Bread baking, just as any other culinary endeavor, is best completed with an arsenal of useful instruments which ensure optimal results. There are many kitchen utensils available, but in order to make the best bread without breaking the bank you must know which are essential and which are not.
1. Learn the differences between different types of mixing bowls.
2. Learn which utensils are most useful for bread baking.
There are many different types of materials commonly used for mixing bowls; but the three most common are ceramic, glass, and metal. All three are non-reactive and non-porous, in contrast to materials such as wood, so they do not compromise the flavors of the ingredients. Which one to choose is up to the baker, but there are certain benefits and drawbacks to each. What is most important is to be sure that you have an assortment in sizes ranging from two or three cups to four or five quarts. This will allow you to complete a range of tasks necessary for successful bread baking: activating the yeast, mixing ingredients, allowing dough to rise, and molding dough.
Ceramic mixing bowl sets often come in vibrant colors and can add character to any kitchen. Due to their decorative nature, they can sometimes double as serving bowls. They are non-reactive. The down side to ceramic bowls is that they are prone to chipping which nullifies their decorative qualities. They are also not always oven or microwave safe; however, the high-fired ceramic bowls are much more durable than other earthenware and can be a longer-lasting alternative.
Glass bowls have one major advantage over ceramic and metal variations: they are transparent. This is especially beneficial to bread baking because it allows the baker to see whether or not the dough has risen to a desired size without relying upon height alone. Glass is oven and microwave safe. Glass bowls are prone to breaking when dropped which is certainly a downside especially if you are cooking with small children.
Metal bowls, specifically stainless steel, are widely available in any kitchen supply store and are usually the cheaper alternative to decorative ceramic bowls and impressive glass bowls. They are good for a variety of cooking tasks, but they are NOT microwave safe. Putting a metal bowl in the microwave could result in a catastrophic kitchen fire. Stainless steel bowls get very hot when filled with hot ingredients, and likewise they get equally cold in the opposite situation. Copper bowls are the best conductors of heat, and wonderful for whipping egg whites.
Dough hooks come as an attachment for many hand and stand mixers. While they are not entirely crucial – you can bake a delicious loaf of bread without them – they are extremely useful. Dough hooks do the job of kneading which can be very tiresome by hand. They rapidly develop the gluten, the protein responsible for the fluffiness of wheat bread, and wipe clean easily without making a mess of the baking surface. Even artisanal bread bakers use large dough hook attachments to ensure that their bread turns out well every time.
These handy little instruments are also known pastry scrapers or dough cutters. They help bakers to cut, manipulate and move dough quickly and easily over a flat work surface. Their blades are sharp enough to cut through dough easily but not sharp enough to risk scraping your countertop. They make it quite simple for bread bakers to divide loaves or rolls in a flash.
A rolling pin tends to be a kitchen staple especially in the kitchen of a baker. It is an excellent tool in a number of kitchen activities, including making breads like biscuits, cinnamon rolls, unleavened breads, and pizza dough. A rolling pin is generally made of wood and has two handles at either end. It is used to roll out dough uniformly on a floured surface. Rubbing flour onto the rolling pin itself before use is a crucial step in order to prevent sticking. Many times, a baker will need to add flour to both the rolling pin and the work surface throughout the process.
Proofing baskets are helpful in baking dough evenly without hand forming. They come in a variety of shapes and are used in to bake beautiful loaves of bread. Many times, they are used when dough is especially sticky. The baker simply lines the bowl with flour, oats or seeds and rolls the dough around the bowl to evenly coating its outer surface. This creates a magnificent crust and a perfectly shaped loaf of bread.
Standard Bread Pans (set of 2):
Many types of bread are baked in pans. These will create a familiar-looking loaf similar to those sold in the bread aisle of a typical supermarket. They are also used for sweet breads that do not use yeast and have a cake-like consistency, such as pumpkin bread, zucchini bread, and banana nut bread. They can also be used with breads traditionally baked on a flat surface in order to create a more uniform loaf of bread. Most recipes that specifically call for bread pans instruct the baker to use two pans which is why it is beneficial to have a set of two. Otherwise, the baker would need to wait for one loaf to cool, clean the pan and reuse it which could add over an hour to baking time. As with mixing bowls, bread pans can be made from a variety of elements: metal, glass, ceramic, and stoneware. All are effective in baking bread, but stone is the most popular with artisan bakers.
A baking stone is not essential to baking bread, but using one can make the difference between a dense, hard loaf and a springy, soft loaf. It is simply a stone that is placed in the oven and heated to an extremely high heat (550-500 degrees F) for about an hour before baking the bread. A baking stone can be purchased as such or it can even be an unglazed quarry tile purchased for very little from a home improvement store. These are wonderful tools to have around and can really set one loaf apart from another. The key is in the preheating of the stone.
These wide, flat, long-handled paddles are used in conjunction with baking stones. They make it quick and easy for bakers to move and transfer bread in an oven especially when it is baking on a hot stone. They are most memorably used in pizza ovens, but can be used with any kind of stone-baked bread in any oven.
Measuring Cup Set:
Measuring cups can be found in any kitchen supply store and even in most grocery stores. They come in ceramic, plastic, glass, metal, silicone, and wooden varieties. Collapsible silicone cups are great for easy storage, but metal cups are the tried and true favorite of most kitchens. They are light, easy to use, and easy to clean. Make sure that your measuring cups have the measurements engraved on the handle. Amounts that are written on the handles can rub off over time which could potentially cause a kitchen mishap. A standard measuring cup set should include ¼ cup, ½ cup, ¹⁄₃ cup, and a full cup.
Measuring Cup (Pitcher):
Even if you have a measuring cup set, a glass measuring cup pitcher (up to two cups) is irreplaceable for pouring liquids. Many times a baker will use a measuring cup pitcher for liquids and a cup set for dry ingredients so that the wet and dry ingredients do not stick together and cause inaccurate measurements.
Teaspoon and Tablespoon Set:
Small spoons in a variety of sizes from ¼ teaspoon to a full tablespoon are essential to bread baking. Many recipes call for yeast, sugar, and salt which are so potent that only a tiny amount is needed.