I'VE ALWAYS BEEN A relatively adventurous cook at home, willing to try out new ideas I see in magazines or hear about from friends, but there's one zone I never fully ventured into until recently: Bread baking.
See, I've always lived within striking distance of a pretty good bakery, and have always seen them as special little zones filled with alchemy and craftsmanship deployed by people whose talent was well beyond my understanding and reach. But when America's Test Kitchen published its baking tome Bread Illustrated a couple of years back, I thought, well, let's get on the bus. The bread bus.
Committing to the effort was easy. But I needed to equip myself.
Now, I am a notorious cheapskate when it comes to kitchen stuff, and besides, my kitchen is absurdly small. Nowhere to put anything. But after reading through Bread Illustrated and consulting with my coworkers (a huge bonus to working here at ATK—plenty of brilliant minds to tap) it became clear that I'd need a few things.
For one, I needed a stand mixer. I've spent my entire life making cakes and cookies by hand, so I'd always been able to avoid this purchase, but bread requires kneading and, well, I'm up for a little of it but not a lot.
So I auditioned a couple stand mixers, including our favorite high-end stand mixer, the KitchenAid Pro Line Series 7-Qt Bowl Lift Stand Mixer and the less expensive runner-up, the KitchenAid Classic Plus Series 4.5-Quart Tilt-Head Stand Mixer. Make no mistake, I was smitten with the resplendent 7 quart model, but sadly it wouldn't fit neatly on the countertop under my cabinets so I chose the smaller guy. I didn't shed too many tears, however, because the 4.5 quart model suits my needs—and my kneads—perfectly.
In fact, you can see my stand mixer—and some of my other baking tools—in action in this Instagram video I made (just click the photo below). See what you can do when you make your own bread?
Next I needed a new loaf pan, and the Williams Sonoma Gold Touch Loaf Pan fit the bill. I bought two, for those recipes that yield two loaves.
When I say “bread” I also mean “pizza”—I have a well chronicled interest in the stuff, after all. It was time to update my old, stained baking stone, which served me well for many years, but was a bit cumbersome to move around. Our most recent winner, the Old Stone Oven Pizza Baking Stone is a little smaller (OK by me, I’m not making massive New York-style pizzas) and delivers lovely brown-bottomed crust.
Finally, I needed a bench scraper. (Actually, I'm not sure I really needed one but for the life of me I can’t find the old one that I know is lurking in my kitchen somewhere.) No worry, because the Dexter-Russell 6" Dough Cutter/Scraper—Sani-Safe Series set me back only eleven or twelve bucks and makes me feel like a pro.
Since gearing up I've made Spicy Cheese Bread to take to a dinner party (it was a huge hit), a loaf of our brand-new Bagel Bread to toast in the morning, and several loaves of American Sandwich Bread from the Bread Illustrated book. I still stop by the local bakery every now and then, just because. Maybe one of these days I’ll take them a batch of sticky buns. You know, baker to baker.
What’s the piece of equipment that started you on your baking journey? Let us know in the comments! And for more tools to add to your baking arsenal, check out these reviews: