Monday, 23 February 2009
Rose Levy Beranbaum has put together a step-by-step guide to making bread, plus essential equipment and ingredients and 8 classic recipes for Epicurious. If you are new to bread baking (or even if you’re not), it’s well worthwhile taking a look:
The primer looks good. Except for one part.
I would revise the epicurious list of “essential equipment” for bread baking by including only the following:
- Measuring Cups and Spoons
- Large Wooden Spoon
- Bench Scraper
- Large Mixing Bowl with lid (doubles as a Dough-Rising Container)
- Cooling Rack
- Cookie Sheet
- Parchment Paper
If your mixing bowl does not come with a lid, a plate works very well. (I used to advocate those plastic shower-hat-like covers but I’m completely rethinking about all plastic in all of our kitchens. Stay tuned for some major ranting about our disgraceful prodigal ways and how we must stop destroying the planet even though it’s probably too late… )
Optional but Nice:
- Scales (Spring and/or Digital)
- Proofing Boxes (oven with only the light turned on works well)
- Banneton (any old basket or colander lined with a tea towel works)
- Baking Stone
- Loaf Pans (including a Cast-Iron Pan)
- Long Bladed Serrated Knife
- Baking Peel
- Broiling Pan
- Pump Spray Bottle (for water)
- edit: plastic pump spray bottle¹
- Stand Mixer, Bread Machine, or Food Processor
Beranbaum wrote the following reason to argue that these electronic devices are essential for bread baking:
Though satisfying, mixing bread dough by hand can be a messy endeavor. Plus, sticky dough is difficult to work with your hands and there is always a risk that you will add too much flour and dry out the dough. – Rose Levy Beranbaum, Bread Basics, epicurious.com
I completely disagree on this point. I think mixing things in machines can be a messy endeavor. (I also think it’s a waste of energy.) I have broken my food processor when mixing dough in it. Hand mixing is very easy to do, especially if you have a nice large wooden spoon or paddle. Hand kneading is equally easy, especially with the help of a bench scraper. And now, of course, there are many “no-knead” bread recipes that completely eliminate the need (no pun intended) for putting dough onto the board at all.
Other gadgets (scales, bread stones, thermometers, etc. etc.) are nice to have but are definitely not necessary. I gather that electric mixers are very nice as well. But I can’t really say as I don’t have one; nor do I have any desire for one. (No counter space.) All bread bakers, even novices, can produce wonderful bread in their kitchens with just these few items.
I must say that I love our oven bread stone, which we use for pita, pizza, and most free form breads. We also have an inexpensive stone that fits in our barbecue. It is fantastic for pizza making on hot summer days. And of course, our peel is extremely handy as well. But I’ve heard of people using cutting boards or upside down cookie sheets instead. And various bread tins are useful as well. And timers!! Windup or digital. Very useful. But NOT essential.
* Oh yes, and one more thing that is absolutely required for baking bread:
- a heat source….
An oven or barbecue will do the trick.
1. edit 24 February 2009: Beranbaum also advocates using a cast iron pan to fill with ice in order to create steam. Here again, I’d disagree. Cast iron will rust. I used to use a broiling pan (largely because it is specifically designed to be placed in a hot oven virtually empty and not warp or rust). But I now use a plastic pump spray bottle and liberally spray the loaves just before putting them in the oven. Sure, it ruins any design made with the flour but the resulting crust on the bread is worth the loss of the flour pattern.
Another ingenious way to inject steam that I keep meaning to try is Steve’s (Breadcetera) brilliant idea to use a hand-held steam cleaner to inject steam into the oven:
[T]he Steam Bread Maker [is] a product offered for sale which consists of a metal cover with a small inlet hole and a hand-held steamer. The idea here is to not only cover the dough but also to inject steam into the cover through the cover’s inlet hole. It was easy enough to put together my own steaming system, especially since I already owned a hand-steamer. An inverted buffet serving tray, inexpensively obtained at my local restaurant supply store, proved to be ideal for use as the cover. - SteveB, breadcetera.com: Scoring and Steaming
Again, this could hardly be termed an essential piece of equipment but it does seem like it might be very nice to have.
edit March 2013: Until recently, the thermometer was in the “Optional but Nice” list. After reading Ken Forkish’s book, Flour Water Salt Yeast, I have been swayed into moving the thermometer (a probe style meat thermometer works really well) onto the “essential” list.