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Essentials for new bakers


I get excited when we get a new bit of equipment in. We’ve just had some fermenting jars arrive – lots on these in a week or two although mine will keep me busy this weekend. Sometimes it is good to remember that many of you are quite new to baking bread and, faced with the huge array of baking equipment available, it can be somewhat daunting for a new baker to work out what is really essential to get started. After years of baking in my own kitchen, I’ve learned from experience which equipment I use on a regular basis. Whatever the recipe, I usually have the right bit of equipment for the job in hand. There are however a few trusty pieces I wouldn't want to manage without and would recommend to any baker without hesitation. My top three have to be La Cloche baking dome which is great for ensuring a good even bake and crispy crust on a loaf, the KD8000 bakery scales which are great for weighing out ingredients and have a nice, clear display, and finally, my super-strong knife for crusty bread is my favourite for cutting my home baked loaves, whether I’m making delicate sandwiches or doorstop toast.

Over the years, Vanessa has developed several recipes that are ideal for beginners and so I asked her which ingredients and equipment she considers to be essentials for anyone who is just getting started making their own bread.

Easy White Loaf

English Twisted Loaf

I spend so much time in my kitchen and use a wonderful range of ingredients and pieces of kitchen equipment…collecting equipment can be quite addictive. I always explain to my students that for me baking isn't just about the end product, it's about the whole experience from mixing the flour and water to cutting into and eating the freshly baked loaf. I enjoy baking with aesthetically pleasing equipment, like my vintage jugs and mixing bowls, and the antique stoneware pot I use to hold my sourdough starter. But whatever I have in my kitchen, whether old or new, it must be practical, durable and made from quality materials.

Having the right ingredients and equipment can definitely enhance your baking experience and help produce consistently good results. So here are my thoughts on a few essentials to help you on the road to baking your own bread.

I'd have to start with the basic ingredients. Flour, of course, falls into this category. Start with a good white and a wholemeal flour. If you are baking regularly you will soon notice the difference in working with different flours – not just in the flavours and textures that they bring to the baked loaf, but also the way that the dough develops and the amount of water needed to produce a workable dough. I’d recommend Gilchester Organic Strong White Flour and Stoates Organic Strong White Flour as a good starting point in white flours, and Organic Type “00” Soffiata Strong White Flour which is another lovely white flour to work with and especially good for baguettes and brioche. Many bakers will use a mixture of white and wholemeal flours in their brown loaves to get good flavour without the bread being too dense. I find The Priors Organic Wholemeal Flour, FWP Matthews Organic Wholemeal Flour and the Heritage Blend Wholemeal Flour are consistently good and produce reliable results. Work with a couple of good basic recipes until you have mastered them. Then, with experience, you can then move on to experiment with other flours – maybe trying spelt, rye and some of the heritage flours.

One question I’m regularly asked is whether fresh or dried yeast is better. To be honest, either will produce a great result, and I suggest trying both to see which suits your style of baking best. Dried yeast is convenient. It has a longer shelf life and is easier to store. Fresh yeast needs to be kept in the fridge and has a shorter life. Many bakers prefer to use fresh yeast, feeling that it gives a better flavour to the bread. But it really is a matter of personal preference. Whichever yeast you use, I would recommend buying organic – I find the fresh keeps better than the non-organic equivalent.

My last essential ingredient would have to be seeds, specifically pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds. My seed jars are always full and near the front of my pantry for ease of access. Apart from flour and yeast, I think seeds are definitely the most used ingredient in my kitchen. They are so versatile for sprinkling in or over bread and they add a fabulous depth of flavour. Adding seeds to homemade muesli or a summer salads also adds texture, flavour and a hint of luxury.

When it comes to baking equipment, there are a few inexpensive items that will make a huge difference to your bread making. A large mixing bowl with plenty of space for combining all the ingredients without them spilling over the sides is one of my essentials. The same bowl can then be used for the bulk prove, with plenty of room to allow the dough to double in size.

A dough scraper is a really inexpensive but essential piece of equipment, but one that makes handling the dough while kneading and shaping so much easier. It’s also great for cleaning up the work-surface after a baking session.

When you are starting out, I’d suggest investing in a couple of good quality bread tins. I find these two, the 900g and 450g, allow me to tackle almost any basic recipe.

Finally, I can’t help but recommend a decent pizza cutter I’m not sure this would be considered essential, as it only has one purpose in life – to cut pizza (see my goat’s cheese pizza). When I have some spare dough at the end of a baking session, I use it to make a pizza base… my family love pizza topped with a homemade tomato sauce and our favourite fresh, seasonal ingredients. This really robust pizza cutter cuts through the pizza and all its chunky toppings with ease. It's so smooth to use, and is something I'm happy to let my husband loose with it!

Vanessa Kimbell runs the Sourdough School, Northampton

 

Ella’s Artisan Bakery

What a treat it was to stumble across Ella’s Artisan Bakery while out and about with my family in Ashburton the other week. The second thing to strike me as we entered the shop (the first naturally being the attractive display as we passed the window at lunch time) was that it is tiny! Step inside and you are in the bakery, not just at the counter: their one and only rack is behind the door as you go in. Tins, trays, rolling pins, proving baskets and the rest are all neatly filling every space. The owners, Ella and Liam must have learnt over the last 7 years to be very tolerant of having their toes trodden as they bake through the night. The benefit of such a bijou bakery according to Ella is the ability to keep a very tight control on the quality of every item. We liked the very friendly welcome and even more the deliciously olive-oily focaccia we shared for lunch along with their excellent hot-cross buns. Next time we’re in Ashburton, we’ll be visiting.

Ella’s Artisan Bakery is open Tuesday-Saturday.

Do you have a special bakery near you? Why not let us know about it with about 200 words and a high-res photo and send to us by email.

featured products

Priors Organic Wholemeal Flour | £2.70

The Prior's Wholemeal Flour is made from Mulika Wheat and has a protein level of 14%.

Pizza Cutter | £16.58

Stainless steel and with a rounded handle, a strong pizza cutter for dividing pizzas.

Flexible Dough Scraper | £2.28

Dough scraper ideal for artisan bread bakers, made from stiff but flexible plastic, an essential for working with dough.

Do you have a sourdough question for Vanessa? Send it to us and the best ones will appear in our next postbag edition and receive a dough whisk.

Suggestion Box

Are we missing something? An usual flour, a particular tin, or a special piece of equipment you’d like to see on our shelves? Let us know and if we decide to stock it, you will receive the very first one of the item you suggest.

 

 

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