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I’ve read several articles in the last few months saying that homemade bread is better than store-bought. I agree with that, to a certain extent. I also read, as I’ve read on one of my favorite bread sites, it is so easy to make. I do beg to differ, because, even with the best bread machine, so many variables go into making bread. It does not take much to ruin a loaf of bread. I can say that because I’ve tried it with a bread machine, with a mixer using kneading hooks, and kneading by hand in many areas of the United States and then some. I have tried it at sea level on both coasts of the United States, the Gulf Coast, Puerto Rico, and, now, in the Rockies at over 6,300 feet. Trust me. I have the pictures to prove it. You don’t have to taste them to know that tasting them would have been a bad experience. The pictures say it all.
However, the joy of biting into a piece of bread you baked yourself is incomparable. Sure, it can be a headache, but the end result is worth it.
Before you start, think about this: If you don’t like a mess, maybe bread baking is not for you. You will get flour on the floor, on every surface within reaching distance and then some, on your clothes, and in your hair, on your hair, and anywhere else you need to scratch. Clean up is not necessarily an easy or fun thing, but the end result, that being the bread you baked yourself, is worth the effort and the mess.
There are dozens of tools of the trade. Some you can must buy, some you can improvise at home. Here are some that you must have, should have, and might want to have:
You must have at least one bowl large enough hold your dough when it doubles in size. Two is better. Otherwise, you have to clean it to put the dough in it to rise. Do not use any type of metal. While some metals may be fine, others will give your bread a bad taste. It is safer to use a glass, plastic, or ceramic bowl. I shy away from plastic because it is so difficult to clean. Wood isn’t much better. I tried putting my dough in a zip-loc bag to rise, but that didn’t work too well, for rising or for mixing. If you are making starter, have a smaller container. The same rules apply as to what it is made of. I use a quart mason jar so I can see my starter doing its thing and mark it so I can tell when it has doubled in volume. I use Ball and Kerr mason jars. I prefer Ball because it has measurement marks, and it takes grease pencil better. You need a spoon, plastic or wood. Two is even better. Commercial yeast. Although you can bake bread using only starter, many recipes call for a bit of commercial yeast. Whether you use active or instant (bread) yeast is up to you. You need loaf pans unless you want to shape your loaves. A hand-held thermometer to check the temperature of your bread and the liquids you use to bake with. A digital thermometer works great.
If you choose to shape your loaves free-form, you should have a pizza stone (bread stone) to put your loaves on to bake. You can use cookie sheets turned upside down, but I think a pizza stone works best. A stone retains the heat better. A pizza peel is convenient for getting the dough onto the pizza stone. A scraper to scrape your dough from your work surface. This is necessary if you like your dough very wet as it tends to stick, otherwise it is a should have. Corn meal so your bread does not stick, not matter what surface you bake on. As different flours and other dry ingredients have different weights, a scale is recommended that has a metric option.
You might like to have a mixer with dough hooks. Definitely nice to have to mix the dough, but it is so much more fun to have the hands-on experience of kneading. A dough whisk. It supposedly makes mixing the ingredients easier. I wasn’t impressed by it, although it is possible I just haven’t used it often enough to really get the knack of it.
As a relative beginner, I have found that pictures help. If you find a website or book with pictures, use it. If a website allows you to register so you can participate in forums and such, register. You will be surprised how many people in the world want to bake bread. Yes, in the world. Many of them, if not most of them, are men. I was surprised by that.
For a single person like me, especially at high altitude, I never bake as much bread as I would like. More than a loaf or two a week is too much. That means as I experiment (baking at high altitude is an experiment in action) I share those experiments with friends and family.
Try baking some bread today!
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