With the necessary basic equipment and best-quality ingredients on hand, you are ready to begin baking beautiful breads of all kinds — from the basic sandwich breads to delicious pastry treats. You can explore a whole world of different breads, all with flavor far superior to any you can find in groceries and at a cost of pennies on the dollar.
Mixer. You’ll want a stand mixer with a dough hook, the most popular is the basic Kitchen Aid mixer. If you don’t have one yet, do put it on your wish list and start saving your pennies. It will pay for itself in a couple years with what you save on bread.
Loaf pans and baking sheets are must-haves, but there’s no need to make a substantial investment. I bought six loaf pans about 15 years ago at the dollar store and have been completely satisfied. I don’t wash them, so they’re now beautifully seasoned. I just sprinkle in a tiny bit of flour before putting in my dough. As you gain experience and ambition, you’ll probably add some specialty pans.
Kneading board. I was given a beautiful wood board many years ago and love it, but a large acrylic cutting board works just fine — actually better if you’re using oil to stretch and fold dough. The acrylic board also goes in the dishwasher.
Cooling racks. My most used is 16-inches-by-24-inches. It holds six loaves or two sheets of cookies and slides in with my trays so it takes up minimal space.
Measuring devices. A scale is the best way to measure ingredients. Lacking that, always use dry measure cups for flour and liquid measures for liquid. Have at least one full set of measuring spoons. Find a scale you like and put that on your wish list.
Bread tools. Tools and gadgets can overflow a drawer. The array of gadgets is endless and tempting. What you really need are a medium-sized whisk, various spatulas, spoons and scoops, a bench knife, half moon-shaped dough scraper, and a lame or very sharp knife for slashing loaves. Have a water-dedicated spray bottle on hand and an old roasting pan or cast iron skillet to create steam for crusty loaves.
Bowls. I love bowls and I’d love to have hundreds, but the ones I grab are the inexpensive, lightweight plastic ones. You’ll need a nesting set in graduated sizes. Plus your mixer bowl, of course.
Rising tub for proofing dough. You can let your dough rise in the mixer bowl, of course, but it does work better to have a covered tub. I bargained for a few tubs from a convenience store that once contained bubble gum. I washed them with bleach to get out the bubble gum smell, then aired them for several days. They’re about 20 years old now and still going strong. A two-loaf batch of dough just about reaches the top of the tub when fully risen, so they’re the perfect size: about 2 gallons.
Proof cover. After you form your loaves, they need to rise under a cover. This can be no more than a floured towel or greased plastic wrap, and then there are expensive proofing boxes. My favorite is a plastic underbed storage box, available everywhere. It covers 3 full-sized loaves and is tall enough for a full rise. By the time you are ready to experiment with fancy taller breads like a brioche, you’ll surely find a plastic bin that fits over it.
Flours. As a beginner, you’ll be perfectly happy with a high-quality bread flour, but soon you’ll want to expand to different flours. Whole-grain flours should be kept in the refrigerator if you don’t plan to use them up within a month or so. My favorite flours are:
King Arthur: Highest-quality bread flour, white whole wheat, traditional whole wheat, signature all-purpose flour, and some organics are available in most large groceries. On their website, they also offer many specialty flours and special ingredients. They offer every piece of baking equipment and gadget known and excellent recipes.
Bob’s Red Mill: All kinds of hard-to-find flours and grains, mostly organic, including a whole-wheat pastry flour, rye, coconut, almond flours and vital gluten. Easy-to-find in most large grocery stores, often in the organic section. They do ship free with a minimum order.
Homestead Heritage Grist Mill: Freshly ground hard red whole wheat, white whole wheat and corn meals. Grown without chemical input. Note you can purchase wholesale in 10-pound bags. I get it “unsifted” so all the bran is in it. They are happy to ship. If you come to the Mother Earth News Fair in Texas, do visit them.
Azure Farm: Organic. A huge selection of flours, including kamut, teff, einkorn, whole rye, and just about any other flour you can imagine. They ship, but to co-op groups. See the website for details.
Yeasts. Older recipes may call for different yeasts, but virtually any recipe that uses yeast can be made with the newer “instant” yeast. A pound of yeast conveniently fits in a quart jar. Store yeasts in the refrigerator or freezer door to keep them fresh and active for up to a year (the deep freeze may be too cold for the yeast cells).
Fleishman’s instant yeast is a standard yeast for most bakers and is available in 1-pound packages at Sam’s Club and online at King Arthur Flour, and also at Amazon with “prime” shipping.
SAF yeast is the choice for the professionals at King Arthur. The SAF red is available from them and also at Amazon with “prime” shipping.
SAF Gold yeast works better for doughs that include a lot of sugar or butter. It’s not absolutely necessary, but nice to have. You can find it online from King Arthur and on Amazon with “Prime” shipping.
Salts and sweeteners. I use only sea salt in my doughs. For toppings, there are also specialty flake salts and non-melting pretzel salt.
To sweeten breads, there are many choices, including cane sugar, of course, and also honeys, molasses, cane syrup, and non-diastatic malt, which is available from King Arthur and gives a “malty” flavor desirable in English muffins and bagels.
Following my blogs on Mother Earth News will certainly keep you baking and trying many different breads and techniques, but then you’ll want some books, too.
If I could have only one baking book, I would choose King Arthur Flour’s The Bakers Companion, which has recipes for virtually everything baking. After that, there are dozens of good books on single subjects.
For artisan breads, I choose Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Bakers Apprentice and Jeffrey Hamelman’s Bread, although those are very technical. For easy but no-nonsense recipes, Suzanne Dunaway’s No Need to Knead is excellent and her conversational style is entertaining.
If flatbreads like pita and naan intrigue you, pick up a copy of Alford and Duguid’s Flatbreads and Flavors.
There are also classes offered online at www.Craftsy.com, including ones taught by both Reinhart and Hamelman.
As you go through books written more than a couple years ago, you’ll note GMO ingredients such as corn syrup, cornstarch, canola oil. Automatically substitute non-GMO ingredients where possible, using cane syrup and sunflower oil, for example.
I’ll be baking all fall and winter, so please follow along with me. You can also check all the baking recipes for the past year here.
Wendy Akin is happy to share her years of traditional skills knowledge. Over the years, she’s earned many state fair ribbons for pickles, relishes, preserves and special condiments, and even a few for breads. Read all of Wendy’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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