According to Tara Jensen, all you really need to make bread are “your bare hands, a bowl, a basket, and a hot oven.” That said, the expert baker and author of Flour Power: The Practice and Pursuit of Baking Sourdough Bread also acknowledges that some tools can be incredibly useful: They’ll make your bread better, your kitchen cleaner, or your life just a little easier. Here are some of Tara’s favorites, cultivated over several decades of bread baking:
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Tara uses a metal bench knife to manipulate and cut through dough. And, as she writes in her book, “it also makes cleaning up your work space a breeze.” Meanwhile, she turns to flexible dough scrapers “for handling the dough in the bowl, scraping down the bowls, and shaping the dough.”
Weighing ingredients — rather than measuring by volume — is essential for making good bread. According to Tara, “Using a scale ensures that you will get the ingredient amounts correct day-to-day and allows you to use one bowl to mix everything. This cuts down on the dishes and makes cleanup a breeze.” There are plenty of scale options to choose from: Tara prefers a metal scale with a lifted platform, and she looks for models that measure up to three or four kilograms so she can make large batches of dough at once.
“A thin, slightly curved razor blade is the best tool for getting a beautiful ear to lift away from the bread because it’s so thin, unlike a bulky knife blade,” Tara emphasizes. “You can go in at a nice 45° angle and create this little flap of dough that will peel back when it’s nicely steamed, which is just really hard to achieve with something like a bread knife.”
“I want my loaves to maintain a nice shape as they’re proofing,” explains Tara. To achieve a consistent shape and rise, the key is using a proofing basket. Why not just turn to a towel-lined bowl in your kitchen? “If you just use a colander or bowl lined with a tea towel, that loaf is prone to spreading, and you’re going to get lower overall volume when you go to bake it,” Tara explains. “Using a proofing basket just makes me feel confident that I’m going to get a nice rise and shape to my bread.” The material of the basket also absorbs some moisture from the exterior of the dough, helping create a better final crust.
A thermometer is important for everything from measuring your ingredient temperature (so you can achieve your desired dough temperature) to evaluating the doneness of your baked bread. “You can get a thermometer from the supermarket that costs 10 bucks, or something long-lasting and professional, for around $100,” recommends Tara.
We’re huge fans of the Pullman pan here at King Arthur — and Tara is too. “I love the gorgeous shape and uniformity that you get with this pan — like an actual square corner.” There’s another benefit: “The Pullman pan with the lid on for the first 15 minutes of baking is the best way to steam a loaf of bread in your home oven — you’re not dealing with throwing ice cubes into your oven, you’re not dealing with a heavy, hot cast iron pot. It is so easy; to me, baking in a Pullman pan is just the simplest format for baking really nice bread at home.”
Tara has been baking with some of these tools for years, but she’s still discovering new favorites. “As someone who is particularly hesitant about adding gadgets to my kitchen, I have a new tool crush,” she admits. “I’ve started using a dough whisk, and I am over the moon for it. I would encourage people, particularly if they’re used to mixing by hand, to try out a dough whisk — it will change your life.”
Find some of Tara’s favorites and other essential bread tools in our Bread Shop.
See Tara put her tools into action:
Cover photo illustration by Michelle Chen.