One of the challenges to making great bread involves the shaping process. Too much stress on your dough can result in serious problems.

Presenting at the Bread Bakers Guild of America’s Wheatstalk conference in Chicago, Master Baker Lionel Vatinet demonstrated tips and techniques for producing Country French Bread.

Dividing the dough is a delicate process. Start with the dough in front of you, and start the process by dividing each dough piece from the front, working your way to the back. 

Be careful to never put pressure on the top of the dough piece. Gently form each piece into the desired shape by using your hands to slide and shape the dough along a wooden table, from back to front. Then allow your dough pieces to rest for 20 to 30 minutes.

“Every time you touch the dough, you stress the dough,” says Vatinet, whose passion for bread was first nurtured when he joined France’s prestigious artisans’ guild Les Compagnons du Devoir as an apprentice at age 16.

Emerging seven years later with the distinguished and hard-earned title of Maitre Boulanger (Master Baker), Vatinet pledged to devote his life to teaching, sharing and preserving the ancient art and science of bread baking. He is the author of A Passion for Bread: Lessons from a Master Baker.

Vatinet’s mission has been to demystify baking and enable more bakers to produce high quality handcrafted breads. He’s dedicated his life to sharing his knowledge, consulting nationwide and abroad for bakeries, instore bakery programs and manufacturing par bake programs, training bakers in Europe, the Middle East, Central and South America, Canada and the United States.

In 1995 Vatinet was the founding instructor at San Francisco Baking Institute (SFBI), the first school of its kind in the US. Bakers from the most respected bakeries in America traveled to SFBI to study with Vatinet, who has been credited not only for his skill and passion, but also for his knowledge in maintaining quality while increasing production, a critical component to the growth and success of the artisanal bread baking industry in America.

After years spent traveling the globe with yeast and flour in hand, Vatinet realized his lifelong dream and opened La Farm Bakery in Cary, NC, in 1998. La Farm Bakery is a modern bakery that continues the centuries-old baking traditions and techniques and honors the ordinary yet extraordinary boulangeries that once flourished in every little town in France.

At La Farm Bakery, Vatinet produces 15 different styles of breads and 20 seasonal breads throughout the year using a European-style hearth oven. He’s best known for his signature “La Farm” sourdough bread, an impressive 5-pound boule with an intense flavor, similar to those still enjoyed on farms throughout France.

Vatinet possesses both a superior understanding of the fundamentals of French bread baking and the American zeal for innovation, and as a result continues to develop new, exciting breads such as the Asiago-Parmesan, White Chocolate Mini Baguette, Cinnamon-Raisin-Pecan-Currant, Spelt and Multi-Grain.

He believes in using unbleached and unbromated flours to produce a healthier and more colorful product with no artificial colors or preservatives.

Vatinet begins with a natural levian yeast starter, and buys ingredients locally when feasible as part of his bakery’s commitment to the community.

His signature sourdough breads are handcrafted using a three-day process: a day to build the starter (mother of the bakery), a day to handcraft the loaves, and a day to allow the bread to slowly proof and maximize the flavor before baking.

The bread is baked in a steam-injected European hearth oven, which produces a crispy crust and breathtaking interior.