Flour is the fundamental building block of bread and pizza dough. At its most basic, flour is just pulverized grain. Recent research suggests that it may have been used for food since the Paleolithic Period! Flour is an ingredient far more complex than it may appear, made up of starch, protein, water, fats, and enzymes. There are many kinds of flour, made from wheat, almond, and other ingredients.
In terms of all-around performance, wheat is the best flour for bread and pizza dough. Its high-gluten content gives the dough structure; it has a distinctive flavor profile and the right starch for active fermentation. Wheat grain is made of three main parts: germ, bran, and endosperm. The vast majority of flour on the market is made from the endosperm, which is softer and whiter than the other two parts. Whole-grain flour is made with bran and germ as well.
The label on a bag of flour can include a lot of terms. Flour type (think bread flour, all-purpose flour, etc.) is most common among those terms, which may also include added ingredients and marketing buzzwords. The type of flour on the label will give you a rough approximation of a flour’s protein count—and we do mean rough. The protein content can vary wildly from brand to brand, so be sure to check the label.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the most common flour types to help you decide which is right for the type of dough that you’re making.
00 flour: Using 00 flour for pizza is popular, and we recommend it for our Neapolitan pizza. This Italian classification system establishes a minimum protein content for each grade: Tipo 00: ≥9%, Tipo 0: ≥11%, Tipo 1: ≥12%, Tipo 2: ≥12%, Integral: ≥12%
High-gluten bread flour: With 13% protein or more, this will make an even stronger dough than bread flour. It’s particularly good for breads and doughs mostly leavened with commercial yeast—like pizza dough, French Lean Bread, and bagels—as well as breads that require structure (such as enriched doughs, like Sablée Brioche).
AP flour: The protein content of all-purpose flour can vary from brand to brand; generally it’s 10%–11%. It’s not necessarily good for all purposes. In France, the classic baguette is traditionally made with all-purpose types of flours, and we like it for our thin-crust and deep-dish pizza doughs. Because protein content can vary wildly, we recommend making sure you know the protein content of your AP flour before making bread or pizza dough with it.
Pastry flour: As its name states, this flour is intended for pastry preparations, in which a low-gluten percentage is desired—for example, cookies, muffins, and pound cakes in which a short crumb versus a chewy crumb is the goal. We use it in combination with strong flours to make dough softer and easier to use (for stretching and shaping). We also use it in our pork cheek hum bao recipe. Its protein content is around 9%.
Cake flour: Typically under 9% protein, cake flour is most commonly used in very delicate baked-good preparations, such as sponge cakes, because it produces a crumbly texture that is uniform and fine. We found blending cake flour with bread flour works well for some of our thin-crust pizza doughs, such as the Brazilian Thin Crust.
Self-rising flour: This type of flour is not meant for yeast-raised breads or pizza doughs. You can make your own self-rising flour by combining any flour with 3% of its weight in baking powder. The protein content is usually around 8.5%.
Welcome to our guide for essential tools for the home baker. Equipping yourself with the right tools is key to a successful baking experience. Our comprehensive guide below outlines our top essentials, explains their importance, provides tips on what to consider when shopping for them, and suggests recommended sources. Additionally, we’ll touch on some helpful but non-essential equipment that can enhance your home baking endeavors. This gear guide will be a valuable tool for anyone ready to dive right into Modernist Bread at Home.
Why it’s essential for the home baker: Simple metal loaf pans can be used for proofing as well as baking. They keep proofing dough in place so that it can be easily moved. Pans also mold proofing dough and help hold the shape.
Features to look for: You need to have a few basic pans in several sizes so that you can choose one that is appropriate for the bread you want to prepare. The dimensions of the pans we recommend below are the ones we most frequently use for our sandwich breads, brioche, and gluten-free breads. Although baking pans come in a variety of shapes, there’s generally no need to buy specialty pans unless you want to make a bread in its traditional shape. The material or thickness of the pans aren’t terribly important, but you will want a durable nonstick coating, which does make it easier to quickly remove hot loaves and reduce cleanup.
Why it’s essential for the home baker: Some of the most common items found in a bakery are wicker or cane baskets (bannetons or brotforms), which are used to hold and mold shaped pieces of dough during final proofing. The baskets are seasoned with flour, which, over time, serves as a nonstick surface.
Features to look for: Proofing baskets come in many different sizes and forms meant for specific shapes. It’s good to have go-to baskets for standard shapes like boule (round) and bâtard (oval), but you can also find baskets to mold dough into special shapes such as couronne bordelaise (a Bordeaux-style crown), triangle, double boule, and others.
Lining is another important consideration for choosing baskets. Some baskets have no lining and will imprint your dough with the pattern of the wicker; other versions are linen-lined. We recommend unlined baskets for doughs with a relatively firm consistency. Lined baskets work well for both high-hydration and drier doughs because the flour adheres to the linen and makes the dough easier to unmold. Baskets with removable linen covers are the most versatile options, giving you the benefits of both.
Why it’s essential for the home baker: Baking in a pot is hands down our favorite method for making bread in a home oven. The pot’s base and lid create a tightly enclosed environment for the proofed and scored dough. Cast iron absorbs heat well and retains it even better, helping to mitigate the temperature drop when you open the oven door.
Features to look for: When it comes to these pots, you don’t have to spend an exorbitant amount. We’ve tested a lot of cookware, but our favorite is the simple cast-iron combo cooker. You can bake extraordinary bread at home with this inexpensive, multipurpose pot. The cooker actually is a two-piece set that consists of a Dutch oven and a skillet that is repurposed as a lid. For bread, we use the skillet as the base and the Dutch oven as the lid, which makes transferring dough less complicated. We find that 800 g of dough fits perfectly in most three-quart cast-iron combination cookers.
Why it’s essential for the home baker: Storage is an important consideration for bakers, and clear plastic tubs are the storage bins of choice. Up for almost any stowage task, these bins come in a range of sizes; they make it easy to keep an eye on the contents inside; and they stack much like nesting dolls when they aren’t being used. Long rectangular storage boxes can be used to hold fermenting dough, while preferments, ingredients, and old dough are often stored in square versions. Tall tubs make great vessels when weighing large quantities of water—some can even transform into water bath containers when cooking sous vide. They can also make great improvised proofers!
Features to look for: Clear plastic bins with airtight lids are useful to have in a variety of sizes. The Cambro brand is so habitually used that the name is practically a generic term for the tubs in professional kitchens. Another kitchen vocabulary word to know is ‘lexan’, which is another name for the durable polycarbonate sheets that are often used to make commercial storage boxes, pans, and containers for food.
Why it’s essential for the home baker: Digital thermometers are indispensable tools, and any baker will benefit from having one in their pocket. Small changes in temperature can make all the difference in cooking and baking, which is why we measure it as accurately as possible. A good digital thermometer can be used to improvise a water bath to cook sous vide, and you can also calibrate your home oven with an oven-safe probe.
Features to look for: One of our favorite digital thermometers is the Thermapen Mk4. It’s extremely accurate, has a slender probe, and can connect to a Type K Thermocouple. Home bakers will also want a basic oven thermometer.
Why it’s essential for the home baker: This is the piece of equipment we recommend most emphatically for all bakers. If you have been measuring ingredients only by the cup and teaspoon, now is a great time to buy a good scale to begin applying more precision to your recipe measurements. Some high-capacity kitchen scales display baker’s percentages as well as grams, which is another benefit. A super-precise fine weight scale is the best way to measure tiny quantities of ingredients like yeast or salt.
Features to look for: Bakers should really have two scales: a relatively high-capacity kitchen scale and a fine weight pocket scale for measuring small quantities.
The standard scale should be accurate to one decimal place and should have the capacity to weigh double the amount of our standard recipes plus the weight of the mixing bowl. For larger quantities of dough, look for scales that can hold even more weight. The fine weight scale should be accurate to .01 g. If you don’t want to spend a lot, an inexpensive 200 g pocket-sized version will work just fine. All-purpose scales exist that will cover both these requirements, but they are expensive.
Why it’s essential for the home baker: Baking bread is a time-intensive process that also requires time management skills. In addition to telling you when to remove your bread from the oven, digital timers will help you keep track of dough as it ferments and proofs, especially when you’re managing several doughs and kitchen tasks at a time.
Features to look for: Timers should be easy to use, with loud alarms that can be heard across a noisy bakery or from another room. Have several basic timers on hand for juggling tasks.
Why it’s essential for the home baker: A bench knife, also referred to as a bench scraper, is another inexpensive but invaluable tool highly recommended. Even though there are several options available for mechanically dividing dough, a bench knife and a scale work the best.
Features to look for: We prefer a sharp metal version for cleanly cutting dough, lifting sticky dough, and scraping dough residue off the table. Plastic ones will get the job done, but they can make cutting and scraping dough more difficult because they are generally thicker and less sharp than metal scrapers.
Why it’s essential for the home baker: Our go-to tool for scoring dough is a classic: the lame. A lame is a sharp razor blade held in place by a handle. The blades are cheap and can be replaced easily, which isn’t necessarily true of other cutting tools, such as a paring knife.
Features to look for: Lames come in several styles. Basic lame handles are often made from metal or plastic. Look for razor blades that are thin and flexible as many lames are designed to make the blade curve. Disposable versions have a blade that can’t be removed or sharpened. Professional bakers generally avoid disposable lames because they need to replace the lame blades often (usually at the end of the day). A wood-handled lame is an attractive showpiece with a heft that makes it easier for the blade to slice the dough. The drawback is that it can be pricey and can’t make a razor blade curve.
While not essential, certain tools can elevate your bread-making process, adding a touch of finesse to the experience. Take a look at our list of optional tools below, allowing you to explore and decide which ones align with your preferences for customizing your home kitchen and enhancing your baking setup.
Baking Steel and Baking Stone
Why we recommend it: A baking steel or stone is one of our favorite tools for making pizza and flatbreads, including naan and pita, and pan loaves. Steel provides enough thermal mass to replicate the environment of a wood-fired oven, allowing you to rapidly produce Neapolitan-style pizza in your own kitchen. We prefer using a stone to bake pan loaves and other breads because steel tends to scorch the bottom of larger loaves.
Why we recommend it: Any bakery or kitchen can benefit from having several pastry brushes. Reserve different brushes for specific purposes—for instance, designating one for cooking sugar and another for egg washes.
Features to look for: We like to use pastry brushes with natural or fine synthetic bristles over the thicker silicone brushes that leave track marks. Synthetic bristles are more hygienic and can be incredibly soft, which makes them a good choice for egg washing more delicate doughs. Art or home improvement stores often have great options—paintbrushes that meet these specifications can easily double as pastry brushes.
Why we recommend it: We use a stand mixer for most home baking. A stand mixer is a small version of a planetary mixer that can comfortably sit on any work surface, occupying minimal space. They have the same mixing attachments as well—most come with a hook, paddle, and whip.
Stand mixers are incredibly versatile countertop tools. They can be used for much more than mixing, thanks to additional attachments that can use the spinning motor to sheet pasta dough, grind meat, mill grains into flour, chop vegetables, and even make ice cream.
Features to look for: A stand mixer can be a big investment, so look for models that have a strong motor, which is important for making drier doughs, and a broad range of speed settings, from very slow to very fast. A five-quart consumer stand mixer will work for home bakers who are making up to a kilo of dough—the minimum in most of our recipes—at a time. But beyond that, we find that these mixers tend to hop around the table and need more power. We recommend investing in a commercial stand mixer with a sturdy base if you plan to frequently make seven quarts of dough or more.
The Ankarsrum mixer is not very common, but we like using it for our gluten-free breads in particular and for mixing paste-like doughs, such as 100% rye breads. It has one arm that performs the mixing and another that scrapes the spinning bowl, making for a very efficient mix. The design makes it easy to pour ingredients in the bowl, which is unobstructed by the motor housing that most stand mixers have.
The flat solid base won’t dance around the counter, either.
Why we recommend it: Messes are hard to avoid when you bake bread. A bench brush is a small investment, but it will help you to quickly clean surfaces between handling dough. These special hand brooms offer an easy way to sweep flour and bits of dough away from your work space.
Why we recommend it: Bakers use spritzers to keep dough moist after it has been mixed. A light mist of water will prevent the dough’s surface from becoming tough and dry while it is exposed to air. The spritzer itself is basic, but remember to change the water in it at least once a week.
Features to look for: Although any spritzer is up for the task, clear bottles allow you to keep an eye on the liquid inside.
Why we recommend it: A couche is a swatch of plain linen cloth that sits between the dough and a flat surface; the cloth is creased to cradle the dough it holds. Couches absorb excess moisture from dough during the proofing process so that the board stays relatively dry, making it easier to slide the dough off surfaces and keeping portioned dough from touching other pieces or losing its shape as it expands.
Features to look for: You can purchase prepackaged options on many sites, however, we like to buy our couches by the yard to specifically suit our needs.
Why we recommend it: Peels and paddles are used to transfer dough onto a baking surface.
Features to look for: A single average-sized paddle is sufficient for some bakers, but it’s also helpful to have larger peels if you plan on making large quantities of bread. Metal peels are better than wooden ones for flatbreads and pizzas because they are thinner and can easily slide under the crusts.
The transfer board is the best all-purpose piece of equipment you can use to transfer dough. They come in a number of shapes and sizes, but we use only the long thin ones that are intended for baguettes because they also work for practically any other dough shape.
Why we recommend it: In a bakery, wooden boards or the back of sheet pans are used for proofing dough, especially high-hydration doughs that are too wet to hold their shape. Both are lined with a floured couche to prevent the dough from spreading out.
Features to look for: After use, wooden boards must be dried out quickly and completely to decrease the risk of contamination and prevent warping. If you prefer sheet pans, it’s worth having full-size, half-size, and quarter-size sheet pans as well as wire racks that fit on top of them.
Why we recommend it: Beyond a general-purpose chef’s knife and a paring knife, bakers will benefit from a few good serrated knives. A serrated paring knife is good for smaller items; a long version is best for cutting big pieces of bread; and an offset one is helpful for chopping chocolate and nuts. An electric knife, the sort typically used only for annual turkey carving, can get additional use when employed to slice bread. The serrated blade does all of the work, making it easy to carve off a perfect slice in a single motion.
Features to look for: Many serrated knives do a fine enough job of cutting bread without costing a lot of money. Just make sure the knife is very sharp and has long, pronounced teeth.
For bread, these are mostly used for finishing and decorating purposes. Use disposable bags, as reusable ones are hard to clean and dry and are therefore prone to contamination. A set of basic stainless-steel tips in few sizes and shapes should be sufficient.
Plastic boards have a reputation of being more sanitary, but wooden ones are fine so long as they are cleaned and properly dried. Also, have rubber grip mats (or a clean, damp kitchen towel) on hand to place under the board to keep it from sliding around when in use.
Are you interested in learning more about baking bread? Explore our free Bread School courses delivered directly to your inbox! Learn the essentials of baking bread, discover tips for baking with a busy schedule, understand pantry stocking, and more. Whether you’re a beginner or looking to enhance your skills, our courses cover a range of topics to elevate your bread-making experience. Sign up now for a delicious journey into the world of bread baking!
We’ve been secretly kneading something special for you the past few months. To celebrate the release of Modernist Bread at Home, we are excited to offer you free bread school courses delivered straight to your inbox. Meet the Modernist Cuisine Bread School—your gateway to mastering the art of bread making from the comfort of your own kitchen.
Our bread school is designed to cater to both novice bakers and those looking to refine their skills, offering courses that will help you make delicious home-baked loaves. Each lesson will provide invaluable tips, tricks, knowledge, and discoveries, collected and developed after years of extensive research, to enrich your bread-making journey.
If you already have a copy of Modernist Bread at Home, this bread school will serve as an excellent companion course. Don’t worry if you haven’t acquired the cookbook yet, you can still join us and glean valuable insights.
HOW IT WORKS
You’ll be able to sign up for our first course in March through the Modernist Cuisine Bread School page on our website. Upon signing up, you’ll receive one lesson per day throughout the course, typically consisting of five to seven lessons.
Each course will provide recommended tips, insights from Modernist Bread at Home, and references to related recipes and blogs for further reading.
We’ll launch a new course each month. You can sign up for all of them or pick and choose what topics interest you the most.
EXPLORE OUR UPCOMING COURSES
We’re excited to announce that we’ll be launching a new course every month for the next few months, starting in early March. Stay tuned for a continuous stream of exciting learning opportunities.
Course 1: Getting Started with Bread Basics—Dive into essential tools, preparation techniques, and pantry stocking tips to kick-start your bread-making journey.
Course 2: Navigating Bread Making from Start to Finish—Learn the most crucial aspects of each step of the baking process.
Course 3: Fitting Bread into Busy Schedules—Learn how to manage your baking time effectively, even amid a hectic schedule.
Course 4: The Role of Different Bread Ingredients—Explore the scientific foundations of bread ingredients to refine your recipes and techniques.
Course 5: How to Start a Levain and Keep It Alive—Delve into the world of sourdough with essential strategies for crafting and maintaining your sourdough starter.
Course 6: Scoring and Shaping—Unravel the art of scoring and shaping bread to create beautifully crafted loaves.
Our first course, Getting Started with Bread Basics, is scheduled to launch early March. Stay tuned!
There is so much to be gained from baking your own bread. It’s both physically and mentally satisfying, an outlet for creativity and innovation, and just plain comforting (seriously, is there anything more comforting than warm homemade toast with butter?). That’s why we are thrilled to unveil our upcoming cookbook, Modernist Bread at Home—the ultimate guide for home bakers eager to create exceptional bread. You can order it now in North America through the Modernist Cuisine Shop and Amazon. French, German, Italian, and Spanish editions are now available in North America as well. It is also available to view and purchase at the Modernist Cuisine Gallery by Nathan Myhrvold locations.
It’s hard to believe we released Modernist Bread nearly seven years ago. Since then, we’ve received a lot of feedback about creating a version of the book specifically for home bakers and have been quietly working on just that over the last few years. With years of dedicated research and meticulous experimentation, we’ve distilled the expertise of Modernist Bread into a comprehensive 420-page volume that streamlines the art and science of making bread at home.
Much like how Modernist Cuisine at Home is to Modernist Cuisine,this book is designed specifically for home bakers so that you can create extraordinary bread in the comfort of your own kitchen regardless of how much experience or time you have. You’ll discover delicious, easy-to-follow recipes, innovative yet practical techniques, helpful scientific insights, and useful visual guides. Everything has been tested (and retested over and over again) with our unique brand of rigor to ensure you’ll get great results with a home oven.
One of our biggest goals for Modernist Bread at Home was to make it as accessible as possible. We’ve worked hard to address the needs of home bakers as well as the realistic challenges that come with making bread, a time and labor-intensive food, in your own kitchen. We know, for example, that life easily gets in the way of making bread in the middle of the week. With that in mind, we developed time-saving tips and strategies, like freezing leftover levain so that you can use it as a flavor booster. The inactive levain can be added to direct doughs (doughs made with instant yeast), evoking sourdough flavor in much less time.
There are plenty of invaluable skills to master, bringing a new level of confidence to your baking every step of the way. With Modernist Bread at Home, you’ll learn how to make beautiful loaves of homemade bread that fit within your weekly schedule and have a depth of flavor beyond what you’ll find in the store—and you can proudly say that you’ve made it with your own hands. We’re incredibly proud of this cookbook, and hope that you’ll love it as much as we do.
Here’s a sneak peek into what you can expect from Modernist Bread at Home:
OVER 160 RECIPES
Modernist Bread at Home features over 160 extensively tested, easy-to-follow recipes that span the world of bread. You’ll learn how to make:
Traditional French lean breads
Some highlights include our innovative recipes for Second-Change Sourdough, No-Knead Brioche, 100% High-Ryes, and gluten-free bagels.
EASY-TO-FOLLOW RECIPE FORMAT
Great care went into designing how the recipes are formatted in this book. The unique layout makes it easy to follow, understand, and prep for recipes. An illustrated tour breaks down the format and essential information before you get started.
INNOVATIVE, YET PRACTICAL TECHNIQUES
The techniques in this book were developed with home bakers of all experience levels in mind. Whether it’s new ways of utilizing tools already found in your kitchen, enhancing the flavor of bread with pressure-caramelized inclusions, or using our dough CPR method to rescue overproofed dough, there’s information that both well-seasoned home bakers and complete novices will find helpful. We even discovered ways to speed up bread making, as in our Second-Chance Sourdough or a more straightforward traditional French brioche, so that you can still have fresh bread even with a busy schedule.
HELPFUL VISUAL GUIDES
Don’t know where to start? That’s okay. Modernist Bread at Home features helpful visual guides for:
Getting the most out of our recipe format
Planning how to fit bread making into your schedule
Choosing what bread to make based on your skill level, how much time you have, and what kind of bread you’d like to add to your repertoire
Essential gear for baking bread in a home kitchen. All the tools are easy for home bakers to find. The biggest recommended investment is a $40 cast-iron combination cooker that delivers spectacular results for crisp-crust breads
Step-by-step technique tutorials
Troubleshooting common issues throughout the bread-making process
172-PAGE WIRE-BOUND RECIPE MANUAL
To keep your hardcopy pristine, Modernist Bread at Home comes with a wire-bound recipe manual that contains all the recipes and reference tables.
Regardless of your baking experience, Modernist Bread at Home empowers you to create bread that’s beyond compare. We believe that bread making should be an accessible experience for everyone, and this book is your key to achieving just that.
We’ve got even more to be excited about. To kick off the release of Modernist Bread at Home we’re launching free bread school courses delivered straight to your inbox.
Tailored for home baking enthusiasts eager to refine their skills, our monthly courses are designed to complement the book and help you throughout the bread-making process. Our courses will cover beginner essentials for novice bakers, mastering the art of creating and nurturing a levain, making bread during a busy schedule, and much more – we’ve got it all covered.
Be the first to know when the Modernist Cuisine Bread School launches by following us on social media and subscribing to our monthly newsletter.
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