Bread Baking Essentials

So you’re ready to start baking bread, you’ve got your flour, your yeast, your salt, some water, and now what? I know there is seemingly endless bread baking material on the internet, and everyone prefers different tools. Here I intend to share what is essential to my bread baking needs and why it makes a difference.

These tools are:

  • A kitchen scale.
  • A container for my dough or “Dough Tub”
  • Bench Scrapers
  • A large wooden board.
  • A proofing vessel.
  • A baking vessel.
  • A razor blade.
  • A bread Knife
  • Two small-sized glass jars to keep your starter & rubber bands.

A Kitchen Scale

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.

These are my two scales, the first one measures up to the milligram, the second I use to measure heavier items.

A “Dough Tub”

Baking can be a very messy hobby. Mixing dough in a bowl, performing folds, kneading, etc. You end up with many things to clean. On top of that, using plastic wrap to cover the dough every time you do something to it is somehow wasteful. One container with a lid that’s big enough can become “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. The levels help you identify when your dough has doubled in size.
  • 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 inside the container.
From left to Right: Cambro 4qt, 6qt, and 2qt. Square shape makes easier to perform “coil folds.”

Bench Scrapers

Plastic flexible scrapers are relatively inexpensive and make your life easy when handling the dough. I also love having a hard bench scraper; it has been a game-changer for me. I use it to divide and shape the dough, as well as to clean my board.

These are my two go-to scrapers. I use the metallic one for shaping and dividing doughs, and the silicone one for my folds and helping the dough out of the tub.

A Large “Kneading Wooden Board”

Kneading or manipulating dough on your kitchen counter takes a lot of work. Flour can end up in the most unsuspected places, and if you haven’t cleaned carefully, your dough might end up with suspicious particles. I bought a wooden board for $10 in Ikea that’s big enough to work in but lightweight and convenient to store. I keep it in its original bag.

Somewhere to ‘Proof’ the Dough.

The ideal thing to ‘proof’ your dough depends on what you’re making. Baguettes are proofed in a “couche,” Boules in a round basket, Batards in an oval basket, and so on. If you start collecting these items (like I have), you will soon realize how expensive it gets and how much space it takes for something that’s single-purpose.

The minimalistic baker can use a cheese or pastry cloth and a bowl. I like the most an oval-shaped proofing basket.

This is my oval-shaped proofing basket with an 82% hydration dough in it. After I shaped it on the wooden board.

A Vessel to Bake your Bread.

This is key if 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 it’s more hands-on when it comes to your loaf baking evenly. Now I have two preferred methods:

  • 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. You won’t get the great crust you get in the Dutch oven, but you can bake all sorts of things in it. Plus, you get to see how your loaf grows inside the oven and maybe shoot time-lapses.
This shows my Lodge cast-iron combo. I used this pot for a long time before switching to the baking stone.

A Razor Blade

Traditional bread bakers bend the razor lightly and build a home-made bread lame. I have one that my dad made for me as he works with wood. To create that perfect score, you need a very sharp blade or edge. Not scoring your loaves before baking affects the oven spring, and you might end up with cracks in your crust (which some find visually appealing).

The lame my dad made for me resting on top of the cheesecloth, that I use for proofing smaller pieces.

A Good Bread Knife

There is nothing more frustrating than slicing into your freshly baked loaf with a dull or non-serrated knife. You compress the crumb structure. It’s hard to get through the crust. All of which could make your slices 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 models with longer blades. Mine is 8 inches, and it feels too short for some loaves.

The bread knife that I had for years is a Wusthof Classic. Mine is 8” long but sometimes it feels too short.

Containers For your Starter

Most books that teach you how to start a yeast culture recommend and discard large quantities of flour. As long as you keep your proportions right, you can keep and feed a tiny amount of starter and perform what a blogger I follow calls ‘micro-feedings’.

To this end, I use a few 4oz glass jars that are perfect for 45 grams of starter and have just enough space for it to quadruple in size. I also save the tiny rubber bands from my bunches of vegetables to mark my starter’s initial level. This way is easier to keep track of where it is at in its cycle.

My starter growing in a small dessert glass jar.

Closing Thoughts

The list of items I shared might seem long, but each one makes a difference when aiming for the perfect loaf and baking consistency.

There are many additional gadgets out there that will make your baking life even more comfortable. Still, I tried to keep it to what I believe it’s essential. Please feel free to leave questions or comments in the section below. Happy Baking!

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