan Bakery & Bar at the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival from Friday, February 27 to Sunday, March 15 from 7.30am til late to sample these guest bakers' wares. See melbournefoodandwine.com.au