Bread Baking Essentials

There’s nothing quite like a loaf of bread still warm from the oven.

Making bread at home can be intimidating. I tried my hand at bread making for the first time during our extended time at home. I felt better about trying it because I had recommended tools from the test kitchen on hand. In this week’s buying guide, I’m sharing the equipment that we use (and that I use at home) to produce perfect loaves. From top-notch bench scrapers that double as dough cutters to our winning digital scale for precisely measuring ingredients, this equipment will make your bread-baking experience both enjoyable and successful.

—Carolyn Grillo, Associate Editor, ATK Reviews

The deeply beveled edge of this scraper cut through pizza and bread dough quickly and scraped the work surface effectively. The textured polypropylene handle was easy to hold on to, even with greasy or floury hands, and was thinner than other scrapers’ handles, helping us hold it flat to the work surface for easier, more effective scooping and scraping.

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Our old winner is still the best instant-read thermometer on the market. It's dead accurate, fast, and so streamlined and simple that it's a breeze to use. It does just what we want: “Tell me the temp; get out of my way,” as one tester put it. Its long handle gave us plenty of room to maneuver, allowing for multiple grips, and a ring of slightly tacky silicone kept our hands confidently secured. The automatic backlight meant we never had to stop and adjust in low light, and the rotating screen is handy for lefties and righties needing different angles. The auto wake-up function is extremely useful; you don't have to stop and turn the thermometer on again midtask. The digits were large and legible, and it's waterproof in up to 39 inches of water for up to 30 minutes. It's also calibratable, promising years of accuracy.

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Our previous favorite aced every test, whipping, creaming, and kneading quickly and thoroughly to give us fluffy whipped cream and meringue; light, tender cakes; and chewy, rustic breads. We did have a few design quibbles: We'd prefer a handled bowl (KitchenAid sells stainless-steel or glass bowls with handles separately). The tilt-head latch works fine, but it's slightly less convenient than buttons on other models, and we disliked that you could operate it with the head unlocked. A major plus: It fits all KitchenAid attachments, from meat grinder to ice cream maker (sold separately), so it could stand in for several other appliances. 

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With a powerful, quiet motor; responsive pulsing action; sharp blades; and a simple, pared-down-to-basics design, our old favorite aced every test, surprising us time and again by outshining pricier, more feature-filled competitors. It was one of the few models that didn’t leak at its maximum stated liquid capacity. It’s also easy to clean and store, because it comes with just a chopping blade and two disks for shredding and slicing. Additional blade options are available à la carte.

NOTE : Cuisinart has announced a recall of the older riveted S-blade of our winning food processor, which was included in models sold from 1996 through December 2015. Cuisinart will replace the blade free of charge, and the new blade will fit old machines. Anyone with this older blade should contact Cuisinart at https://recall.cuisinart.com (or call 1-877-339-2534).

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The redesigned version of the OXO scale is accurate and had all the features that made the old model our favorite: sturdy construction, responsive buttons, and a removable platform for easy cleaning. The screen can still be pulled out nearly 4 inches when weighing oversize items. Instead of a backlight setting, the screen now has brightly lit digits on a dark background, which we found even easier to read than the old model’s screen. OXO also added two display options for weight. Users can choose to view ounces only (24 oz), pounds and ounces (1 lb 8 oz), grams only (2500 g), or kilograms and grams (2 kg 500 g), which comes in handy when doubling a recipe. The scale now uses decimals rather than fractions, so it’s more precise and easier to read.

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This classic glass liquid measuring cup possessed all of the qualities that we liked in its smaller version; it was accurate and had bold, easy-to-read measurement lines that were clearly labeled. The glass resisted staining and was durable, and the handle stayed comfortably cool when we measured hot ingredients or microwaved the cup. Our one criticism: Using the cup properly required placing it on the counter, filling it, and then crouching to check the measurement at eye level, which some testers found awkward and uncomfortable.

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Our winning spoons had a simple design that allowed for a continuous, bump-free sweep, with a ball-chain connector (similar to what military dog tags hang on) that was easy to open and close. This set's metal construction felt remarkably sturdy, and ingredients didn't cling to the stainless steel. And while the 1-tablespoon measure did not fit into all spice jars, it was a minor inconvenience for an otherwise easy-to-use set.

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Although the grid pattern on this rack is slightly larger than on the other two models, it’s reinforced with an extra support bar that runs perpendicular to the three main bars. It had a touch more wiggle room in the baking sheets, but it kept pace with the other racks during recipe and durability testing.

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Coming in a variety of useful sizes that nest for compact storage, our winning set performed ably on almost every test. Its wide, shallow bowls were easy to hold, fill, empty, and clean. They can be used in the microwave and the oven. While the bowls in this set were the only ones to break when dropped, the heaviness of the glass with which they’re made makes it unlikely that they’ll easily fly off the counter.

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The Challenger Bread Pan made gorgeous loaves of bread. Its spacious interior accommodated both round and oval loaves, and because the interior was dark, the crusts were especially well browned. While its thick walls and heavy construction made it a bit of a load to lift, they also ensured that it had great heat retention. We liked being able to safely load unbaked dough onto the shallow base, and we loved that it came with two sets of handles that allowed us to adjust our grips when maneuvering it in the oven or opening and closing its lid. It’s not cheap, but it will serve you well for years to come.

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This steel did an excellent job browning our pizza crust uniformly while leaving the interior tender and moist. It’s heavy, at 16 pounds, and very flat, so it’s hard to pick up and transfer into the oven, though two corners have cutout circles designed to help lift it (or to hang it on the wall), which we didn’t find particularly helpful. Otherwise, this tough, unbreakable steel is a great choice for home pizza making or bread baking.

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Supereasy to handle, compact to store, and a great boon for those who can’t lift heavy objects, these four lightweight 7.5-inch-square ceramic tiles (each weighing less than 1.5 pounds) are also inexpensive. (Note: You don’t have to fuss with arranging them. Just push them together on an oven rack; nothing falls between the cracks.) While they lack the mass of a thick ceramic stone, they still produced nicely browned, crisp pizza that was just a shade more chewy than the pizza we got from baking on steel or thick, heavy stone. From our temperature monitoring, we saw that the tiles were fully preheated to 500 degrees in just 30 minutes compared with the full hour it took the rest of the lineup. We liked their versatility: Two tiles would fit in most toaster ovens, or you could set all four in a row to bake long breads in the full-size oven.

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