Do you dream of Tartine country loaves? Is your Instagram feed crowded with crumbshots? Does the word “mother” conjure up images of blooming yeast? Then perhaps you are one of the many people who have taken up bread baking as a hobby. With so many excellent bread bakeries and bread making cookbooks out there, it’s never been a better time to be a loaf enthusiast.
So we reached out to some of the best bread makers in the country to round up their personal favorite tools and tips to get that elusive perfect crumb — depending, of course, on what recipe or type of bread you want.
A good Dutch oven
If you’re a bread nerd, then you’re probably familiar with the famous no-knead bread recipe (which requires zero specialized techniques or ingredients) from Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery in New York. The most “vital” tool for pulling off the recipe, Lahey insists, is the Staub 5.5 Quart Round Cocotte. “It can withstand and also maintain and very hot temperature” thanks to its heavier weight, he says — something very few everyday Dutch ovens can do.
A couche for proofing
Proofing is one of the most temperamental parts of making bread. A couche, which helps to both shape the dough and eliminate any outer moisture, can help. Wendy Scherer, head bread baker at Seattle’s celebrated Dahlia Bakery, swears by the couches from TMB Baking. “It’s a close-woven linen canvas, strong enough to be used daily and scraped clean, but flexible enough to be manipulated around the proofing loaves,” she says. It’s the perfect tool to have on hand for bread-making beginners still developing their own instincts around dough.
Are you still using parchment paper to make your bread? Switch to the sturdier, more environmentally friendly option, the Silpat — a non-stick baking sheet liner made of silicone that obviates the need for parchment or cooking spray, says Belinda Leong of San Francisco’s B. Patisserie. She uses it for breads along with other delicate pastries like kouign-amann.
A digital scale
Bread making can be unpredictable, but measuring doesn’t have to be. For Laurel Almerinda and Zoe Nathan of the Santa Monica bakery Milo + Olive, one of the few ways to ensure your loaf stays consistent between batches is a scale. They’ve tried a few different brands, and their favorite is the OHaus Valor 2000, because it is “durable and flour-proof,” Almerinda says, while still being super precise (albeit rather pricey).
A cube-shaped mold for small batches
At New York’s Spot Dessert Bar, pastry chef DaJeong Kim is always dreaming up creatives cakes and breads flavored with matcha, Oreos, yuzu, and the like. Because she’s constantly testing recipes in small batches, she swears by this Gobel Cube Bread Nonstick Loaf Mold. The size is ideal for doing mini tests, she says, and the bread looks awfully cute when you take it out. “When I make them for friends, they all ask me about the pan,” she says. “It traveled with me from Korea when I moved to New York.” Plus, she’s been using the pan for eight years, and it has never gotten misshapen or rusted.
A simple timer
There are many fancy, expensive bread-making tools out there. But Claudia Kemmet-Cooper, who runs the German bakery Guglhupf in Durham, says the key to bread making success is having a trusty timer. Her go-to is the Polder Digital Kitchen Timer. Why? Because it’s refreshingly straightforward. “It’s got big buttons, it’s easy to use, it’s plenty loud without being obnoxious, and it’s inexpensive,” she says.
Sturdy heat-resistant gloves
The bread oven at Maydan, the Middle Eastern hotspot in D.C., can get up to 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s why co-executive chef Gerald Addison needs these Wood & Pellet Stove Parts Heat Resistant Grill Gloves to pull pitas out when they’re done cooking. Your oven may not get nearly as hot, but Addison insists that these are a much better bet for bread making than oven mitts — not only great for high temperatures, but because of the grip and the fingers, “they give us the dexterity to move about.”
A sturdy, half sheet cooling rack
According to Jessica Craig, the pastry chef at L’Artusi in New York, few things are more important for maintaining that pleasant, crackled shell of a freshly baked loaf than a cooling rack. Her favorite is this half sheet nonstick cooling rack from Sur La Table, as it’s “professional grade, durable, and lightweight,” she says. The half sheet is the ideal size, she adds, because it fits on most home kitchen sheet trays. The $12 price tag is pretty appealing as well.
A really good (possibly expensive) bread knife
Jason Raducha of the famed Phoenix bakery Noble Bread swears by the Japan-made knives at The Knife House, which has shops in Phoenix and Portland and takes orders over the phone (but not online, currently). There are multiple knife styles, but the idea is that they are each tailored to your needs. “It is amazing for slicing soft breads to huge crusty country loaves,” says Raducha of his Knife House bread knife. “We tested dozens of knives, and this holds the edge better than most and has the versatility.” It’s not just great for bread — it cuts tomatoes and roast meats beautifully, too. Must visit store or call or email to order.