Bread Lover's Essentials
A loaf of bread still warm from the oven is one of our favorite simple pleasures, but making bread at home can be intimidating. The first step to taking the fear out of bread making is to have the best tools on hand. In this week’s buying guide, we’re sharing the equipment that we use in the test kitchen 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.
Not sure what bread recipe to tackle first? Look no further than our book Bread Illustrated. Inside you’ll find more than 100 foolproof recipes for everything from simple loaves like Quick Cheese Bread to serious projects such as Bakery-Style French Baguettes. With this book, you can skip the trip to the store and make artisan bread at home instead.
The bread from this pan emerged with the proper tight crumb and golden-brown crust. The lid slid on and off easily, and the nonstick coating released perfectly, making the pan a snap to clean. Created with lightweight material, it was simple to maneuver in and out of the oven.
BUY FOR $29
This lame was sharp and came with five extra blades that were a snap to change. Its cute baguette-shaped handle was easy to grasp, and though it seemed longer than necessary, we simply choked up a bit for good control while we scored the loaves. We did miss having a blade cover.
BUY FOR $10
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.
BUY FOR $13
Perfectly contoured to fit the side of a bowl, this scraper had the most surface contact of all the scrapers. No dough or batter was left behind. It gained rigidity from a steel insert. Opposite the contoured side is a straight edge that doubles as a bench scraper or dough cutter, making this a multipurpose winner.
The Mk4 takes all the accuracy and speed of the Classic Thermapen and adds a couple of nifty features that improve the user experience: its display now auto-rotates, lights up in low light, and wakes up when the unit is picked up. It takes a single AAA alkaline battery and is also more water-resistant than the Classic, capable of surviving a half-hour bath.
This roomy clay stone remains our top choice. It reliably browns and crisps dough evenly and at a moderate pace, and small feet slightly elevate the 10-pound rectangle for easy handling.
This heavy slab of food-safe recycled steel produces more oven spring and transfers heat even more efficiently than does a stone, resulting in slightly taller, airier pizza crust. But be prepared to pay careful attention to avoid burning, because it also cooks foods faster. The steel can double as a stovetop griddle (for nongreasy foods, since it’s rimless), and it works well under metal pie plates to brown bottom crusts. At 15 pounds and with no handles, the flat steel is a bit cumbersome to lift in and out of the oven.
With the fewest, widest, and deepest serrations, this knife was a “standout.” Its sharp points bit into everything from the crustiest bread to the squishiest tomato, producing crisp, clean slices. “Perfect, no crumbs, really easy,” said one tester. A stellar blade coupled with a grippy, comfortable handle earned this knife the top spot.
BUY FOR $22
This powerful, smartly designed machine made quick work of large and small volumes of food. The bent tines of its whisk fit the bowl’s shape perfectly, its Y-shaped paddle creamed quickly without allowing butter to bunch up in the crevices, and the model handled batches of stiff dough without flinching. Testers liked the bowl-lift design and large vertical bowl handle that aided pouring.
This mixer aced every test. Testers praised the "intuitive" controls and "solid" feel. While not as powerful as more expensive KitchenAid models, this mixer is a great value.
BUY FOR $200
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.
BUY FOR $156
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.
BUY FOR $50
This pin capably handled dough for pie, cookies, pizza, and yeasted rolls, with gentle weight and a slightly textured surface that holds a dusting of flour for less sticking. Its long, straight shape made achieving even dough thickness and rolling out larger disks easy.
This light, maneuverable brush features perforated flaps in the bristles that hold liquid like a bubble wand. It easily trapped watery egg wash, was delicate enough to paint pastry without damage, and brushed barbecue sauce evenly and thickly. Its handle felt comfortable and secure; the angled head helped reach tight spots and kept sauce off the counter when we set it down.
BUY FOR $8
Stainless-Steel Bowls - Highly Recommended
The broad, shallow shape of these inexpensive bowls put food within easy reach and allowed for wide turns of a spatula. These were also the lightest bowls in the lineup—the combined weight of all three that we tested was less than 1 1/2 pounds— allowing us to comfortably lift, scrape, and pour.
BUY FOR $9
The unbeatable traditional version of the Pyrex Liquid Measuring Cup is back on the market.
Accurate and extremely durable, this set snaps together for compact storage. The handles are seamless with the cups themselves, making them easy to level off.
BUY FOR $20
Comfortable and accurate with long handles, this set nests nicely. The rim of each spoon is flush with the handle so it is easy to sweep accurately. Our only gripe: The oval bowls made measuring liquids slightly tricky.
BUY FOR $11
Everything prepared in this sturdy, warp-resistant sheet cooked appropriately and evenly. Best of all, our new favorite is a few bucks cheaper than our old winner.
Testers gave top marks to this rack, which has six feet on three support bars for extra stability. Cookies cooled evenly on this rack, and pork emerged from the oven with crisp, browned surfaces. It fit perfectly in our favorite rimmed baking sheet (and other standard-size baking sheets) and is safe to wash in the dishwasher. It’s sold in packs of two, making it the best value in the lineup. Update October 2018: Since publishing this review, the quality of this rack has become inconsistent. We now recommend the Checkered Chef Cooling Rack, which had earned a Highly Recommended rating and come in a close second place in our original review.
All products reviewed by America’s Test Kitchen are independently chosen, researched, and reviewed by our editors. We buy products for testing at retail locations and do not accept unsolicited samples for testing. We list suggested sources for recommended products as a convenience to our readers but do not endorse specific retailers. When you choose to purchase our editorial recommendations from the links we provide, we may earn an affiliate commission. Prices are subject to change.