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Monday, 23 February 2009

Essential Equipment for Bread Baking

summary: re: epicurious’ bread primer “essential equipment”; what I think is essential equipment for bread making; (click on image to see larger view and more photos)

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.

bread baking essentials I would revise the epicurious list of “essential equipment” for bread baking by including only the following:

Absolutely Essential:*

  • Measuring Cups and Spoons
  • Large Wooden Spoon
  • Bench Scraper
  • Large Mixing Bowl with lid (doubles as a Dough-Rising Container)
  • Thermometer
  • 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… :stomp:)

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)
  • Timer
  • edit: plastic pump spray bottleยน

Completely Unnecessary:

  • 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,

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.

One More Absolutely Essential Item:

* 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, 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.

This post is partially mirrored on The Fresh Loaf


in re: Bread Primer Launched on Epicurious! and Bread Basics

  • ejm

    There are several comments on this subject on the mirrored post at The Fresh Loaf. Those comments swayed me into making a revised list and further discussion swayed me into making the following

     Revised revised list

    Absolutely Essential:

    • measuring device(s)
    • Large Mixing Bowl (with lid or coverable with plate)
    • Heat source

    Optional but Very Useful:

    • Scales (Spring and/or Digital)
    • Bench Scraper
    • Large Wooden Spoon
    • Baking Stone, Loaf Pan, and/or Cookie Sheet
    • Tea towel
    • Cooling Rack
    • Parchment Paper
    • Proofing Boxes (oven with only the light turned on works well)
    • Banneton (any old basket or colander lined with a tea towel works)
    • Long-Bladed Serrated Knife, Scissors, Razor Blade (some kind of handle strongly preferred) and/or lame
    • Baking Peel
    • Broiling Pan
    • Large Roasting Pan
    • Pump Spray Bottle (for water)
    • Thermometer
    • Timer

    Completely Unneccessary:

    • Stand Mixer, Bread Machine or Food processor

    1. Mixing can be done with hands. Wooden spoon moved to the optional but very useful section.

    2. I have never had good success with razor blade slashing. This is why I left it off the first list.

    3. I’ll concede that the cooling rack is optional. I too have cooled sandwich bread by placing it on its side crosswise on top of the bread pan. But I had thought bread had to have air circulation below it which is why I suggested the rack as being a necessity.

    4. I do not have a stand mixer and have happily mixed and kneaded bread like Brioche without the help of a machine. I’m assuming by “brioche” that “slack dough” bread is meant – this is why I say that the dough scraper is essential. Without my dough scraper, I’d never manage to knead slack dough. (Hmmmm, thinking about it, it could probably be kneaded in the bowl with hands… but I still think the dough scraper should stay on the list.)

    This is not to say that I don’t think people shouldn’t use their stand mixers to make bread! I’m just saying that the stand mixer isn’t necessary.

    I just tried baking bread under a large roasting pan along the lines of SteveB’s (breadcetera) oven steaming with a hand held steamer and Prairie19’s “put on your tin foil hats“. It turns out this is a great way to trap the steam. I haven’t tried using the hand-held steamer yet but if the results are as great as it sounds like they are, then I would add the hand-held steamer to the optional but very useful section.

  • JKandell

    You can also create steam by putting a stainless steel bowl over the bread for the first 15 minutes. You don’t need any extra water – just the bowl creates a pretty nice crust. I prefer the steam method but this has some + and a couple -s compared to hot steam.

    I’ve done that with a large roasting pan – but the troubles are a.) finding a roasting pan that’s large enough and b.) remembering to take the cover away. Good idea to use a stainless steel bowl, J. I suspect that really large stainless steel bowls are available at a kitchen/restaurant supply store. -E


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