So you’re ready to start baking bread, you’ve got your flour, your yeast, your salt, you’ve paid your water bill, and now what? I know there is a lot of bread baking material on the internet, and everyone uses different gear. In this post, I intend to discuss what I believe is essential to baking bread, and why I think it makes a difference.
A note on what essential means. The first set of bread mankind produced was probably made only with some wheat, stones, water, and some fire. As romantic as it seems to mill wheat grains with a rock to turn it into flour, this just means that everything I mention here, as long as you have water and flour, is optional!
During the first six months of baking bread, I did not have a scale, I was just mixing based on the “feel.” Sometimes it would come out decent, sometimes it would be a rock. Well, let me break it to you, a small amount of any ingredient yields a very different loaf of bread. So, if you want to be consistent, you need to learn how to be precise. I have not yet found the perfect one size fits all scale. But if you have to prioritize, buy one that can measure grams & kilograms over more precise quantities. I have two: one that measures the flour, and the other one that measures the salt and yeast.
A “Dough Tub”
Baking bread can be a very dirty hobby. Mixing dough in a bowl, performing folds, kneading, etc. This yields many things to clean, which is annoying. On the other hand, using plastic wrap to cover the dough every time you do something may become reasonably wasteful. One container with a lid that’s big enough can become in “the one place” where you mix, fold, and ferment your dough.
I have two preferred options:
- A “Cambro” general purpose container with a lid. A four qt works excellent for me, and sometimes I use the two qt.
- A Pyrex baking dish with a lid. It’s a little bit more expensive, but glassware with a wide bottom works better when performing folds in the container.
Plastic flexible scrapers are relatively inexpensive and make your life way easier when handling the dough. On the other hand, having a metallic hard scraper has been a game-changer for me, no more dividing dough with knives with the mess that it entails. This metallic scraper has made possible shaping very wet doughs.
A Large “Kneading Wooden Board”
Kneading or manipulating dough in your kitchen counter takes a lot of work. You need to clean it every time and make sure there are no particles of anything or they will end up in your dough. I bought a board for $10 in Ikea that’s big enough to work in but lightweight and convenient enough to store. I keep it in its original bag.
Somewhere to “Proof” your Dough.
The ideal thing to proof your bread depends on the types of bread that you make. Baguettes are proofed in a “couche,” Boules in a round basket, Batards in an oval basket, and so on. If you start collecting these things (like I have), you will soon realize how expensive it is and how much space it takes for an item that’s single-purpose. This translates: Not scalable for everyone.
If you want to be resourceful, you can use a cheese or pastry cloth and a bowl. Otherwise, I’d recommend an oval-shaped proofing basket.
Somewhere to Bake your Bread.
This is fairly important as you want your loaf to bake evenly without having to open the oven and turning it every now and then. For at least a year, I used a baking sheet. It does the job, but you need to keep turning it every 15 minutes, so your bread bakes evenly. I have two preferred methods nowadays:
- Cast Iron Dutch Oven: It’s useful when all you want is a “Boule” (The round-shaped loaf”), but you might find it limiting if you’re going to bake loaves of other shapes. This was my preferred method for a couple of years.
- Pizza Baking Stone: This one is my absolute favorite nowadays. You won’t get the great crust that you get in the Dutch oven, but certainly, you can bake all sorts of things in it. Plus, you get to watch and see how your loaf grows in the oven and maybe shoot time-lapses.
A Razor Blade to Score your Bread.
Traditional bread bakers curve the razor lightly and build a home-made bread lame. I have one that my dad made for me as he works with wood. The bottom line is, you need some sort of very sharp knife or edge so you can score your bread so it can grow in a controlled way in the oven.
A Good Bread Knife
There is nothing more frustrating than cutting your freshly baked loaf with a dull or non-serrated knife. You destroy all the crumb, you might break the crust. All of which might make your bread less visually appealing. One of the first items I got after I started baking was my bread knife. Many years after I bought it, it’s still doing the job nicely. I would advise you to go for the longer models. Mine is 8” and it feels too short for some loaves.
A Glass Jar For Your Starter
Last but not least, for some reason, sourdough starters don’t like plastic containers. I keep mine in a 16-oz applesauce jar, but any big-enough wide-mouthed glass jar, so it’s easy to pour starter out and add flour.
That’s about it. There are many additional gadgets you can use to make your bread baking life more comfortable. Still, I feel having these items will bring your bread game to the next level! Please feel free to leave questions or comments in the section below. Happy Baking!