If you look back, you may be like many of us who have experienced the excitement of a first date many times. We still have the curiosity, interest and glow of excitement that comes with getting to know someone better. There is also a little nervousness – are they as great as they seem? Will they turn out to be a jerk?
You mentally prepare for questions you want to ask. These are questions you ask to find out more about them, but also to determine the level of compatibility. You are looking forward to enjoying this getting to know each other period, with the hopes of having more of them in the future.
When creating a relationship with bread, the First Date is a process of learning more. There are a few basic supplies you need in the way of equipment and ingredients. This post offers both, and is broken down according to necessities and items that are great to have and will help greatly with the process, but aren’t required to get started. But first, here is a little about how I became a home bread baker.
Disclosure: Bear in mind that some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you click on one and make a purchase I might make a small commission, but it does not affect the price you pay!
How I Got Started
I was very young when I started learning the art of baking bread. My mom allowed me to make Blueberry Muffins from the box, which is an easy way to learn the mixing process. Aunt Dot showed me the art of baking her famous Hot Rolls, which is considered a ‘batter bread’.
As I moved forward, I learned to bake biscuits before graduating to yeast breads. As I learned, I worked with the basic equipment, because back then specialty items were available primarily to bakeries and chefs, and too costly for the average household kitchen.
As time passed and more supplies and equipment became available, I began to add to my supplies. Probably my first investment was stoneware. Now that I have used it, I only use stainless steel for my quick breads. My yeast breads are either baked in a stoneware loaf pan or free-formed and baked on a flat stone.
My dad was watching, and saw my interest in baking breads ‘rising’ with each loaf. He also loved the process, so he built both of us a dough blade – also considered a dough scraper. He made ours using wood for the handles and a thin stainless steel for the blade. You can purchase one similar to ours, or they also make them in plastic. I actually have both, but to be honest, I can’t find the plastic one, and it is the second one I have owned. Plastic doesn’t seem to work as well, and eventually will crack or break.
Recently, I came across Peter Reinhart’s bread baking books (I have some of these listed below in the Bread Baking Library). In one of the first ones I read, he mentioned a Danish Dough Whisk.
Curious, I started learning more about it, and knew I had to have one. I actually ordered two – one for me, and one for my son, James, who also loves baking bread. It was the absolute best investment I have made – second only to my stones. I not only use it for bread baking, but also any baking and cooking I do.
If you are considering purchasing any equipment for baking bread, I strongly recommend your first purchases include stoneware, a Danish Dough Whisk, a Dough Blade and a Bowl Scraper. These are the four items you will use the most.
If you don’t already have one, I would also recommend a large cutting board. You may also want to consider a no-slip pad if your board has a tendency to slide around on the counter top.
Once you have become comfortable with the bread baking process, then consider adding to your equipment with some of the other choices. If learning to bake French bread is on your agenda, then I highly recommend these items: a flat stone (preferably rectangle), a lame and a spritzer (a simple plastic spray bottle filled with water and used to mist the oven).
The more advanced equipment choices would be the linen Couche and Banetton. These are designed for proofing, and with the Couche and Banetton, takes a gentle hand and skill level to handle the unbaked and risen breads.
(Here’s a tip: Many of the items listed may come as a set. For example, some Danish dough whisks may come with a lame or a bowl scraper. This does help keep costs down, but be sure to read the reviews first. The ones I have linked to I either own or have researched deeply for the best product available.)
Equipment for Bread Baking
Pans used in baking bread come in a wide variety of sizes and shapes. I confess to having a preference for stainless steel bakeware. I do pay more for it up front, but it holds up longer than the Teflon and aluminum versions.
Muffin Pans – these come in 6, 12 and 24 cups, and can be mini, small, standard or tops. For beginners, opt for the 12 cup, as most recipes yield enough to fill only 12.
Loaf Pans – this is where size really varies. A standard loaf pan is either 9” x 5” x 2-1/2”, or 8-1/2” x 4-1/2” x 2-1/2”. These come in either aluminum, stainless steel or stoneware. When making bread, the appropriate size pan is necessary. Too small, and your bread will overflow in the oven; too small and it will come out flat.
The 8-1/2” pan will hold 6 cups of batter. The 9” pan will hold 8 cups. When making quick breads, most recipes will tell you the size pan you will need. Use that size pan for a standard loaf.
However, you may want to use one recipe to make smaller loaves to use as gifts. If this is the case, most quick bread recipes require the pan to be filled to 2/3 full. Pour your batter into the prepared pans. If there is any left over, pour the remaining into a prepared muffin tin. That one (or two) can be enjoyed by you!
Baguette Pans – These are elongated pans designed to hold long slender loaves. A baguette pan holds a more slender loaf, while the one designed for French bread has a wider base. These also come with and without holes, which essentially are designed to help bake the bread quicker and provide a flakier crust. Either work well. It just depends on whether you want a wider or thinner loaf of French Bread.
We talked a bit about stoneware. It is truly one of the best investments you can buy, but also one that takes a bit more care. Always handle your stones gently, as they can crack and break.
Baking stones are preferred because of their excellent heat absorption and retention. Often called ‘Pizza Stones’ they are great for pizzas, breads, and even cookies.
Baking stones should always be placed in a cold oven. Depending on the thickness of the stone will determine how long your pre-heating time will be. A thin stone up to 1/2” thick will approximately 30 to 45 minutes to heat all the way through. A 1” stone can take up to an hour or slightly more.
BEFORE YOU BUY! – Measure the interior of your oven to make certain a stone will fit!
Danish Dough Whisk
This is the neatest gadget, and one I cannot believe I have lived without so long. Rather than a traditional whisk, this one has a flat circle within a circle made from bent food-grade stainless steel. It actually mixes and blends your dough more quickly, with fewer strokes. This in turn helps you with a lighter batter. When using it to incorporate flour into yeast breads, it makes that step so much easier.
My Choice: Danish Dough Whisk
This tool may be simple, but it is invaluable to any baker. Originally it is designed to help lift your dough from the board and fold it over for kneading purposes. However, it is excellent to use in other forms of baking, and scraping dry dough bits off of your board, making clean up so much easier!
My Choice: Dough Blade
Whether your bread dough is as wet as muffin batter or stiff like yeast dough, there is still a lot that wants to stick to the side of the bowl. To get as much batter or dough as possible out of the work bowl and into the pan, a dough scraper comes in handy!
My Choice: Basic Bowl Scraper
Lame (pronounced (luh – mA)
When baking yeast breads, your recipe will often call for using a sharp razor blade or serrated knife to ‘score’ the top of the loaf. A lame is basically a razor blade with a handle.
I find mine easier to work with than either a standard razor blade or serrated knife. Truthfully, this would be considered a ‘want’, rather than a ‘need’ for bread baking. But even if you don’t want to purchase one yourself, a lame would make a perfect birthday gift or stocking stuffer request!
My Choice: Riccle Premium Wood Lame
Now we are getting into the more advanced tools. As you start to perfect your bread baking skills, you may want to practice your free-form abilities. A couche is a large linen towel that is used to create baguettes. The couche is heavily floured, and each baguettes is ‘couched’ within the folds of the couche. I love mine, but have to admit it does take some practice to use it effectively.
My Choice: Professional Baker’s Couche
A banetton is basically a proofing basket. These are used during the final rising of the bread. They come in round and oval baskets, and are usually lined with a linen piece designed to fit the basket.
Being able to handle the loaf once it has risen and move it from the basket to the oven takes some practice. I confess to still perfecting my abilities, but I am enjoying the attempts! If Banettons are going on your bread baking wish list, you may want to put them on the bottom.
(Note: This link is to a ‘set’ – with the 2 bannetons, a dough blade and a lame. It isn’t the one I purchased, but does look like a great deal!)
As discussed in the previous post, weighing your ingredients provides for more accurate measurements. Using a scale or measuring cups and spoon while in the learning process is entirely up to you.
An instant read thermometer is also a nice tool to have. It helps to determine the interior temperature of the loaf. I don’t use one for bread baking, but if you prefer to do so, this one is a good choice.
Bread baking ingredients are fairly basic. To make a loaf of bread it requires flour, liquid, salt and yeast. But to make a great loaf of bread, those ingredients need to be as fresh as possible.
Flour comes in any number of types. For basic bread baking, you will primarily work with wheat flours. The best white flour to use for muffins and quick breads is unbleached All-Purpose. For yeast breads, the best option is unbleached Bread Flour.
Bread Flour has approximately 11% to 13% protein, which is what helps the gluten to activate and ‘proof’ the dough. With muffins and quick breads, the baking powder or baking soda is designed as a leavening agent, so All Purpose, with its lower protein, is the best way to go.
Thinking you want to make ‘Wheat’ bread that is brown in color? Here’s something to ponder: ALL bread made with white or ‘wheat’ flour is wheat bread. Flour is made of wheat. The color differentiation comes from how much of the wheat is used. White flour uses only the endosperm, which leaves out many of the nutrients. Whole wheat, on the other hand, uses the majority of the grain – which also gives it that light tan to darker brown coloring.
No matter what flour you choose, make sure it is Unbleached (‘wheat’ flour doesn’t require bleaching – only white flours). The bleaching process can leave a slightly metallic flavor due to the processing, and basically is only used to produce the whiter coloring.
Do I have a preference for flours? Actually, not all brands are the same. Most any brand will work, but once you refine your ‘hand’ for baking bread, you will find that others work better. These are my top choices for flour – when I can get them:
(Note: these links are for comparison purposes. Although I greatly appreciate your purchases through my affiliate links, buying and having flour shipped can be expensive. Check first to see if your local stores have this flour available, or if they are willing to stock it!)
Other ingredients for bread baking come in a list as long as the types of breads you bake. From fruits, nuts, cheeses, herbs and spices, breads can be made with flavor combinations to please just about anyone. Before you make a loaf, check the recipe for ingredients other than the basics. It may be possible to use substitutions, but consider how the flavors will work together.
Bread Baking Library
These are some of the books on baking bread that I have on my own bookshelf. Some are old, and falling apart I have used them so much. Others are newer, but well on their way to stains on the pages and losing their grip on the binding.
Each writer not only brings their own interpretation and recipes to the table, but they also offer different approaches and techniques as well. Some are more advanced (such as Peter Reinhart’s Crust and Crumb) but all more than worthy of a place of honor on a baker’s bookshelf.
The Complete Book of Breads – by: Bernard Clayton
Crust & Crumb – by: Peter Reinhart
The Italian Baker – by: Carol Field
Artisan Breads for Every Day – by: Peter Reinhart
Now that you have joined the party, met something worth pursuing and have gone out on your first date, it is time to decide if your interest warrants a second one. Does baking bread sound fun to you? Then it’s time to prepare for the next date.
The second date is where you are going to use all your new supplies and equipment, and put all those terms and techniques you have learned into practice. For our second date, we are going to start at the very beginning with muffins!
Did you miss the party, or the meet and greet? No problem. Just catch up here. You should be well prepared for the next post!