Since I’ve started to finally get this whole artisan baking thing down, I thought I’d share some thoughts on what I feel are the essential tools you need to successfully bake quality bread at home. These aren’t in any particular order of importance; to me, they’re all equally important.
My first month of baking, I used recipes based completely on volume (cups, tablespoons, and teaspoons). But real recipes always listed things by weight; specifically, in grams. The reason is because to a baker, everything is measured by percentages in weight, based on the flour. This makes it easy to scale a recipe up and down if you know the percentages. For instance, if a recipe calls for a 72% hydration, you know that the weight of the water divided by the amount of flour will be 0.72. So if the recipe calls for 1000 grams of flour and is 72% hydration, you know you’ll need 720 grams of water.
I normally take 1000 gram recipes down to 800 grams because that works better with my KitchenAid stand mixer. But I could easily go up from there as well. Get the picture?
You don’t have to spend a lot of money on a digital scale. My 22-lb. capacity scale costed me $15, and it works great. It’s not as precise as a professional kitchen scale, but for my purposes it works.
I have a few of these, but I normally just use one scraper that I originally used for taping drywall. It has a flat edge on one side and a curved edge on the other. I love it because I can bend it to fit the curvature of any bowl that I use.
Even before I got a digital scale, this was a tool I knew that I could not be without. I can scrape dough off the sides of my bowls, I can scrape my bench, I can collect bench flour. I even use it for folding my high hydration dough so I don’t get too much dough on my working hand.
I actually got mine for free as a promo item from a sewer blockage company – go figure – but it works incredibly well!
Bakers Lame (pr. “lahm”)
To score loaves, a lame is indispensable. Basically, it’s a razor blade in a handle and can be curved or straight. Personally, I made my own curved lame from a wire hanger and a BiC pen. 🙂 And for my straight lame, I actually use a straight-razor because it works great for scoring.
You could use a super sharp knife, but it has to be razor sharp. You also could use a razor blade all by itself, but you risk cutting yourself.
This is not absolutely essential, but since I got mine, it has become something I can’t live without. I originally got it for proofing baguettes, but I use it for proofing all my long loaves, and I also use it to cover my bowl during bulk ferment. Very versatile.