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Essential Equipment for Bread Making

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ejm's picture
ejm

Essential Equipment for Bread Making

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. The primer looks good. Except for one part. I would revise the 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)

  • Cooling Rack

  • Cookie Sheet

  • Parchment Paper


essential equipmentcooling racks

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)

  • Thermometer

  • Timer


Completely Unnecessary:



  • Stand Mixer, Bread Machine, or Food Processor


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.


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. :-)


-Elizabeth


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

This is a partial mirror of a post on my blog that covers all aspects of food. Read the full post here:



And here is the link to Beranbaum's Bread Primer:


Comments

Stephanie Brim's picture
Stephanie Brim

I agree with you about the stand mixer now.  Even with the really wet sweet dough I mixed up yesterday I'm having no trouble getting the gluten formation that I need as long as I use the Richard Bertinet or the stretch and fold method of dough development. Yesterday's dough for the cinnamon rolls I made was a combination of the two.

ejm's picture
ejm

There's something really satisfying about stretching and folding, isn't there, Stephanie? I love the way a slightly porridgy looking dough gets transformed into soft pillows with just a few stretches and folds.


-Elizabeth

nbicomputers's picture
nbicomputers

the only thing i would disagree with is the scale


if you want to get a consistant product you need to mesure with some acuracy


mesuring cups can vary from manufacture and volume mesurment is by its self not consistant.

ejm's picture
ejm

This was a tricky one for me. I almost put the scale into the essentials list but then decided to omit it. I made really decent bread for years without using a scale. (Except very occasionally when I used a really crummy spring-loaded scale)


Don't get me wrong. I do love my digital scale. But there are so many factors that come into play. Even when using the same weights (and I do love my digital scale) for a particular recipe, air temperature, humidity, flour age, yeast activity all make it so the amounts don't have to be measured exactly. So as far as I'm concerned, the scale remains in the "nice but not essential" items.


-Elizabeth

Paddyscake's picture
Paddyscake

the scale is essential  for consistency..you're tossing the dice when you use cups. As he says, they vary from manufacturer, etc, etc.


Betty

LindyD's picture
LindyD

300 grams of flour is 300 grams of flour, regardless of the current temperature of the air, the age of the flour, the activity of the yeast, or the humidity.  And the only way to accurately measure 300 grams of flour is to scale it.


Why settle for just "decent" bread when you can consistently produce good, and even great bread by scaling your ingredients?


Heck, I'd replace the wooden spoon, measuring cups, cookie sheet, and lidded bowl with a digital scale.  And a baking stone.


 


 

ejm's picture
ejm

Yes, a scale is wonderful to have. But great bread can be made (easily and consistently) using volume measures. So shall we agree to disagree on this point, Norm, Betty and Lindy?


-Elizabeth


(I still insist that 300gm flour on a humid day reacts completely differently than 300gm flour on a very dry day.)


 

gavinc's picture
gavinc

 


I disagree also.  The only way I can obtain consistent results is by using baker’s percentage = scaling ingredients.  I couldn’t do without mine. Life's a journey.


Gavin


 

toyman's picture
toyman

I'm with Norm, Betty, Lindy & Gavin.  You can make great bread without one, but you can't consistently make the same great bread without one.  And when you have a loaf turn out substantially better (or worse) than the one last week, you have no idea why.  It also gives you a reference point for making changes, and again, you can always go right back where you were.  Different flours have different densities.  Sifted flour has more volume than non-sifted, you get the picture.  I started out making small batches until I 'found my way'.  I recorded my base recipe and make large batches now with confidence.  Of course this is my opinion and am pretty analytical, so YMMV! 

ejm's picture
ejm

Chacun à son goût...


Again, let me stress that I love my scale and use it a lot. I want to make it clear that I'm NOT saying "Don't bother buying a scale." I'm just saying that a scale isn't absolutely required for making great bread. Consistantly great bread.


One of the reasons I chose not to include the scale as an essential piece of equipment for making bread is that there are hundreds of otherwise well equipped North American kitchens that do NOT have scales. It would be a shame if all those people thought they couldn't make great bread if they only have measuring cups.


After all, isn't the whole point of the bread primer in epicurious to encourage people to bake their own bread?


-Elizabeth


P.S. Personally, I would love it if all bread recipes were written out in metric weights  and/or bakers' percentages and if that were the case, then of course, the scale would go into the essential equipment list. (But I'd probably open up another can of worms and say that it could be springloaded OR digital.)

nmo's picture
nmo

While scales are very helpful, especially for those of us with less experience, I know several bakers who make consistently wonderful bread using only the items on the essential list.  In addition, a decent scale can be a bit more costly than the other items.  Insofar as essential items go, I think that Elizabeth has it right.  Maybe the scale should go into it's own category - "Highly Desireable."  

Just Loafin's picture
Just Loafin

Gotta side with the scalers! I had my scale (believe it, or not!) before I had a wooden spoon or a bench scraper. Before those two items, I had a sturdy plastic straining spoon and I used a large pancake turner with a blunt end as my bench scraper! I have never even used parchment paper at all... I finally broke down and bought two boxes of parchment due to "baker's pressure", but have still never cracked one open.


Whether the scale appears in the list or not, many of the things that are on the absolute essential list aren't absolutely necessary at all! If they are, I guess I'm not baking great bread! hehe


I have a stand mixer, but it does not accomodate a dough attachment, so it sits waiting for cakes, pies, and cookie doughs when the holidays come around. It's absolutely NOT necessary for bread. I use a kung fu combination of Bertinet, stretch and fold, and good ol' fashion kneading.


So, as far as the list goes, I'd say you CAN in fact make great bread WITHOUT a wooden spoon, a bench scraper, cooling rack (really? absolutely necessary?? more so than a scale?), or a lid for the mixing bowl. Many common household staples can be used in place of these items.


Back to the scale... I bought my scale for $39 US from Bed, Bath and Beyond. While arguably unnecessary, it is, in the same breath, arguably completely necessary, and for so many very valid reasons! For example, a great many recipes you run across makes enough dough for a small army. Having the ability to scale down to make one loaf has enabled me to try recipes I would have passed on, especially when you just want to test. Who wants to fail 3 loaves during the same bake because of a simple mistake (or complicated one for that matter)? How many people per week post here with starter problems that are related to volume measuring? The list goes on and on and on... If anyone hasn't bought a scale lately, they should be informed that scales have become very affordable to the first-time baker, and I believe they are essential to consistent results, efficient use of ingredients, and flexibility of recipe bulk (both up and down). Without a scale, it's always fun to try and split in half a recipe with one egg in it, or 3/4 C of milk.


So is it absolutely necessary? Ok, you got me on a technicality there, so yes, you can in fact make bread without it. But you can also make bread without many of the other items on that list. ; )


- Keith

ejm's picture
ejm

Well, of course, you're right; it isn't ABSOLUTELY essential to have a dough scraper. I too used a blunt nosed egg lifter as my bench scraper. But it just can't do the job as well as a real bench scraper - especially when working slack dough.


And you're also right that good bread can be made without many of the other items on the list.


I do agree that a scale is very nice thing to have. No doubt about it. But I still maintain that it isn't a required item. It would be a shame if the lack of a scale would stop people from baking bread or make them think that their bread would be wanting in some way because it was made with inexact measurements.


And while parchment paper may not be completely necessary either, for me, it is.


But, because you are swaying me, I suppose I could revise the list of what I think is essential for bread baking in the following way. I'd start with:


Absolutely and Entirely Essential:



  • Large Mixing Bowl with lid (doubles as a Dough-Rising Container)

  • Heat Source

  • Cooling Rack


and then follow with the list that was labelled "Absolutely Essential" and change the label to:


Highly Desirable Additions to Above:



  • Measuring Cups and Spoons

  • Large Wooden Spoon

  • Bench Scraper

  • Cookie Sheet

  • Parchment Paper


and follow that with the list that was labelled "Optional but nice and change THAT label to:


Highly Desirable but Entirely Optional Additions to Above:



  • 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)

  • Thermometer

  • Timer


Completely Unnecessary:



  • Stand Mixer, Bread Machine, or Food Processor

Just Loafin's picture
Just Loafin

Naw, just tuggin' on your left leg there, Elizabeth ; D


No need to revise it, in fact, anyone who reads it and bothers to read the comments will get all the info they need to decide what to buy, and in what order.


I -do- like the addition of 'Heat Source', LoL!


Anything that gets new blood into the hobby is completely relevant, even if we kind of bicker over the minutia... ; D


<3


- Keith

Steve H's picture
Steve H

Absolutely Essential:



  • Scale (Preferred) or Measuring Cups and Spoons

  • Bowl/Bench Scraper

  • Large Mixing Bowl (with lid or coverable with plastic wrap)

  • Baking Stone, Loaf Pan, or Cookie Sheet

  • Oven


 Optional but Nice:



  • Scales (Spring and/or Digital)

  • Razor Blade (some kind of handle strongly preferred)

  • Large Wooden Spoon

  • 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

  • Baking Peel

  • Broiling Pan

  • Pump Spray Bottle (for water)

  • Stand Mixer or Bread Machine

  • Thermometer

  • Timer


Justification:


1.  Removed wooden spoon.  Really, you can use any suitable thing to mix with, including your hands.


2.  Scale is necessary, but can be substituted with volumetric measurements in a pinch (on pun intended)


3. Added razor blade as optional, but nice.


4. Cooling rack is optional.  The loaf can sit any suitable location, such as on a kitchen stove or even just a countertop.


5. A stand mixer is not completely unneccesary.  Its a nice thing to have.  A bread like Brioche seems like it would be really hard to do without a mixer.


-Steve

ladychef41's picture
ladychef41

I side with Elizabeth on the scale; for the most part, but disagree with her on the cooling rack. For YEARS I cooled my bread; just as my mother did, by removing it from the pan, turning the pan over and placing the bread on top of the overturned pan. Never had a soggy crust that I can remember. In the case of "free form" loaves, I simply cooled them on my wooden "bread board".

For the scale; yes, I do own a scale and I do use it about half the time. Mostly, as Keith noted, if I'm reducing or increasing a recipe. It's just easier to figure in ounces or grams than in cups or fractions of cups.

A stand mixer certainly isn't a necessity as I learned to make bread without one. It's a convenience so I can leave it to "knead" while I move on to wash the dishes, wipe down the counters, or get mise en place for whatever is next on my list. Nice, but not necessary.

Bench scraper, eh, not so much. I used a metal spatula or the edge of a fork for many years to "scrape" my counter. What I might do is add a bowl scraper to the "not essential, but nice to have" list in place of the bench scraper. It can pretty much do the job of the bench scraper along with getting your dough out of the bowl a lot easier. Again, not essential, but would be nice!

I think the bottom line is that we all have our own "Absolutely Essential" equipment list that works for us!

happy baking everyone!

Wendy

ejm's picture
ejm

Thanks all for the responses!


As Wendy has so correctly pointed out, of course, this list is a subjective and personal one. However, my initial reason for creating it was simply to comment on Rose Levy Beranbaum's baking essentials list she put together for epicurious.


Keith, I do appreciate the discussion. It was the very length of RLB's list that bothered me. I felt it would dissuade new people from trying to bake bread.


I'm still amazed when people are dismayed to learn that I DON'T use a bread machine to make all our bread. I can't seem to pursuade them that if I can make bread ANYONE can.


Here is the 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

  • Pump Spray Bottle (for water)

  • Thermometer

  • Timer


Completely Unneccessary:



  • Stand Mixer, Bread Machine or Food processor


Justification:



  1. Steve, you're right. 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 list.

  3. Yes, Wendy, 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 should use their stand mixers to make bread! I'm just saying that the stand mixer isn't necessary.


I keep meaning to try baking bread under a large roasting pan along the lines of SteveB's oven steaming with a hand held steamer and Prairie19's put on your tin foil hats. I gather that this is a great way to trap the steam. And if the results are great as it sounds like they are, then I would add the roasting pan and hand-held steamer to the optional but very useful section.


-Elizabeth


 

Just Loafin's picture
Just Loafin

I exclusively use the roasting pan (.99 Cents Only Store!) over many of my bakes, especially the SD's... it's terrific, and it couldn't be cheaper! I can verify that the oven spring is substantially increased, and solved quite a few of my other crust related problems.


 



I keep meaning to try baking bread under a large roasting pan along the lines of SteveB's oven steaming with a hand held steamer and Prairie19's put on your tin foil hats. I gather that this is a great way to trap the steam. And if the results are great as it sounds like they are, then I would add the roasting pan and hand-held steamer to the optional but very useful section.


ejm's picture
ejm

Keith, how deep is your 99 cent foil roasting pan? The inexpensive roasting pans I see at dollar stores around here are only about 8 inches deep and that doesn't seem deep enough for using as a baking hat.


-Elizabeth

Just Loafin's picture
Just Loafin

12.5" wide by 10" across, 4.25" from lip to bottom deep. It allows me 2 Susan from San Diego's Ultimate SD boules, and about any other single sandwich-type loaf in a pan. It won't accomodate a french loaf, but I don't use it for those.


I live in an apartment with an old 1950's era Roper gas oven - I refer to it as my EZ Bake Oven ; D I hate it, I love it. I hate the reduced size, but realistically, I only need one or two loaves at a time for our small family. If I had more room, I guess the neighbors would benefit from it... ; ) I love it because it retains heat so well! The pilot light is just barely there, and the oven idles at about 95° (there is no light in it = / ). I tiled it with Saltillos both on the bottom and the top, and it just flat out makes perfect breads and pizzas without fail. I can cook on the bottom tiles, or a middle rack, or both. That's why this pan works for me, though... it pretty much fits my oven perfectly, leaving just enough room for the oven therm to hang.


- Keith

ladychef41's picture
ladychef41

hahaha! I love these types of interactions! To me, it just goes to prove that there is NO ONE CORRECT WAY to do anything!!! We all have our favorite baking essentials, just as we all have our favorite shirt! And each one suits OUR needs! But it's good to know there are alternatives out there if we want to try them! No one is right, and no one is wrong.... just different; and that works!


 


Wendy

SusanWozniak's picture
SusanWozniak

I was totally dependent upon my scale when I started baking, I think, because I had read that cup measurements could be off but the scale was always correct.  At some point, my scale fell of the frig and broke and I went several years without one.


I rely on more than one outsized ceramic bowls and wooden spoons.  The bench knife is new for me but I used a stainless steel flat spatula in previous times.  Right now, I have a HUGE wooden bowl that I knead bread in and it makes kneading so easy that I am still in awe of it.  This is an item that I was lucky to find: the craftsperson who makes them lives close enough to me that he sells his bowls at whole sale price at one annual craft fair.


 


I like parchment paper for cookie baking.  In fact, before I had parchment paper, I hated making cookies.


 


I use glass, steel, clay and aluminum pans indiscriminately and (surprisingly) do not find one superior to the other.  Alright, the clay has a small edge!

ejm's picture
ejm

It works!! It works!!


We don't have an aluminum foil roasting pan though and I haven't seen any with the depth shown in the photos on the "Put on Your Foil Hats" post. So I used our old enamel roasting pan that we usually use for smoking in the barbecue. (eyeballing the dimensions: 14inches long, 9 inches wide and 4 inches deep but in reality, it's probably the same size as Keith's roasting pan.)


The roasting pan is just large enough to cover a small boule. I sprayed the inside of the roasting pan with water before placing it over the risen boule.


Wow!! Why haven't I been doing this before?!


boule  - June 2009boule


I just posted about it here: And we have oven spring!

xaipete's picture
xaipete

It works great--that's what I do too. You don't even have to spray the inside of the pan because the water evaporating from the loaf creates the steam. Trust me on this.


--Pamela

Just Loafin's picture
Just Loafin

w00t! Great job Elizabeth!


I agree, spritzing the inside of the cover has never proven necessary to me (or the change is too insignificant to see). Happy happy! ; )


- Keith