What I’m about to list here is what I’ve managed to collect so far or feel I need to get a basic bread making set up, It’s not necessarily ALL the toys and gadgets and must-haves one must have but it’s what seems to be a decent starting-out set up. Anyone who cares suggest/recommend other useful tools is welcome to add a comment describing the item and why they feel it’s a good addition to the break maker’s toolbox.
You’ll also see some links to “Get this tool here” which will send you to our Yumarama Store (US version only) to purchase that tool. The Canadian store/Amazon Canada does not offer these items, only bread books at this time.
1- Kitchen Scales
[easyazon-image-link asin="B001N07KUE" alt="EatSmart Precision Pro Digital Kitchen Scale, Silver" src="http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41ba0ljn7hL._SL160_.jpg" align="left" width="160" height="160"]As mentioned elsewhere, a kitchen scale is nearly mandatory if you want to make consistent breads. Or most baking requirements, for that matter. Because baking, unlike cooking, is to a large degree a science where you mix particular ingredients which, when exposed to specific heat levels or interact with each other, cause particular changes and effects. There’s a reason, for example, why the combination of baking soda and buttermilk in cakes works: the acid in the buttermilk reacts with the soda to cause carbon bubbles, thereby expanding the batter and giving you a nice open texture as the batter bakes to a solid form when the sugar and flour molecules bind together. This is science. Yummy, tasty and chocolaty science but science none the less.
A scale allows you to control very precisely the amounts of each ingredients in a recipe so that you not only get the expected effect but can repeat that process over and over. You also want to be sure the scale can measure right down to 1 gram increments. A long auto-shut off is also handy; most switch off after 30 seconds of inactivity which is really too short when you’re actually doing stuff. a minute or even two would be awesome. But don’t NOT get one just because the shut off is too short; you can live with that.
2 – Oven Stones
[easyazon-image-link asin="B0000E1FDA" alt="Old Stone Oven 4467 14-Inch by 16-Inch Baking Stone" src="http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/313B632SACL._SL160_.jpg" align="left" width="160" height="92"]This one isn’t precisely mandatory and some people may even prefer to not use them but oven stones help to keep your oven at a more average temperature as they have a lot of thermal mass; when you open your oven door, the hot air easily flushes out and without stones, you’re left with the element or gas heat to bring the oven temp back to what it should be. With a stone, it holds plenty of heat and isn’t as easily cooled off so the oven temp gets back to “average” a lot sooner.
An oven stone also helps in the cooking of the bread as it comes in contact with a very hot surface quite suddenly.
That said, you can still bake bread quite well without.
3 – Reliable Oven Thermometer
Let me just start by simply pointing out my old oven sucked. The thermostat on the thing was utterly unreliable as are a lot of basic home ovens, according to a survey of dozens of home bakers of the quasi-pro variety. So finding out what the actual temp in the oven when I set it at 475ºF is important as I had a strong suspicion it was actually a fair bit hotter in there.
[easyazon-image-link asin="B00004XSCA" alt="Taylor Oven Guide Thermometer" src="http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41TvhNQbQFL._SL160_.jpg" align="left" width="160" height="95"] So off I’ve gone hunting for a good, accurate oven thermometer. This one I’m still hunting for. I did buy one from Wal-Mart (sorry, sorry, sorry!) but I have the impression it’s all that accurate either. It’s an inexpensive ($5) coil type and it seems to think the stove is much cooler, like 40 – 50º, than it really is. I’m looking for a Taylor Oven Guide Thermometer which uses a glass stem since I’m supposing that the liquid inside expands at a very specific rate and should therefore be much more accurate. I’ve hit all the kitchen store (that’s right, all one of them) in Burlington as well as the gadget departments at places like Zellers, Can Tire, etc. but none have any type other than the cheapy little coil ones. I may have to order one online and suck up the annoying excessive delivery costs, i.e $6 on a $15 item.
4a – A Couche
Well, a couche (pronounced “koosh”) and the right flour for it: rice flour.
So what’s a couche? It is some fairly good weight, tightly woven raw linen cloth which is coated heavily in flour and used to lay your doughs on to rise in a sort of accordion fashion. You specifically want raw linen because this type of material still has some of the oils in the fibers which help the fabric from sticking to sticky wet dough. Now it may be possible to find this in a specialty kitchen store (not where I live though) or, again, order it online. $$$. If you’re looking for just raw linen not labeled as a specialty bread making product, you may have better luck at a decent fabric store but that may or may not be something they’d carry. So you’re left with alternatives. Canvas, tight weave, linen.
Art supply store? Artists canvas? Possibly, and it may be that a good quality artists’ canvas, usually sold off a roll by the yard at good art supply stores, is actually raw linen.
Another possibility: Cotton canvas. Now you’ve got the right weave but are dropping the raw linen and it’s oil aspects in exchange for a material a little easier to find. And here’s a decent place to find it, near almost anyone: Home Depot, paint department, canvas drop cloth. You can get their smaller 5 X 12 foot drop cloth which is just basic canvas. Throw it in the wash to get any sizing out and dry it to shrink, then cut a piece to a suitable size: 24 – 28″ wide” by 40 – 48″ long seems good for my 16″ long pans, but decide on your own based on how many loaves you likely will be normally making. You want enough length to be able to make the ripples between the loaves come up higher than the dough and allow for expansion; any extra can easily be wrapped atop the couched loaves and makes a cover. I suggest you wash your cloth before you cut -I did this the other way (cut then wash) and the canvas shrunk on me so it was a fair bit narrower than originally expected. If you want you can sew up the edges. Or not.
What about cotton dishtowels? They just don’t work that well, they’re too thin and light and not really big enough anyway. I suppose you could find heavy canvas type cotton at a fabric store, I didn’t bother to check, I had a drop cloth already.
Rice Flour: I’ve seen a few suggestion as to what sort of mix this needs to be, 25%, 50 or 100% rice flour to UAP, then rubbed into the couche’s surface. The rice flour makes it nearly teflon-like and the dough won’t stick. I did 50/50 rice to UAP and it worked perfect. Rice flour is available at Bulk Barn for rather cheap. Apply very generously. Don’t wash the couche after each use, just shake the excess off and allow the cloth to dry as it will have absorbed a bit of the moisture from the dough.
Speaking of which: a tip, and I learned this by NOT doing it today: once you’ve got your loaves nicely tucked into their little rows, cover the tops with plastic wrap laid across or they’ll dry out a bit and give you two different dough surfaces – the bottom facing side stays a little damper – once the loaves have sat there for a few hours. Covering them with the remaining length of canvas isn’t enough to stop them drying a little. You might want to just slip your tray of couched loaves into a plastic garbage bag; since the loaves are all wrapped in the canvas/linen, there’s no issue about “food safe”, besides they won’t even be in the bag all that long.
4b – Baskets: Bannetons and Brottforms
These are used to let the bread rise in (mostly) round shapes although you can also get them in long loaf styles as well.
[easyazon-image-link asin="B000KEJQMY" alt="BANNETON LINEN LINED: CRAFTED OF WILLOW (Matfer Bourgeat)" src="http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41LMIXnyJlL._SL160_.jpg" align="left" width="160" height="103"]You’ve seen these everywhere at places like Pier One or HomeSense, baskets lined with a cotton material. Now for actual bread making, the baskets that inspired all these chi-chi type copycats, you’d need round baskets about 8″ wide or however big you feel you want your loaves to be and again, you want good linen or similar material lining the basket to avoid dough sticking to fuzzier material. For long loaves, you need a somewhat oval shape in a size suitable for a loaf of bread.
Now you’d think this would be somewhat easy to find, even if the store has no idea you wanted them for their actual purpose and they’re selling them as decorative accessories. But noooooooo. I’ve been to about a dozen stores like the above-mentioned Pier One and HomeSense and the Bay and Zellers and Wal-Mart (again sorry, I was getting desperate) and on and on and I saw plenty of cloth lined baskets but none in any shape or size appropriate for a bread loaf. Ugh. So I tried to find just simple round baskets that haven’t been dyed where I can sew in a liner but again, no go yet.
The search continues.
[easyazon-image-link asin="B00004R92T" alt="Frieling 8-inch Round Brotform" src="http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51592BSZKSL._SL160_.jpg" align="left" width="160" height="113"]These are, again, round or long oval baskets but this time they’re not basic wicker but (usually) willow reed wound around and nailed together to make a solid basket. These impart a very distinct pattern onto the dough when you flour the inside liberally, as seen in this image from TheFreshLoaf.com. The reed leaves an indentation and the ‘valley’, filled with flour, transfer this to the bread’s surface. Quite nice and extremely “artisanal” in look. Impossible to find unless you want to fork out $50 for ONE basket imported from the US or Germany (shipping on top of that). Crazy.
Please note: “Brotform” and “Bannetons” are both non-specific names in their original use; they refer simply to a bread basket. The association of each to a specific style (cane or linen-lined) is a recent event and somewhat superficial and slightly inaccurate.
5 – Bowl and Bench Scrapers
Both of the following tools are pretty much indespensible when handling your dough. And they’re pretty inexpensive
Plastic Bowl Scraper:
[easyazon-image-link asin="B000JHKKNG" alt="Nylon Pan Scrapers (Set of 2)" src="http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/31170CQE9VL._SL160_.jpg" align="left" width="160" height="160"]You’d think these things, which you might see online advertised for 69¢ to $2, or which bakeries are given by the bag full as promo material by sales reps, would be easy to locate in the area’s kitchen gadget sections here in Canada. Again: no. Sure, I can order one online but like many of these items, the extra delivery charge is insane: a 96¢ scraper comes with a $7.95 delivery. I’ve since found a supplier that shipped me one when I ordered a bread peel so the shipping on this item was pretty much nil. It’s extremely handy! Yes, you will also want the metal version below.
Metal Bench Scraper:
[easyazon-image-link asin="B00004OCNJ" alt="OXO Good Grips Multi-Purpose Pastry Scraper/Chopper" src="http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/311FAYKN2DL._SL160_.jpg" align="left" width="160" height="101"]For scraping the counter top clean as you’re handling wetter dough or cutting lumps of dough into sections, I have a very useful “metal bench scraper”. It works not only to scrape gunk and dough bits off the counter and collect up all the loose flour, it’s also useful for cutting dough chunks and is handier and safer than a big knife for picking up a pile of chopped veggies (when you’re chopping veggies). Now these you can find almost anywhere. Score! Can’t scrape the insides of bowls with it though so you would still want the plastic version above. And although you can scrape the counter with your plastic scraper, it will nick and wear out quickly, so have both types at hand.
6 – Scoring Tool
A good blade to slash your loaves is required. There are a few possible solutions. One is a “professional” lame (French for blade, pronounced lah-mm) which you can buy as a disposable one-piece holder and blade or as a handle with replaceable blades. These generally need to be ordered from specialty shops.
Some people fashion a similar tool from a coffee shop wooden coffee stir stick (Starbucks, in other words) and slip on a double-sided “safety razor blade” you can buy at any drug store or grocery, next to the shave cream.
I have not tried either the real or fake version of this tool myself so I don’t know how this sort of blade works. I did try to use a one-sided blade, typically used to scrape paint off glass (hence available at hardware supply stores) but found that particular blade less than handy, the safety edge stopped it from going in the dough a good amount and I found it snagged the dough.
A real blade with a slight curve may work really well though.
Or… a Tomato Knife:
Another and much more accessible way to slash your loaves is by using a small, serrated tomato knife, a short knife but (and this is the trick) with scallops in the blade. Here in Canada, I’ve found one for $1.90 at Fortino’s/Loblaws/Superstore. Works great! Be warned, however, don’t get a knife with those very tiny “micro serrations”, you need small but definite serrations. Click the picture at left for a larger size.
[easyazon-image-link asin="B001T6OVPO" alt="EXO Super Peel Pizza Peel in Solid White Ash - 100% Made in USA - Cook's Illustrated Recommended" src="http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41NubuYTeNL._SL160_.jpg" align="left" width="160" height="110"]Indispensible for putting and removing bread from an oven.
The Super Peel, shown here, has a non-stick cloth cover that becomes a small hand-held conveyor belt tool with unrivalled pick-up and transfer abilities for any dough you are working with. Watch a quick video here.
8 – Mis en Place
[easyazon-image-link asin="B002BW51AE" alt="Luminarc 105650 8-piece stackable bowl prep set." src="http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41PDMKq7hBL._SL160_.jpg" align="left" width="160" height="160"] Getting all your ingredients set out and pre-measured will save you from the certain error we will all at some point make: forget to add something or find out half way through that we ran out of a particular item and need to dash to the store.
Prep bowl to the rescue. A handy set of prep bowl allow you to do just like you see the pros do on the TV machine: have everything at hand, all measured and ready to add to their recipe. It’s nearly impossible to forget to add something because you still have the bowl of it there on the counter. I messed up a couple of times before I decided to make it a mandatory part of baking, bread or otherwise: have the Mis en Place ready. And having a few prep bowls for it means no hunting for containers.