What to Buy

A Pro Baker's Top 10 Essentials for Dabbling With Dough

Mixing bowls, sourdough starter, whole wheat flour, and more.

February 21, 2023
Photo by Rocky Luten

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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 to bake bread all the time...which is what happened to me—and I'm certainly not complaining. If you're unsure where to start, here are the tools and ingredients you'll want to have on hand to help bake your best loaves.

Photo by King Arthur Baking

1. Fresh Whole Grain Flour, $12.95

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-grain. When it comes to flour, whole wheat is just the tip of the iceberg. There are 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.

Photo by King Arthur Baking

2. Sourdough Starter, $9.95

A combination of wild yeast and bacteria, sourdough starters can create the most scrumptious breads around. Wild yeast (like the commercial kind) makes the bread rise, and the bacteria produce various acids that help the bread taste wonderful and stay fresh longer. A starter is extremely easy to cultivate—just mix some flour and water with this fresh starter, and 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 strong enough for making bread.

Photo by Bobbi Lin

3. A Glass Mixing Bowl, $83+

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. This colorful three-piece set from Mosser will hold your dough perfectly.

Photo by MJ Kroeger

4. A Bench Scraper for Your Dough, $15

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.

Photo by ThermoWorks

5. A Food Thermometer, $79

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!

Photo by Ty Mecham

6. A Scale, $49.99

Baking is 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.

Not sure if your scale is set right? Learn how to check the accuracy of your kitchen scale.

Photo by Ty Mecham

7. A Proofing Basket, $32+

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. These baskets are made from natural cane and come in seven different sizes, so any baker can find the right fit.

Photo by Julia Gartland

8. A Loaf Pan (or Two), $34

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.

Photo by Rocky Luten

9. A Bread Lame, $35

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. This handcrafted bread lame will do just the trick. Some at-home bread makers might rely on double-edged razors (they do work well), but holding onto a loose blade can be dangerous. Any small knife can work just as well, too.

Photo by Ty Mecham

10. A Bread Knife, $139.99

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 better. (Need a more budget-friendly option? This colorful bread knife with a Japanese steel blade is under $100.)

Need more inspiration? Here are 12 yeasted breads you'll conquer. And if you want Josey's help on-hand in your home, pick up a copy of Josey Baker Bread: Get Baking, Make Awesome Bread, Share the Loaves. Now, go forth and bake some bread.

This post was originally published in 2015 and updated in February 2023 with more tips and some of our favorite bread-making tools.

Have any bread-baking tips or tricks? Let us know below!

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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.


Smaug February 22, 2023
You absolutely do not need any of this stuff to make great bread. You sure as %#@* do not need an $83 bowl, a $35 razor blade or a $140 knife. The $7 a pound flour, however, may be in all our near future- bread flour is closing in on $5/lb. hereabouts, anyway.
Smaug February 22, 2023
Wait, that's not true, bread flour is closing in on $2/lb., which is crazy enough.