The Perfect Loaf is a column from software engineer-turned-bread expert (and Food52's Resident Bread Baker), Maurizio Leo. Maurizio is here to show us all things naturally leavened, enriched, yeast-risen, you name it—basically, every vehicle to slather on a lot of butter. Today, a gift guide to make the bakers in your life mighty happy.
As is most often the case, having the right tools makes any task at hand that much easier, and this is undoubtedly true in bread baking. Sure, it’s possible to bake bread with only a bowl, a few containers, and an oven, but having a few essential tools can help you take your baking to the next level—or at least help you keep your kitchen clean, which is an accomplishment in and of itself.
The following list of baking tools includes some of my go-to items for bread baking and a few newer things I’ve picked up this year. From a new scale to dough scrapers to bowls to fresh flour, it’s all here. And whether you’re buying for someone special or treating yourself, the baker in your life will surely thank you!
One of my favorite baking items has to be my trusty Baking Steel. It practically lives in my oven, and because it’s essentially a large slab of steel, it’s indestructible. It gets scorching hot when fully preheated, and not only is it great for baking bread directly on its surface, but it’s also fantastic for pizza (like my Pizza Romana!). Any time I’m looking to add extra color to the bottom of any food or bread I’m making, a quick minute or two on the steel will get me there.
If there’s one gift I’ve given most often for the holidays, it has to be a digital scale. Weighing your flour, salt, and other ingredients is far more precise than trying to scoop ingredients consistently from bake-to-bake, and a thin and sleek scale like this Zwilling one not only helps to that end but looks great at the same time.
I feel like I’m always scraping wet, sticky dough—scraping it off the counter, off my hands, off mixing bowls, and out of mixers. These KitchenAid silicone bowl scrapers are so good I bought a second set to keep in reserve—just in case. The larger, curved scraper fits the curve in most bowls, and the smaller one is handy for scraping down the sides of the mixing bowl to keep ingredients in the mix. Bonus: They clean up incredibly easy.
I recently got these nesting stoneware mixing bowls, and they’ve quickly jumped to the top of my most used kitchen items list. I use them to mix all types of doughs and batters, and they even pull double duty and are great for serving salads. The handy pour spout is nice for pouring out wet mixes, and the thick stoneware means for just the right heft, keeping the bowl sturdy on the counter when mixing.
I’ve been using this Heath Ceramics Large Serving Bowl to bulk ferment my dough for almost ten years. Because it’s ceramic, it’s virtually nonstick, which means it’s easy to fold the dough and remove it cleanly from the bowl when it comes to dividing and shaping. The bowl’s thickness also helps keep the dough temperature constant, and when covered, it is the perfect insulated container.
With their new online store, Cairnspring Mills now allows anyone to order flour from the Pacific Northwest and have it shipped directly to their doorstep. Their stone-milled flour is packed with flavor and added nutrition, which directly translates to incredible-tasting bread.
Refreshing my sourdough starter twice a day means any improvement to the tools involved compound into massive savings over the long run (and I’ve been maintaining the same starter for almost ten years). This Oxo spatula is just perfect for reaching down and stirring up your sourdough starter. It’s firm, which means it won’t bend around in the jar, and the tapered point allows you to easily scrape any flour stuck in the corners of your jar. It can also be washed in the dishwasher, although I usually just give it a quick wipe in the sink.
Temperature is such an essential factor in bread baking, and it can be challenging to keep your dough warm and active, especially in the winter. This Brod and Taylor dough proofer is small, folds up for storage, and is the perfect little chamber to keep your sourdough starter, levain, or a batch of dough. My sourdough starter lives in this proofer set to a warm 76°F, which means it’s always vigorous and ready to use.
Sourdough bread only has three ingredients: flour, water, and salt. While I don’t always splurge on high-quality salt, when making that special loaf for the holidays, I like to go all out with the highest ingredients I can source—and Jacobsen Sea Salt is always on the list.
My pantry is stocked to the brim with dough proofing baskets of all shapes and sizes. I have several of these cane brotforms, and they’re my go-to baskets for round boules and oblong batards alike. I use the 10-inch round size for doughs around 800 to 1000 grams and the 12-inch rectangle baskets for a batard (oval loaf) weighing 700 to 1000 grams. If you’re looking to bake a large miche, the 11-inch round basket is just perfect. These baskets can be used without any liner by merely dusting them with a thin layer of flour, but you can also line them with a tea towel to keep them extra clean.
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