We've got to stop loafing around...
December 16, 2009 1:05 PM   Subscribe

What are the best supplies for baking bread at home from scratch?

My husband loves baking, but hasn't produced much more than muffins in recent years. I've organized a 1-1 bread baking lesson for him, but would love to go further to procure a collection of solid bread baking supplies for him to work with and use.

I haven't the faintest clue and left to my own devices I'd likely buy a mish-mash of random things that might not prove useful in practice.

Things to know:
  • He's a hobbyist, but tends to take his hobbies seriously.
  • Professional supplies are OK, with the understanding that we have an at-home, non-commercial kitchen to work with.
  • Aside from cookie pans and cake tins, we do not have much in the way of baking-specific tools in our kitchen.
  • He loves Italian, French and sourdough.
  • Specific products/brands are encouraged, I don't want to leave much to chance.
posted by cior to Food & Drink (45 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
This book is pretty damn useful in my opinion
posted by Think_Long at 1:08 PM on December 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Check out King Arthur Flour. Their flour is great, and their catalog is an education in itself.
posted by ottereroticist at 1:10 PM on December 16, 2009 [5 favorites]

When you say supplies, do you mean ingredients, tools, or both?
posted by craven_morhead at 1:10 PM on December 16, 2009

a pizza stone is essential for amazing bread.
posted by modernsquid at 1:11 PM on December 16, 2009

I get by with a big mixing bowl and a wooden spoon, and a baking tray. Sometimes I bake in a dutch oven or on a pizza stone.

If I was desperate, I'd pile the flour in a heap on the bench, make a well and pour water in, and do without the bowl. That's how little equipment you actually need.

I'd favour instructional material over equipment. Over time, he'll figure out what he needs. People differ a lot in what they think is essential, and since he's just starting, the odds of getting him something he never uses are high.

I speak as someone who has obsessive enthusiasms for activities and has a collection of well-meant "useful" gifts which I outgrew or weren't up to my standards.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:16 PM on December 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

Stand Mixer
Pizza Stone (or oven bricks) I use two to hold heat steady
Dutch oven for no knead bread
A locally sourced sourdough culture (or instructions to make your own)
posted by Seamus at 1:17 PM on December 16, 2009

pizza stones are expensive. Get an unglazed terracotta plant plate and turn it upside down on either the rack or the oven floor.

Standard rolling pin and loaf pan come to mind. As does a bench scraper to use as a dough cuter.

kitchenaid stand mixer would be awesome.

in general you can get away with a large bowl and a wooden spoon. People were making bread long before there were special tools used and machines to do it for them.
posted by royalsong at 1:17 PM on December 16, 2009

Best answer: He loves Italian, French and sourdough.

You want a pizza stone if you don't already have one. It'll make a big difference when you bake rustic loaves. It also acts as a big ol' thermal mass so you don't lose all the heat when you open the oven. You'll need a peel as well.

You can do a cheap version of a pizza stone by buying a bunch of unglazed quarry tiles from Home Depot. You want enough to line an oven rack with a gap of maybe an inch on all sides. Buy some extras in case they break. I line two racks, one above and one below. A whole box of tiles costs much less than any pizza stone you can buy.

A small spray bottle or mister for applying steam. Another secret to good rustic loaves.

The Baker's Catalog has some great products.

I love my dough whisk. Other useful tools include rising buckets, a couche, a digital scale (he'll get much better results if he measures by weight rather than volume), and a benching knife. Avoid the gimmicky things designed for baking specific loaf types. A stone and spray bottle is all you need.

This book has been my bread baking bible. Peter Reinhart knows his bread.
posted by bondcliff at 1:20 PM on December 16, 2009 [4 favorites]

The King Arthur site is useful for this, though pricier than what you can get from dedicated bakery supply stores.

A scraper or bench knife (stiff or flexible, depending on preference); a decent-sized container for proving or storing dough; a wooden-handled "Polish" dough mixer; a good digital scale (the Escali Primo is cheapish and reliable). No need to get tied to brands.

I like Richard Berthinet's Dough as a technique primer, though the US edition's conversion of weights and measures is problematic and often inaccurate; the UK edition is much better.
posted by holgate at 1:20 PM on December 16, 2009

The Tasajara Bread Book is a truly excellent introduction to the art of bread making.
posted by sotonohito at 1:20 PM on December 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Definitely King Arthur flour, also baking your loaves in a cast iron dutch oven can give you a really nice crust.
posted by electroboy at 1:30 PM on December 16, 2009

A kitchenaid stand mixer and a box of saltillo tiles from Home Depot.
posted by maniactown at 1:30 PM on December 16, 2009

A lovely book about bread and making it is "English Bread and Yeast Cookery" by Elizabeth David. Even if you never went into a kitchen it's an interesting and informative read and if you do want to make bread it's got plenty of good ideas.

I'm with some others on equipment - you don't really need much which is one of the joys of the process I suppose.
posted by southof40 at 1:33 PM on December 16, 2009

You need an accurate digital scale that weighs in imperial and metric. It should have a way to zero the reading (i.e. a tare button). Volume measurements are often inaccurate, especially for things like flour. If you want to be able to get repeatable results, you need to measure by weight.
posted by jedicus at 1:34 PM on December 16, 2009

As others have said, there's not much you really need.

A couple of proofing baskets might be nice. (No pics there, but linked company had the best prices when I bought mine several years ago)
posted by jon1270 at 1:38 PM on December 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: When I bake bread (several times a week; bagels, loaves, pizza dough), I use:

A stand mixer
Dough scraper
Large wooden board (for kneading)
Measuring spoons
Measuring cups
Oil dispenser
Silpat sheets
Baking sheets
Loaf pans (glass and metal)
Rubber spatula
Cheap stock pot (for boiling bagels)
Slotted spoon (ditto)
Cooling racks
Plastic wrap
Large stoneware bowl (for rising)
Digital scale
Half-gallon mason jar (for my starter)
Five-gallon bucket (for holding flour), with bucket opener
Refrigerator (for overnight rising)

Nothing special, but everything is useful. My stand mixer is, next to my husband, the love of my life. If I had to pick a second favorite, I would choose my stoneware bowl, which does multiple kitchen duty (dough riser, fruit bowl, prep bowl, etc. I don't have this, but have something similar.). Think big and beautiful for a bowl.

You can't go wrong with "The Bread Baker's Apprentice," as others have suggested.

A cheap but interesting stocking stuffer is Carl's 1847 Oregon Trail sourdough starter. I sent away for, and received, a little package of it--while it won't make San Francisco-style bread, it is a relatively easy way to start a culture.

My only exotic bread baking tool is my Pizza Express "Napoli" ($10 NIB at the thrift shop, score!), which makes excellent pizza crust. It also doubles as a weekly smoke alarm tester.

Good for your husband! I wish him many hours of happy baking (and wish both of you many happy hours of eating!).
posted by MonkeyToes at 1:43 PM on December 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Everything the others have said above.


Baker's Couche for baguettes and the like.

A simple spray bottle filled with water to add moisture to your preheated oven when first inserting the loaf. This will help the loaf expand without cracking (as much).

A razor blade for "docking" the unbaked loaf (cutting a slit in the crust just before insertion into the oven) to help direct the expansion.

A baker's peel to help you get your loaf into and out of the oven.

Unbleached white bread flour as the basis of all your loaves, unbleached all purpose flour to feed any sourdough culture you get going, and semolina flour to dust your baker's peel before you turn the loaf out onto it to help it slide easily into the oven.
posted by rocketpup at 1:46 PM on December 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Books I would suggest:

The Bread Baker's Apprentice -- an excellent teaching book but really, ALL his books are great including the new one.

Breads of La Brea Bakery -- kind of hardcore and traditional in many ways

Baking with Julia Child -- exceptional bread broken into essential easy steps

If you area fan of one pot bread action e.g., No Knead bread then Lahey is where it is at while Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day is not bad.

For the truly thrifty:

1) use tortilla chip baskets from restaurants (cheaper than the expensive willow baskets);

2) shower caps from hotels make excellent covers for bowls of rising dough;

3) box cutter for slashing dough
posted by jadepearl at 1:53 PM on December 16, 2009

Meh, stand mixer is wholly not necessary and totally expensive. He will learn more kneading by hand anyway. I recommend

1. a dough scraper - it may not be called this in the states, it's a piece of sheet metal for dividing and scooping up dough.

2. Some good loaf tins

3. Some high-gluten flour, in the states KAF seems highly regarded

4. A digital scale

5. Seconding Bertinet's book or Jeffrey Hamelman's bread - I've had much better results with them than Reinhart (though there's nothing wrong with Reinhart).

6. Big mixing bowl

7. Pizza stone.
posted by smoke at 1:53 PM on December 16, 2009

nthing The Bread Baker's Apprentice. On my first try ever, I was able to make some amazing, crusty bread just by reading the advice and using the recipes in the book.

Try the pain l'ancienne recipe...relatively easy and produces an amazing result...and this was in my old rinky-dink oven. In case you do go this route, definitely use the steaming technique whereby you pour water into a separate pan placed in the bottom of the oven right as you put the dough in. Yum!
posted by choochoo at 1:57 PM on December 16, 2009

I learned on Breads of La Brea Bakery. The precision she describes for time and temperature may seem a bit daunting if you have other things to do with your life. Don't worry if your schedule slides an hour here or there or if your temperatures are not ideal. You'll still end up with some amazing product. Even your "failures" will be delicious.
posted by rocketpup at 1:57 PM on December 16, 2009

P.S. Forgot a few things. A pastry brush is very helpful for doing egg washes. Heresy, I know, but I sometimes use a rolling pin to flatten pizza dough when I'm in a hurry.

One more tool, though I use it only when making baguettes: the Triple Baguette Pan from Chicago Metallic.

Honestly? My family loves bread sticks, so I end up cutting dough with a pizza wheel and letting the bread sticks rise on a cornmeal-covered Silpat on a baking sheet. Baguettes have gone out the window in favor of bread sticks with a nice garlic-salt-smoked paprika topping.

Go for the big bowl, though. Even if your husband gives up on bread, you'll have a lovely and useful object in the kitchen.
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:01 PM on December 16, 2009

I like using a 11 x 17 pan filled with hot water and putting it under the bowl of dough in a cold oven to help it rise. Heats the air inside the oven and no drafts! Also look into the No Knead bread for an easy intro.
posted by KathyK at 2:05 PM on December 16, 2009

I'm mainly here to nth a dough scraper. It's amazing for cleaning up your workspace, and for slicing your dough into smaller pieces. Few things are as satisfying slicing dough with a dough scraper. Be warned - they can be very, very sharp, and dangerous to leave lying around.

I also recommend, instead of packets of dry active yeast, to get jars of them. They run around $8 or so and are a much better deal - but they are perishable. I think they go bad around 6 months after you open them, and must be refrigerated. But it's just a much better deal.

And pizza stones are essential for things like pizza, naan, flatbreads, etc.

Have fun!
posted by ORthey at 2:17 PM on December 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Get a bread machine on Craigslist. You'd be surprised how cheap they are. Evidently, bread machines are common as wedding gifts that go completely unused. Hence, the oversupply on Craigslist. My wife & I got a Williams & Sonoma bread machine for $25 this way.
posted by jonp72 at 2:19 PM on December 16, 2009

I'm backwards in that I went from years of professional baking to becoming a home hobby baker. The one thing I hate going without is a proper scale.

If your SO likes to take hobby projects as seriously as you suggest, get him one. Baking is more formula based than cooking, and measuring by volume for most baking ingredients is insanity especially if you are trying to get consistent results.
posted by quarterframer at 2:19 PM on December 16, 2009

Best answer: My go to bread book as of late has been Jeffery Hamelman's Bread: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes, but my all time favorite is The Bread Builders by Daniel Wing and Alan Scott.

Both books have really excellent explanations of the science of bread and excellent instruction on technique. Bread Builders has only one recipe, but it has all the tools an adventurous baker needs to experiment with his own ideas. (And the second half of the book has plans and instructions for building a wood-fired, retained heat masonry oven; which is fascinating reading, even if you don't have plans to build one.) Wing has a rather draconian definition of "good bread" (whole grains, naturally leavened, baked in a masonry oven), but his writing is full of enthusiasm rather than snobbishness. They also have a dead simple formula for starting and maintaining a sourdough culture.

Hamelman's book is more equally divided between recipes and science/technical instruction. He is a little less draconian in his definition of good bread. His book does fill in some of the topics that Bread Builders covers in more abstract or scientific terms with specific recipes.

As far equipment goes, a digital scale and thermometer are at the top of the list. You can get a cheapo portion control scale for under $20 at just about any housewares store and it is totally necessary. A thermometer is helpful in managing dough temperature, which affects fermentation time. (Some people will use it to gauge the doneness of a loaf of bread, but those people are crazy, I tell you.)

A bench knife is handy for dividing.

I find a baking stone to be essential. You can also go the unglazed quarry tile route or the dutch oven route. All the reasons a dutch oven works well for no knead bread (retained heat, enclosed to trap steam) are the same reasons it would work well for any other kind of bread, but the shape of your loaves will be limited by the shape of the pot.

I also have a set of mixing bowls with lids that I use for both mixing and fermentation, which keeps me from going through excessive amounts plastic wrap.

Everything else is gravy.

P.S. Don't buy a bread machine.
posted by clockwork at 2:24 PM on December 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

You can buy a bread machine, and they make perfectly acceptable bread, but then you're after the destination and not the journey. And you can't experiment nearly as much.
posted by ORthey at 2:27 PM on December 16, 2009

Another source for sour dough starters.
posted by IndigoJones at 2:34 PM on December 16, 2009

I recommend Ruhlman's book, Ratio. It focuses on the method for making bread (and other things) so you're not dependent on recipes and can therefore be more creative when you cook or bake. There's an iPhone app now for it too.
posted by Kimberly at 2:43 PM on December 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Actually, yeah, a good sourdough starter with pedigree is definitely nice to have. There are lots of instructions out there on how to make your own, but the process is frustratingly hit and miss because you're relying on having the right microbes decide to settle in your mixture. A known reliable starter culture takes all that bother away.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:47 PM on December 16, 2009

Professional baking recipes are based on weights rather than volumes (and it is tough to consistently measure the volume of somethings like flour) so a digital scale would be a perfect add.
posted by mmascolino at 2:47 PM on December 16, 2009

Probe style digital thermometer to accertain correct water temperature for optimum yeast development (105-115 degrees F).
posted by Muirwylde at 2:54 PM on December 16, 2009

Professional quality yeast. Sells at my local cash and carry food wholesaler for 3.59 a POUND!
posted by Muirwylde at 2:56 PM on December 16, 2009

there is no such thing as a starter with pedigree. As you feed your starter and it lives on your countertops it will pretty quickly become dominated by the good microbes indigenous to your area. This isn't to say a starter isn't a good idea, as its a foolproof way to develop your own starter - but it is not worth shelling out cash for a special one. I started my own from scratch, but if I did it again I'd just as grab a spoonful of someone else's.

Stone, Bannetons, Peel, Good Flour (Giustos, KA, etc, etc) all good things. Also the Peter Reinhard books are great. Me personally I'm hoping Santa brings a Lepard book.

Maybe a marble slab if they have a pastry interest.
posted by JPD at 2:57 PM on December 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh a scale is priority one.
posted by JPD at 2:58 PM on December 16, 2009

As others have said, Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice is a great book. Hammelman's Bread: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes is also excellent, though probably a bit more advanced. I think I use Hammelman more these days, but I'm glad that I started with Reinhart to learn all of the standard techniques for high-quality homemade bread.
posted by klausness at 3:00 PM on December 16, 2009

And I also agree that a scale is vital. In addition to that, a thermopen instant-read thermometer is useful (and I'd say go straight for the thermopen instead of messing with lesser thermometers).
posted by klausness at 3:07 PM on December 16, 2009

Seconding clockwork's last bit of advice: Having owned a bread machine, and made bread by hand, I prefer the latter. Kneading dough is utterly pleasurable.

It does require more of a time commitment though if you bake from scratch. I baked my first Challah the other day and it was intimidating but really fun to make.

I've had very good results with Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Bread Bible: she's very thorough and explains things in sections titled "Understandings" (ha) and "Pointers for Success".

She is almost obsessive in her approach (marking the side of the rising bowl with tape to see when it has doubled in size? NERD ALERT!), but you can discard some of her methods if they don't work for you.

Another good book: The Bread Bible by Beth Hensperger.

The King Arthur catalog is loads of fun, but nthing the advice above that you don't need too much equipment to bake bread. I didn't have a dough scraper for a while and got along without it. (The only thing I'm tempted to buy from King Arthur is a special slashing knife, as my knife always sticks to the dough and makes a mess.)

On preview: I make due with a non-digital scale and sometimes don't even bother with that, using the non-precise measuring cups. Meh, it all depends what kind of baker you are I guess.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 3:54 PM on December 16, 2009

Since everyone is suggesting books, I'd suggest this one. Sensible, practical, encouraging. Nicely dry sense of humour, too. Teaches you not to be afraid of (or irritatingly precious about) sourdoughs. Also teaches you that flour, water, time are the things that matter. Which isn't to say that there's no place for other things (from salt to seeds to sugar to chocolate)--but you don't need to worry about them. Or about having $1,000-worth of equipment before putting hand to flour.

Ignore the measurements in cups that have been added for the American edition and do everything in grams as he suggests (any electronic scales can do this). Weighing water seems odd until you realize that measuring jugs are wildly inaccurate but 1g = 1ml.

Full disclosure: I did a breadmaking course with this chap in the summer. But I don't think you need to have done the course to benefit from the book--which does, however, accurately capture his encouraging, no-nonsense tone.
posted by lapsangsouchong at 6:41 PM on December 16, 2009

Response by poster: No danger of bread machine, at all.

The plan is to simply get a nice little collection of supplies for him to tool around with while he figures out exactly what type of bread he wants to make and what he truly prefers.

We already have a non-digital scale and his instructor is bringing the supplies he'll need for the first lesson, presumably a starter as well. He's already getting the ratio cookbook, but I'll look into others to supplement.

I love the idea of making our own starter, but I'm not the baker-to-be, so I think we may as well stick with our hand-me-down as opposed to making a love child right out of the gate. I'll suggest it, I do love to name things. :)

So far I'm leaning towards dough whisk, dough scraper, nice set of bowls and perhaps a dough rising bucket. A proofing basket and couche look mighty interesting, but wonder if I might be getting ahead of myself or too exotic too early in the game.

Off to do more research based on your answers. Thank you so much, I'm excited!
posted by cior at 10:33 PM on December 16, 2009

Also, if you haven't already, please check out the fresh loaf, best bread community on the web. A wealth of techniques, questions and answers - and recipes. You can try out recipes from pretty much all of the books listed here on The Fresh Loaf. I'm paddycakes on there, though I rarely post.

JPD I have Local Breads - it's.... okay. I don't find it anywhere near as reliable as Hamelman, the proofing times in particular are waaaaaaaaaaaay out of wack - and I'm not alone with this problem. It's also riddled with errors in the formulas etc. Like, dozens of errors.

This said, when it works, it really works. The rye blue cheese loaves are incredible.
posted by smoke at 3:05 AM on December 17, 2009

Part of a hobbyist's fun is buying tools and supplies, so leave the joy of shopping for specialty items to him. I'd say start out with a straight-sided proofing bowl and a Silpat or two.

Peter Berley's bread recipes in his The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen result in the ultimate in flavor, as far as I'm concerned.
posted by sevenstars at 9:06 AM on December 17, 2009

I love baking bread! I usually do it by hand but you can also use a mixer, if you're so inclined ;)

The tools that I use the most are:
- digital scale (try and get one that is good to 0.01 oz)
- plastic scraper (@$2)
- nice big metal bowl
- pizza stone

I'll echo the thumbs up for Peter Reinhart books, and also the Rose Levy Beranbaum books.

Also - if you're looking for fresh yeast, ask your bakery department in your local grocery store. I buy a block off of them occasionally and it only costs me a few bucks for a pound.
posted by ollyoop at 11:30 PM on December 17, 2009

Response by poster: Shopping completed! Here's what I bought:

large baking stone
wood oven peel
baguette couche
flour sifting pan
dough scraper
bread razor

I'll update again post-lesson. Thank you for all the great suggestions!
posted by cior at 3:43 PM on December 18, 2009

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