People often ask me what I recommend as the most important tools to get first, if you have a limited budget for baking equipment. These items are listed in roughly the reverse order in which you could pry them from my hands. It’s also not a bad list of gift ideas for any bread baker in your life.*
- Baking stone. It’s hard to get good crusty hearth loaves without one (and here’s why). High-end is the Fibrament, but a less expensive stone, or even unglazed terra cotta tiles, will do the job, although they’re more prone to breakage. $10 – $100.
- Steam set-up for your oven. This is not an item you can buy; it’s rigged from inexpensive components. Steam is essential for most crusty breads. Read more about the why and how of steam here. $15 – $25.
- Bench scraper (aka bench knife, dough scraper, or dough cutter), like this one. Cuts ciabatta dough into pieces, lifts sticky pieces of dough off the counter, and cleans your counter of tenacious dough bits and loose flour. About $12.
- Digital scale. It is my personal mission in life to see that everyone measures their baking ingredients by weight, not volume. More about that here. I like the My Weigh i5000 and the Escali Primo. $25 – $50.
- Instant-read thermometer. Dough temperature is important for proper fermentation. Read more about temperature here. A thermometer is also useful if you don’t know whether your loaf is fully baked yet. The Thermapen is wonderfully fast but pricey; this Taylor Digital Thermometer works fine for much less money. $15 – $90.
- Small ingredients scale. Ingredients like yeast and salt that are usually called for in amounts of 10 grams or less are best weighed on a scale that has precision to a tenth of a gram. However, these ingredients also measure fairly well by volume, so this is not an essential tool. It’s nice to have, though. $20 – $40.
- Stand mixer. Although nice to have, especially for certain doughs like bagels and brioche, most breads can be mixed just fine by hand, so a mixer is a lower priority. Mine is a KitchenAid 6-qt. and I recommend it. About $400.
*Note to my male friends on the appropriateness of these things as gifts to wives/girlfriends: For birthdays and other occasions, it might depend on the woman in question, and on the gift — mixer, probably; scale, perhaps; lava rocks, doubtful — but for anniversaries, just don’t do it! Trust me on this one.