The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Materials and Tools?

Grey's picture
Grey

Materials and Tools?

I was wondering what materials people would recommend for use when making bread, I've made a fair bit now with help from this site, and recently picked up BBA and LOVED it, I was wondering though about a few things, First off is there a reason to use wood over plastic, metal or other materials? I enjoy wood and find it pleasing to handle and look at, but wasn't sure if it was worth the investment to get a solid wooden board and bowls to knead and proof dough in, Some sites recommend it and I notice every picture in BBA has bread being kneaded or proofed on wood (Or in a couche with wood sides that I'd imagine is sitting on top of wood) and the rustic image of a bakery in my mind imagines wood as being the 'right' way of doing things, but aside from some vague mentions of wood becoming seasoned like cast iron, and adding flavor over time through a build up of fermenting dough in pores (Which I don't think seems too likely or healthy), I can't find any good information one way or the other, I've been proofing dough in metal bowls with a bit of spray oil and it's been working fine, but for larger recipes I'm going to need to get some new bigger bowls soon, Any suggestions there?

The next question is regarding a baking stone, We have a cheap ($13 CAD) circular stone from Walmart, that has actually worked out very well so far, but again with larger loaves or with a few smaller longer loaves (like Baguettes) it's not big enough and will soon need to be replaced, any recommendations there? I need something that can be easily moved out of the oven for other things, preferably is rectangular, and is thick enough to hold heat for my purposes.

Next in regards to tools, I'm looking for a decent Dough Scraper, and Lame for scoring, I've been using an xacto-knife/scalpel which works quite well for some things, but the blade is so thin that even though it cuts the dough well, sometimes it doesn't spread the scores enough and they reseal, I've poked around online but the name is a bit ambiguous to search for on ebay or google, where (Preferably in Canada) can I get a decent lame from? I'd imagine a dough scraper would be easier to find online, I haven't looked yet but if anyone cares to make a recommendation I'd appreciate it.

in Ingredients, I found out I can buy Gluten powder from a few stores in my area, would it be worth it to add this to all purpose flour? Or will I get better results with just getting bread flour, (The difference in price isn't big enough to bother me between the two types of flour, I'm baking more but I still don't bake enough to worry that much about the cost of flour) I'm just looking to get the best results, the only bread flour in my area that I've been able to find is Robin Hood brand, anyone with more than one type in their area able to offer a comparasin?

 

Thanks for any replies ahead of time, and for this excellent resource of a website, I've learned so much from here and it's really enabled me to enjoy this fun hobby :)

mcs's picture
mcs

Grey,
I'll just reply to the first question.
For me, wood is a little bit easier to work on (kneading and shaping) simply because it has a slight texture that 'grips' the dough a little bit so it doesn't slide around on me. Plus, when you need it to 'hold' flour, it can. However, countertops/tables made of other surfaces such as formica and stainless steel are advantageous because of their ease of cleaning/resistance to staining. Wood of course can be cleaned, but it takes longer to dry which probably means it won't be wiped down as frequently. Anyway, I'd say a sturdy cleanable surface is the most important criteria-something not on wheels that won't budge when you put pressure on it. I think a board would be frustrating to work on if it's not attached to the counter or table. Whether it's wood or metal or something else doesn't really matter, your style will adapt as will your product.
Oh, and re-reading your question, I'd say go with stainless steel bowls because they're light, relatively cheap, they won't break when you drop them, plus you can stack them and they don't take up much cupboard space.

-Mark

http://thebackhomebakery.com

Paddyscake's picture
Paddyscake

if for now you are on a budget and only have a cutting board to work with, dampen a towel and place it underneath the board. It won't slip while kneading. This will work with wood or plastic.

Grey's picture
Grey

thanks for that tip! I'll give it a try next time I make something

PaddyL's picture
PaddyL

...in Canada.  You can probably buy bread flour, but I use all-purpose, unbleached, Robin Hood, as the cost of a 5 kg bag of bread flour is almost as much as a 10 kg bag of a-p in Montreal anyway.  We really don't need to add extra gluten to our flour at all.  The dough scraper you should be able to find in any kitchen specialty store, or the kitchenwares section of The Bay, Sears, or Zellars.   If you mean the metal dough scraper, I've found that a wide putty knife or paint scraper from a hardware store works just as well; the plastic scrapers should be widely available.

ehanner's picture
ehanner

Grey,
I agree with Mark above and will add that I have found that a large plastic cutting board I have doubles as a work surface. The soft white plastic kind offers up enough resistance that I can shape my dough easily and then just cover it with a tea cloth and set it aside. I went to a restaurant supply and bought 2 of these and if I'm having a big baking day I will stack them using soup cans to separate them. A large Toys are Us plastic bag will cover the stack and I get 3 layers of proofing.

When I first started baking I remember reading about NOT using stainless steel spoons or bowls so the dough wouldn't react with it and spoil the flavor. Every mixer company in the world uses SS for bowls so I just toss that out as ridiculous. In my opinion there isn't any difference what so ever in the material used to make a spoon/bowl/pan etc. The exception is that the heat transferring properties vary between steel, aluminum, glass and cast iron.

You don't NEED a stone at all. I use one for pizza and flat breads. Otherwise I bake most things on sheet pans with parchment paper. Sometimes I'll put the stone in when I have 2-4 sessions to bake but usually not. I proof on the pan I bake on. Less handling means better dough structure and more open crumb. The home building center has unglazed quarry tile that works fine. If you think you need the hearth effect, lay down 2 layers for under $10 a box.

The Lame is a subject of interest here. Most of us have some difficulty slashing with confidence it seems. Any sharp knife works but try a serrated smooth bread knife. I am amazed at how easily they cut the surface and don't catch the surface and make a mess of it. It took a long time for me to try a serrated blade but that's all I use now. Hope this helps.

Eric

Atropine's picture
Atropine

For me....

I have found that a thick plastic cutting board works GREAT for rolling breadsticks because it braces against either my stomach or the wall and has texture for holding the bread.

However it is also WAY too small for anything else I make. 

Flexible plastic cutting mats are, for me, not good for bread making.   They tend to slide.  But I LOVE them for other things and use them often....just not for bread. 

I just bought a heavy piece of marble from cooks.com.  It arrived in excellent condition and was VERY VERY VERY well packaged.  I live in alaska, and even the price of the stone +shipping was less than getting a piece of marble or granite here to use.  This is heavy and does not slide and has feet on it.

I have not used wood.

As for bowls, I use regular, cheap, stainless steel or the KA bowls.  Never had a problem (except when I accidentally baked some bread in one......xsighx....it took a while to scoop out the baked-on bread! lolol).  They can be flipped upside down over a rising loaf.

I use a LOT of parchment paper.  That helps save on handling the dough.  I have a pizza stone in my oven, but use that pretty much for heat regulation as opposed to cooking on, though occasionally I will slide the bread and parchment onto it.  Mostly, though, I use an "airbake" pan that have two pieces of metal with an air layer in them.  Those work GREAT for me, esp with pizza (I make rectangle pizza).  Makes a nice crunchy crust, though they do not fit well in my dishwasher unless you place them horizontally.  Again, I do use the parchment with it to make it easy to slide things.

Dough scraper?  I do not have one yet.  I have been doing without for years, but think they might be useful.

*MY* top favs for useful breadmaking things would also be: 

Pans:  the pain de mie pan that i got from King Arthur flour for sandwich bread, the hamburger bun pans from KA and the mini donut pans from KA (we REALLY like donuts lol).  I almost never use loaf pans anymore except for one yeast recipe (English muffin bread) and quick breads.

Containers:  tall rubber maid containers (like you might store spaghetti in)  for both holding the various flours, etc that I use as well as for proofing and storing sliced bread in the fridge.

Appliances:  kitchen aid for mixing ciabatta dough, but thinking of using it less often for other breads. 

Misc:  I also am tickled about the probe thermometer for testing if the bread is done.  I LOVE LOVE LOVE my yeast spoon (perfectly measures the proper amount of yeast).  I also love a good serrated bread knife.  OH and one of those silicon brushes made by OXO (IIRC) for brushing on butter.  LOVE that one!  Works like a dream and was best in cooks illustrated (or one of those rating mags).  I want to get another one. (for me, I know it is something I love when I am desperate to get a back up lol)

And again, I have only used my marble one day, but I love it.  I have tile counters, which are hard to both keep clean if you roll dough AND are hard to roll dough on.

 

I love wheat gluten.  LOVE IT.  Again, it is a personal thing.... I do not care about the size of the holes in the bread if the crumb is not crumbly, and wheat gluten makes the crumb better.  I throw wheat gluten in just about every batch of bread, even if it is high gluten flour.  Probably not necessary, but is something that seems to insure that I do not have "crumbly" bread. (unless, of course, the bread is SUPPOSED to be crumbly :-) ).  I buy it in the bulk food section of Safeway--it is bob's red mill, but if you buy it in the bulk section, it is MUCH cheaper. MUCH MUCH cheaper.

 

But frankly, it is up to YOU what YOU like.  If you want more tile, try quarry tile.  If you like wood, use wood.  Each one of us is persnickety about something.  For me, I want things to be able to handle the dishwasher lolol.

Grey's picture
Grey

haha, well thanks for your pointers, just to let you know you're not the only one who has accidently baked bread in a metal bowl :P 

I'll try some of these pointers and yeah, it is up to what I like but I thought I'd feel around for some people who might have experience with different materials, and I have gotten many useful tips so far :)

sphealey's picture
sphealey

I make heavy use of dough scrapers. I have one metal cutter/scraper, and 8 plastic ones. That isn't enough on big baking days even if I stop to wash them, and some are starting to wear out ;-(. The plastic ones are only 99 cents from King Arthur or Bob's Red Mill, and since shipping charges are probably a big part of your cost to Alaska I would say the next time you place a BRM or KA order add 4 or more plastic scrapers. Sometimes KA throws one or two in the box with a big order anyway, and they gave away at least 500 at the baking class I attended. Some crafty people here have made their own with plastic sheet from the hobby store but I like the logos.

sPh

kayemme's picture
kayemme

I am pretty sure King Arthur Flours ships to canada, and considering how poor our dollar is, you should be able to get a really good deal. I bought my lame from them for under $7US.

 I use glass mixing bowls because I like to be able to see if i have missed clumps of dough or whatever I feel like I need to see. I also bake sandwich loaves in glass. To keep loaves from sticking, I pour about 1/2tsp - 1tsp oil (read: not very much) into the pan and then brush it around the entire inside surface plus top, then coat the oil with corn meal. it works beautifully: my glass breadpans don't get all grimy and my loaves pop out perfectly every time. I've also coated the pan with water and cornmeal but it doesn't seem to work as well. 

 I do my first proof in a lidded plastic bucket (again so i can see when it's doubled). I mark it on the side with a piece of masking tape. 

 I add vital wheat gluten to anything with whole wheat, but don't bother adding when it's a straight white dough. 

I found that buttermilk makes a delighful addition to sandwich breads.  

When kneading, i've recently become fond of rolling the dough out with a rolling pin and then folding over several times; re-rolling, refolding. it's quiet and still stretches the gluten. seems to be working so far. 

I don't use a baking stone, but I do use cast iron almost exclusively (besides glass). If you've got a dutch oven, you're in biz-ness!

I'd also like to add quickly and without judgement, please stop  shopping at walmart. Thanks.

 

Grey's picture
Grey

I'll have to check them out for the Lame, I live right on the border so even if they don't ship here I can get a PO box for it,

I actually agree with being able to see the dough, I usually do my first rise (ferment) in glass with oil sprayed on whenever I can as it's much easier to see the amount of rise, and the final texture,

good idea adding gluten to whole wheat! I always find it very annoying to work with

I haven't tried buttermilk yet, but I definately want to,

Havn't done anything on cast iron yet, but I'd imagine it would be good, (I want to try the english muffin recipe in BBA on cast iron some morning)

hahaha yeah, and I know I shouldn't support Walmart for many many reasons, but there's too many things in this world of which that is true, so I can't let it keep me up at night ;) 

kayemme's picture
kayemme

Bob's Red Mill (Pacific NW Co.) sells all kinds of great flours and bread addititves. I like their ground flax to add to sandwich bread  (makes me feel a little healthier because I don't eat enough fis - in fact I rarely eat fish, especially salmon). i get the gluten from them and they also make a pretty fantastic whole wheat pastry flour.

I also add wheat germ or sesame seeds or whatever, really, that i think would be good to "fiber up" my day. I try not to eat too much straight "white bread" not only because I don't care for it but because I like the flavor of wheat and added bonus of wheat fiber to my day..

 as some gramma's might say "it's good for yer pooper!"

 I get dried buttermilk from King Arthurs... i heard somewhere the proteins feed the  yeast like a sugar? I don't know, but I've been getting insanely high rises. I don't know if it's a combination of the buttermilk + wheat gluten or whatever, but i'm getting some super tall breads. 

i bought some dried milk from the market but haven't used it yet. I wouldn't drink either one of these products, but there are many recipes that call for "inaccessible" dairy, so  I opt for dried because how many times will I have buttermilk just laying around? Never. 

And I just made english muffins yesterday. I blogged about it here http://www.kerimarion.com/km/blog/2008/04/stupid-easy-english-muffins.htm

I used my faithful cast iron skillet and it worked like a charm.  

re: walmart, i know the temptation might be there for cast iron, but please, allow me to assure you, i imagine they only sell the worst of the worst preseasoned cast iron. i know someone who bought a piece there and has had a lot of trouble - maybe walmart's falut, maybe not..

but if not for your own good conscience, the earth and all of humanity, ;) please shop for your cast iron at a local camping store. you'll support a local business, probably get better prices (but cast iron is cheap anywhere except at the mall, the other place you should avoid) and can get it unseasoned (to season it yourself).

The seasoning process they use or do, for whatever reason always flakes off and you have to scrape all the crap off with steel wool (down to the original iron) and then reseason it anyway. so why go through all that when you can just start right in the first place? 

and nothing pleasees me than a well-seasoned piece of cast iron. man, it's lovely.

 cheers! 

 

PaddyL's picture
PaddyL

www.goldaskitchen.com has everything you'd want for bread, and other, baking.  She's Canadian, and will go to great lengths to get you what you need.  I'd tried all over the place for a pullman pan, no one in the States would sell me one, so Golda ordered one for me.  It cost a bit, but she had to import it.  It's a great resource site and her prices are in Can. dollars.

sphealey's picture
sphealey

I really started to understand and be able to make bread after reading and using Rose Levy Beranbaum's _The Bread Bible_, and Rose tends to use vital wheat gluten in her recipes where she thinks the dough might otherwise be weak. When I started out I followed her recipes to the gram, and I got good results that tasted very good.

But after I developed my skills in working with dough, and started to get the tiniest bit of the "feel" that the professional bakers always talk about, and as I learned more about flour, I realized it wasn't really necessary. Especially if I was using KA bread flour or Gold Medal Harvest King which have plenty of gluten to begin with. So eventually I started replacing the gluten with an equal amount of flour and that worked too. The taste of my pizza crust is different, and perhaps better, without the added gluten, but for the other recipes I can't tell too much difference. But not using it saves steps and cost (the more so for me now that both KA and BRM vital wheat gluten are listed as nut contaminated).

So I would say follow your base recipes until you are confident with them, then try taking the gluten out.

sPh

LindyD's picture
LindyD

Fantes sells dough scrapers for 79 cents. I like their scrapers because they are not rigid and will flex to the contours of the bowl. They also sell a billion other baking/cooking goodies and it's fun to cyberwindow shop there.