Bake

Everything You Need to Bake Bread, According to Josey Baker

Straight from the baker who wrote the book on all things bread.

December 17, 2021
Photo by Rocky Luten

There's not much that compares to fresh-baked bread. Well, except for a loaf that you baked yourself. If you've never baked bread before, I heartily suggest that you give it a shot. It's easy, you don’t need that much equipment, and you wind up with something delicious.

But a word of caution? You may enjoy it so much that you end up quitting your day job and bake bread all the time...which is what happened to me—and I'm certainly not complaining.

Here's what you'll need to bake bread:

1. Fresh whole-grain flour

First things first: You can’t make good bread without good flour. You can use white flour, but to make the most delicious and nutritious loaf, you gotta go whole. And whole-wheat flour is just the tip of the iceberg. Flours made of rye, spelt, einkorn, emmer—the possibilities are endless. Regardless of which whole-grain flour you choose, the more recently the flour was milled the better, as flavor and nutritional value decrease with time. Do keep in mind that whole-grain flour will need more water and will ferment faster than white flour. 

2. Sourdough starter

A combination of wild yeast and bacteria, sourdough starter can create the most scrumptious breads around. Wild yeast (like the commercial kind) makes the bread rise, and the bacteria produces various acids that help the bread taste wonderful and stay fresh longer. Also, a starter is extremely easy to cultivate—just mix together some flour and water, and just leave it alone. Sounds too good to be true, right? It’s not, but it is needy. You need to give your starter some love and maintain it every day for the first two weeks. Otherwise, it may not grow to be strong and good for making bread. I like to use whole-grain rye flour for making starters because I’ve had good luck with keeping them alive. 

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More: On maintaining a sourdough starter.

3. A glass mixing bowl

In the olden days, bakers would mix their dough in wooden troughs. These days, many bakers use glass bowls so you can monitor the dough’s rising activity and really hone in on your perfect loaf over time. 

4. A dough scraper 

Just like a chef is helpless in the kitchen without a chef’s knife, a baker is helpless in the bakery without a bench knife or a dough scraper. Okay, maybe that's an exaggeration, but it's still a super useful tool when it comes to making bread. You can use it to divide dough after bulk fermentation, to pre-shape your loaves, and any time you need to scrape dough off the table. It'll soon become an extension of your hand. I’ve also been known to use mine to cut up apples during our daily apple break. 

More: Take inspo from Josey and make some apple butter for your fresh bread.

Photo by Rocky Luten

5. A thermometer

Fermentation is greatly affected by temperature, so keeping close track of the temperature of your room, the water you mix into your dough, and the dough itself is very helpful. Instead of eyeballing when you think your loaf is done in the oven, try a good food thermometer instead. We love the Thermapen from ThermoWorks for its accuracy, speed, and durability—everyone's fave Internet grandmother has had hers for a decade!  

6. A food scale

Unlike cooking, baking is more of a science with exact measurements and measuring by weight gives you the most accuracy. When you measure dry ingredients like flour by volume, you can actually end up with drastically different amounts of ingredients. Depending on your technique, 1 cup of flour can weigh as little as 100 grams or as much as 175 grams whereas 100 grams of flour is 100 grams of flour no matter how you scoop it.

More: How to check the accuracy of your kitchen scale.

Photo by Ty Mecham

7. Proofing basket

After you’ve shaped your dough into its final shape, you have to give it a nice, cozy spot to relax and mature so that it’s ready to be baked. Some proofing baskets are lined with linen, others are not—what you go with is really a personal preference.

8. Loaf pan

While not what most people think of when they think of “artisan bread,” loaf pans are a very useful form for your bread—not to mention that using a pan gives support to grains that form a weaker dough, such as einkorn and rye. 

More: Use your loaf pan to make a versatile, chewy, nutty whole-wheat loaf

9. Razor blade or paring knife

Right before you load your loaf into the oven, you need to score the top so it can puff to its full potential. The slash will make for a beautifully finished loaf, while also providing a variety of textures that wouldn’t otherwise come to be without your handiwork. A double-edged razors works well but be careful with the edges and make sure it's out of reach for young ones. If you're clumsy, attach it to a wooden coffee stirrer. Otherwise, any knife you have like a paring knife works just as well.

10. A bread knife

I don’t mean to stop you from tearing into that hot loaf with your bare hands, but having a good bread knife is probably a better idea.

More: Go forth and bake bread. Here are 12 yeasted breads you can conquer.

 

This post was updated in December 2021 with some more tips on baking bread along with our favorite essentials.
What are your best bread-making tips? Share some love below!

This post contains products independently chosen (and loved) by our editors and writers. Food52 earns an affiliate commission on qualifying purchases of the products we link to.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Smaug
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    mtncook
Josey "real last name!" Baker originally hails from Vermont and fell in love with baking bread in the Spring of 2010. He currently leads a small team of bakers at The Mill in San Francisco's NOPA District. He is the author of Josey Baker Bread.

17 Comments

Smaug December 18, 2021
A clean sweep- you don't actually need any of these things.
 
Liz S. December 17, 2021
This is an old post based on comments ... or at least the comments are old, but I hope that Robert M. is still baking bread at now 92!!

A agree with mtncook ... and the list is a nice list of basics, but for a long time, I used a bowl, a wooden spoon, same bowl for rising (vs loaf pan ... yes some flours produced flatter loaves, but delicious) and a Lodge enamel dutch oven for baking. Yes, a scale. It is possible to start with less and discover what kind of bread you like to bake and add tools that fit. I do love a bowl scraper and bench knife!

And 100% agree with Ruthlessmess about water. I am fortunate to have good well water: tastes wonderful and I do not add any softener or chemicals ... used right out of the rocky mountain foothills (225 deep well). I think it is challenging to find/purify via tap or purchase and I am convinced that water is behind many issues with sourdough/natural leaven baking.

Still ... start to finish time is longish, but hands on time is minimal and so worth it as far as I'm concerned: bread, rolls, pastries, crackers, pizza dough ... all of the bread stuff :)
 
Chef R. December 17, 2021
Yes, Lis S: I am still making bread and enjoying it. two days ago I baked up some French Baguettes which took some time to allow the dough to develop. When great It was great with my wine and god cheese. Love your writing about the water and sour dough. I kept sour dough started going for about 30 years, but then old age set in and I just went to baking bread, but with aging the dough. Our water is so bad here in New Mexico where we live it undrinkable or to be used in cooking. I settled for a water softener, followed with the reverse Osmosis for cooking and drinking. But, you are most correct that the water has many issues with bread making or even cooking. Anyway thanks for your write up which I enjoyed as as a child in Northern Michigan we had really hard water to deal with as it almost clanked when it came out of well. Have a long life and happy one baking and cooking. From a 92 year old Veteran which traveled and lived in many countries emerged in the Culture and loved it.
 
Liz S. December 17, 2021
Holy Cow!! I am so happy to see your reply Chef R.! Bread, wine and good cheese - nothing better!!!

And ... I grew up in NW Ohio, vacationed in N MI (Glen Lake in Traverse area). Sorry that you do not have great water in NM, though.
 
Chef R. December 17, 2021
As a young Boy we farmed 50 mile North of Travis City near Charlevoix Mi, But I left the Farm for a career in the Military. Yet I still love to cook. It took a little while or years one my say to get to my total cooking. After the Military I change and became a Cosmologist and started my own business, then taught in a 2 year College. Then moved to Old Mexico and help start a Restaurant/Bar in Chapla Mexico with Mexican friends. Returned to USA and decides to Travel around More. Became a Certified RV Repairman and sweet heart of many years Travel for about 10 years. Loved it. At the last when age become felt we settle here in Tularosa NM. Still cooking I taught free Classes on Cooking for the Cancer Awareness People in Alamogordo NM. While here I went up to Denver and attended the Cook Street School of Cooking to become a Chef. Lots of Fun. Anyway Life with my Mate has been a Blast for she too love to travel. We had the privilege if living in many Countries and in their Culture, gaining great knowledge of Life with many Friend world wide. So in ending live happy and keep smiling while cooking the good foods. Here in What is left of the Land of Enchantment New Mexico.
 
Liz S. December 18, 2021
Thank you for sharing some of your story, Chef R.! Living with passion for what you do and who you share your life with is truly living as far as I am concerned. Best, best wishes for more happy years full of good food, fun cooking and shared days! I will do the same here in "what is left" of "the last best place" :)
 
Jade B. September 21, 2016
I would love to know more about how to find success when making bread. It is good to know that using a loaf pan can be a helpful step. I did not know that this pan allowed for a person to work with grains that form a weaker dough. Something else to consider would be to seek professional help to learn other tips and secrets. http://www.klostermanbakery.com/about/history.php
 
Robert M. October 19, 2015
I an 86 years into this life and I have been making all kinds of bread, not only for my family, but others for years. I have given lessons on bread making to others. The process is simple, flour, yeast or starter,water and salt. In all that time I have had nothing from rave reviews. So I wonder just why people buy what I call store bread which is full of toxic poison which is approved by your corrupt government for payola that greases their palms??? Of course you might like the taste of plastic foam, coal tar, wood saw dust, dirt and many other substances of poison allowed by your corrupt Government. So, eat it as I will not as bread is easy to make and it taste great. Chef Robert
 
Elizabeth M. October 3, 2017
Love your comments. Have been making quick breads for years. Just getting started with yeast, hoping to have success with my new venture, wild yeast, making my own starter, Thank you for your inspiration.
 
Sueko March 19, 2020
Your comment is the way I feel also. I’m learning to bake different breads and it’s exciting to me. I’ve been using my old stand by ( Dutch oven bread) which is simple and delicious. Now that I’m home bound -as most everyone else- I make a loaf every few days.
 
mtncook October 19, 2015
Wow! This would be really intimidating if I didn't already make bread. You don't NEED any of these things--some are nice to have and some are just not necesssary; they make it easier to make a reproducible loaf, like in a bakery. I make almost all the bread in our house and I use cheap ($1) plastic bowls, a wooden spoon, yeast and flour. And other ingredients, depending on the type of bread I'm making. I use a sharp serrated knife to cut the loaf; I use a scale, now, but didn't for 25 years.
 
Ruthlessmess October 19, 2015
I think it's worth mentioning that good quality water is as important as good quality flour
 
Julie March 18, 2015
Love my Folding Proofer, it makes rising predictable and stows away nice and small!
 
laurelei235 March 12, 2015
Danish dough whisk. They're genius.
 
AntoniaJames December 17, 2021
Yes to that! I just discovered Danish dough whisks - saw them on the King Arthur site when I started looking more closely at their offerings a few years back - and bought a dough whisk early this year. It's amazing. I'm putting them (helping Santa, of course) in my bread-making sons' Christmas stockings! I also use mine for stiffer cookie doughs, by the way. Glad you mentioned this! ;o)
 
SJ February 17, 2015
Holy cow!! I've just spent two hours (wasted time?!) on this page and relative links- maintaing sourdough starter, whole wheat primer, etc., which kept leading me to other wonderful links- yogurt molasses bread, yogurt biscuits, mail ordering Carl's sourdough starter... I need to get in the kitchen right NOW and start making something!! I've been wanting to make bread for years, I think this is the impetus to finally do it;). Thanks so much for so much great info in one place. I love Food52!!
 
Nanda D. February 15, 2015
I really need to make some bread by myself again. Thought about it tonight, but didn't have any yeast :(