This Essential Bakery Tool Makes Any Bread Recipe Easier

September 10, 2020
Photo by James Ransom

If you’ve ever made bread dough, you’ve probably stumbled across the phrase “until doubled” more than once. See here for “until doubled in bulk.” Here and here for “until doubled in size.” And, just to shake things up, here for “increased by at least one-third of its size.”

But eyeballing this growth is harder than it sounds.

Many home cooks, myself included, rely on tapered mixing bowls—wide at the top, narrow at the base. You know the ones:

Which brings me back to some math that I haven’t thought about since high school. (My teacher swore it would come in handy one day and, you know what, he was right!) To calculate the volume of a cylinder, you multiply pi times the radius-squared times the height. On the other hand, to calculate the volume of a cone (aka that curvy mixing bowl), you multiply pi times the radius-squared times one-third of the height.

This is a very long-winded way of saying: If you’re using a standard mixing bowl, you can’t just estimate when the dough started at one level and is now twice as high in the bowl. Because you need to account for the tapering. And honestly, my eyes just aren’t that smart.

Enter: trusty Cambros. These food storage containers were everywhere when I worked in professional kitchens, from modest single quarts to buckets big enough to climb inside. We used them for dry goods like beans and rice, liquidy mixtures like custards, and bready situations like doughs.

Of course, a home kitchen doesn’t need a million and one containers (that’d be cool, though). Just one or two sizes will earn their keep on bread baking alone: After mixing the dough in a bowl, transfer to a greased Cambro (say, a 4-quart, depending on the loaf size) and never have to second-guess when something is “doubled” again. Because, like a measuring cup, these containers come with volume markers.

Likewise, this container is a workhorse for sourdough starters. (Did you start a starter in quarantine? Me too.) Some folks use a rubber band as a way to measure when their starter has doubled in size. But thanks to the containers’ markers, no band is necessary. A 2-quart container should do the trick here.

It’s an easy way to make baking bread more foolproof, with less second-guessing. And these days, I’ll take anything easy I can get.

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Emma is the food editor at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing articles about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now she lives in New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's cooking column, Big Little Recipes, all about big flavor and little ingredient lists. And see what she's up to on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


Pete M. September 17, 2020
Yes, a glass storage jar works well. I was hoping the 'useful tool's would be a Danish (aka Polish) bread whisk. Certainly the whisk in the picture is useless when making bread--it'll just be a giant dough trap.
Liz S. September 16, 2020
I have to agree with @bina ... disappointing to see this article. I am certainly not blameless in some plastic use (gallon vinegar, shampoos/lotions), but I do not bring more into my home that is not necessary.

Alternative to this product:

Above link is for a glass container. I have 2 of the 11.5 cup containers and. They are bordering on the square in shape and so storage in frig or cupboard is easy. Yes, the lids are plastic (BPA free) and it is hard to get around having soft lids for a seal.

I have been a sourdough baker for over 5 years, no knead artisan for 6 years prior and "traditional" yeast breads for over 40 years. I use glass mixing bowls. I eyeball double and yes, I have years of experience judging correct fermentation/rise.

BUT, for no money at all ... and I was baking this morning so did this to see how long and how difficult (not long and easy) ... put your dough in your bowl and gently flatten so that it is level-ish. Mark spot on bowl. Remove dough briefly to light floured or damp counter. Pour water in bowl to mark. Measure water. Double amount of water and return to bowl .... there is your double mark if you don't trust your eye(s). No money, no plastic ... about 3 minutes of time.
plevee September 11, 2020
The biga does not depend on the yeasts in the air. It is solely affected by the ADY.
bina September 10, 2020
The questions section of the 4 qt. container on the Amazon link states that they are not BPA free. Why would you want to recommend a product like this? And do we really need more plastic in our kitchens?
Kathy M. September 10, 2020
You can also use a small straight-sided jar, placing a very small amount of dough (or sourdough starter) inside, then marking with a rubber band to track rising. Viola! No plastic.