Monday, January 31, 2011


No discussion of baking would be complete without a brief mention of the tools you'll need to get started.  Further posts will get right into actually making things, but for now, let's talk a little bit about the tools of the trade.  You don't need to spend a great deal of money to get started, and just about everything you need is available at your local supermarket or Wal-Mart. 

Dry Measuring Cups
Dry Measuring Cups: Need to Have
There are two types of measuring cups: the kind for measuring dry ingredients, and the kind for measuring liquids.  The actual measures aren't any different from wet to dry; that is, one cup is one cup.  Nonetheless, a set of measuring cups that you can level off with the back of a knife is vital.  Metal or plastic, it doesn't matter.  This will probably run you about $5.00.

Liquid Measuring Cups and Spoons
Liquid Measuring Cups and Spoons: Need to Have
Liquid measuring cups obviously help you measure liquids properly.  You'll want to have at least two liquid measuring cups, each one capable of measuring at least two cups.  The material doesn't matter as long as you can clearly read the lines and can put them into the microwave.  A two-cup liquid measuring cup is about $6.00.  For measuring spoons, make sure you have at least one tablespoon, one teaspoon, and one half-teaspoon.  Don't use your table flatware to measure ingredients.  Spend the $5.00 or so on a set of measuring spoons and you're good to go.

A Workspace: Need to Have
You need to have a clean workspace upon which to knead, mix, measure, blend, etc.  I use a kitchen island on wheels that I can move about as necessary.  This workspace should be easily cleaned and as free of clutter as you can make it: flour gets everywhere, no matter how careful you are.  If you don't have a dedicated workspace, develop a system for clearing a space on the counter so that you don't have to worry about dirtying up the cell phone charger every time you make pizza dough.

Pizza Stone
A Pizza Stone: Need to Have
A pizza stone holds in the heat of a preheated oven, helping to regulate the temperature somewhat: it's essentially a flat, hot rock.  Baking bread on it ensures a higher-quality product.  If you want a pizza crust that has a crunchy outside and chewy interior, you'll want to have a nice, hot pizza stone in the oven.  Put it on the middle or upper rack.  For the lower rack, you'll sometimes want a sheet pan with a lip so you can create steam.

Nice to Haves
It's expensive, but a stand mixer is extremely nice to have.  You can spend at least $249.99 on a standard Kitchenaid job, which is what I have.  The paddle mixes things well, and the dough hook makes kneading a thing you wait to have done, instead of doing yourself. 

At least one Silpat silicone mat.  Expect to spend $19.99 on it, but it's worth it if you don't want to keep spending money on parchment paper.

Kitchen Scale
A kitchen scale.  Measuring flour can be tricky if you want to get the right amount, as it compresses very easily when scooped or poured into a cup.  And consider the difference in volume between coarse kosher salt and fine table salt.  Hence, if you're looking for truly exact measurements for your ingredients, you'll want to measure by weight, not volume.  A kitchen scale that allows you to tare (remove the weight of the vessel before the ingredient is poured into it) is a great thing to have, in that case.  Don't spend more than $25.00 on it.

My kitchen tools are well-used, but work just fine.  You don't need a $22.00 rubber-handled measuring cup to make good, crusty bread. 

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