When it comes to baking bread, it can quickly get serious. The stages of progress in my personal bread journey were: from novice to curiously obsessed with everyone. Whatever stage you go through, there are countless devices to suit your level of interest, experience and budget. Dedicated Bread maker devices are one approach, and you can even use an Instant Potbut there is also enough joy to make your own bread.
Whether you're just starting out, wading in or going all the way through your bread obsession, these are the tools I recommend to keep things exciting and help you become the rock star baker you always have already known that you could be.
Stage 1: Beginner
You don't need many expensive tools to start baking bread at home. Here are some basics that will set up your home bakery without breaking the bank.
I like to use plastic or melamine bowls with well-fitting lids, so I don't have to use environmentally unfriendly plastic wrap, and these containers are safer than glass when working with dough that expands. With something like this five piece bowl set from Target or this three piece set from Kohl's you can have a few different projects at any time.
Sur La Table
I'm a big fan of using scales, and once you start measuring this way, you never want to go back for a recipe! This Oxo scale is excellent – easy to use and clean. It's nice to be able to switch from standard to metric size when needed for different recipes.
An inexpensive, essential tool that allows you to use every little bit of dough. With less than $ 10, you can't go wrong with this plastic scraper from Sur La Table.
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For sandwich-style bread, a non-stick bread pan makes it easy. Don't stress too much about the size (9 by 5 inches or 8.5 by 4 inches) – but I recommend buying two as you'll always use them for banana bread between yeast baking sessions, and it's great to share these breads. Bake Deco offers a range of sizes and prices, including this non-stick 5 by 8.87 inch bread pan, which is my personal favorite.
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Most recipes for bread without kneading require a Dutch oven. These can be prohibitive, but you don't have to. Find one rated for the high temperature you need to bake. Look for a 5 to 7 liter size with a round shape (as opposed to an oval) for a typical boule shape. In addition, some colors are sometimes cheaper than others. Remember, it doesn't matter what color pot it is cooked in, so save some dough!
This 6-quart Dutch oven from Bed Bath & Beyond is classified up to 500 degrees and is also perfect for stews and soups. This Lodge 5-quart pot is pre-seasoned and versatile and has a lifetime warranty. You will also find affordable Dutch ovens in the Amazon Basics line.
I always coat my pots with parchment for baking sourdough bread. It is easy to find in supermarkets or large box stores. Reynolds Wrap Parchment Roll is a classic – don't use wax paper; it melts in the oven and ruins your bread. As a side note, parchment is also great for baking cookies.
When you make bread, you eat bread. And unless you're an animal, you cut it. Knives, like Dutch ovens, range from cheap to extravagant.
A sharp steel blade like this works well, and this Zyliss model has a sheath for safe storage.
Stage 2: Curiously Obsessed
As your bread game improves, you'll find yourself looking for ways to develop, and a few new gadgets can upgrade your technique.
Scoring bread is an art form, and while you can continue to use that serrated knife, you can get a beautiful ear with a cripple (pronounced lahm), a beautiful tool designed especially for this purpose . King Arthur has this crippled black walnut, which is nice, and this simple model is a favorite of many bakers.
One of my favorites is Tyler's UFO Lames de Boulanger at Wire Monkey. These offer fantastic control, and they are so cute and well-designed.
Another option is the no-frills Xacto blade, which allows you to create accurate, detailed scoring patterns.
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For sourdough bakers, bannetons are a way to show some style, but they are also useful for crust development. There are dozens of sizes and shapes to choose from, but with both round and oval baskets it is useful to let different types of bread rise. Rolled-up rattan baskets like this one from Breadtopia are an excellent place to start, and using a liner is also helpful to keep high-hydration bread from sticking, which is the worst.
Phase 3: All in
Do you keep fantasizing about the percentages of bakers? Do you follow bakers like the rock stars they are on IG? Then you are ready to really commit.
This cast iron pan was designed by bread lover Jim Challenger. It is a large, versatile pan specially designed for baking better bread. An investment piece for serious baking, it is the darling of the bread world.
What about a stand mixer?
For many bakers, a stand mixer (such as this classic Kitchen Aid model) is an essential tool, but I disagree. Don't get me wrong, it is a versatile and useful device for many applications. If you have one, you can finally break out that dough hook you meant to try kneading an enriched dough or bagels.
But when you start out as a bread maker, I think you need (pardon the pun) to get your hands on your dough to learn more about texture and gluten development. Kneading bread, or even turning and folding a sourdough with a high hydration is a very zen experience for me. And I wouldn't take that joy away from you. (See some kneading tips here.)
This story was written by Heather Reid for CNET's sister site, Chowhound.