Beginning Bread Baking - how to kit yourself out as cheaply as possible.

A friend sent me a link this week to a company offering a 'Baker's Starting Kit' at the eye-watering price of nearly £60. 

It was a thing of beauty. Packaging to die for! Lots of lovely little things to take out and admire at the start of someone's Bread Journey. 

But, as Laozi wrote " A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step'...and the first step is to decide whether bread-making is for you or possibly something of a 'passing fad'. If it's the latter, then certainly buy good equipment and enjoy it. However, if it's the latter, then you need to be able to assemble what you need for as little financial outlay as possible. After all, in one month or six months, you may have left all this behind...and bought a hang-glider...

Whenever I've started a hobby, right from many, many years ago as a child, I've always gone out and bought 'the kit'. I've spent and often wasted a fortune over the years. 

Nowadays, long in the tooth as I am, I know that, as long as I have equipment that is servicable, I can always gradually replace it with 'better' equipment as I go along and, more importantly, if I need to. 

My bread-making journey has been a long one. I started 49 years ago, as a mere lad. Over the years, I dispensed with 'making do' and I've bought some very nice equipment that will last me a lifetime. But, I know that bread-making is a hobby that takes time, and can be time-consuming. But, I'm committed. 

We've all got friends who want to make their own bread. 'How do I start?' they ask, and look to us for advice and help. 

This year, my daughter was one such novice. Her route into the art of bread was to buy a breadmaker. I wrote her an article to help her rationalise her thoughts before she made what is quite an expensive purchase. 

The article 'Why buy a bread machine?' is here:

So, what do I need and how do I source it cheaply. 

So, I thought I'd put together a '10 things for a Beginner' kit and, based on today's prices, see how much I could save. 

  1. Mixing Bowl -  I've collected stainless steel bowls - my weapons of choice - from various sites on the internet. I don't like glass - I'm too clumsy. However, I started off using plastic. It's extremely serviceable and a set of bowls will cost just a few pounds from major supermarkets. Try buying in the run up to students going off to university and college...the last set I bought cost me £2 from Asda.
  2. Spatula - I have a Dutch whisk, which I love, but all too often, my hand goes to a collection of silicone spatulas that I've bought off Ebay for very little indeed (a tip - the more hideous the colour - the cheaper they are). I've also a favourite 'chopstick' (that's how desperate it gets!) that I use to stir, poke, prod and generally use as an easily-cleaned 'finger'. A large spatula, one of those that looks like a flat spoon and a smaller one - that's a set, in my eyes. 
  3. Bannetons - all the websites will advocate the use of bannetons. If you don't take to bread making then bannetons will be relegated to the back of the cupboard and will only be used as breadbaskets or something to put crisps in at a family BBQ. All bannetons do is to provide structure to your dough as it rises. You could use a glass or tin bowl, a cake tin, a plastic box...whatever. Just line it with a clean tea towel and away you go. Eventually, you may want to buy bannetons. There are many Artisan bread making sites that will charge you a small ransom for a wicker banneton. I buy mine direct from China. OK, they might take two or three weeks to arrive, but arrive they do, and I'm still using some I bought fifteen years ago. 
  4. A Dutch Oven - Even being aware of the existence of one means you've spent too long on the web. You'll see people who swear by baking cloches, Dutch ovens, electric proofers and all manner of hardware. Do you need a Dutch Oven? I don't know. But you certainly don't need one immediately. A large Pyrex casserole (trademarked to make sure it's Borosilicate glass) serves as a cloche. The lid is the base and the dish covers it. If you're lucky enough to own a cast-iron casserole pan, then you have a Dutch Oven in all but name. A large meat roaster with a lid that fits is also perfect. I covered my bread for years with the metal mixing bowl I used for mixing ingredients. It kept in the steam and allowed the bread to rise. It did the job. 
  5. A Dough scraper - A dough scrapter won't break the bank and it will be your best friend. A plastic scraper and a metal dough cutter. I've collected all sorts of alternatives over the years. Clearing the ice of the windscren of the car, I thought...'this would make a good dough scraper" and it found its way into the kitchen drawer. As did the stainless steel tiling tool that I rescued from a spot of DIY. 
  6. A lame - definately not! If you want to artistically score your bread, but a pack of cheap razor blades from the 'Everything Shop' or whatever you call it. OK, you need to exercise a little bit of care, but you are an adult, after all. A lame or a grignette will come later. Much later in my case. In fact, only in the last five years. And only out of sheer curiosity. 
  7. Flour - The Artisan websites will profess the wonders of organic flour, of flour milled by naked millers in the light of a Summer Solstice, of rye and emmer wheat, of spelt and Khorosan flour. They are great to experiment with and may well become your flour of choice, eventually. Until then, I'm sure you want a few successful loaves under your belt and the sense of achievement that you can actually bake bread that you enjoy. During Lockdown I was buying flour from a small mill in the north of England and enjoying the taste. Then I wrote to Aldi and found out that their strong white bread flour came from the very same mill at half the price. As long as the protein levels of your flour reache 12 to 12.7% then you'll make good bread. Aldi? 13.3%. Case closed. 
  8. Baking Stone -  My first baking stone....and the one I still use, was a pizza stone from the local hardware shop. OK, I moved up in the world and bought a sheet of cordierite, a few years ago. But I also know people who bake on an old slab of granite, a sheet of marble. a sheet of steel, an old grave stone. Anything that gives you a thermal mass. 
  9. Starter - you will hear tales of sourdough starters that have been passed down from Methusalah. Of starters that came from Marco Polo's kitchen in Venice. Of starters that are so old that the Pharaoh's forgot where they put them.. Everybody's starter has to start somewhere, if you'd pardon the pun. Once you have one, you'll have it for life with just a little tendering and remembering. My starter cost me virtually nothing. Water and flour, that's all it is. Oh, and a bit of time. I kept mine in a jam jar for years. Since I've become posh and affluent, I now keep it in a purple Thermos soup cup I picked up from Tesco in the sale (tip - nobody wanted the purple ones..). I also use an old Mason jar for refreshing my starter prior to baking. Always keep your eye open for bargains....Anyway, if you want to start your own's how you do it: Failing that, go and knock on a bakery back door or find someone you know who bakes and make them give you some. But, whatever you do.....don't pay for it!
  10. Baking tins - tins are non-stick because they are well-seasoned. That's a synonym for rarely washed. My loaf tins, which I stole from my wife, are dark black, greasy and absolutely non-stick. Germs never get a chance - not at 200⁰C and upwards.....
So, there you are....a top ten of essentials. The total cost? At today's prices (it's March 2020), I could do the lot for £30 tops. I can't include the Dutch Oven in that - but a roaster will set you back £15 and a cast iron dish by Villeroy and Boch is often on offer on Amazon for under £25. 

What else might I want...sometime? 

There are somethings that you might want to day...

A set of scales (I really ought to include these with the essentials..they are exactly that - essential)

Measuring jugs - plastic, glass, metal - doesn't matter

A cooling rack - a cake rack, that's it. 

Jars for ingredients (I buy bulk from Amazon - they're made by Sunpet and they're ideal. Lots of different sizes, as well)

A bread knife. I treated myself recently to a long serrated bread knife, made from Japanese steel and honed to a sharpness I've never experienced before. Expensive? £13.99. How do they make them for that?

A bread sling. Putting your dough into a hot casserole dish or taking it out at the end of the bake can be tricky. I contacted a man in the United States who wanted to sell me a 'BreadSling' for £40 plus postage. I bought a silicone baking mat off Ebay for £3 and made my own. 'Frugal' should have been my middle name.

And I dare not scrape away at dough on our best timber worktops, I made a bread work sheet using ¼ plywood with a lip on both ends. One lip sits below the work top and the other provides you with an 'end'. Consequently, its double-sided and I oil it with food-grade mineral oil, once a month. 

Bread-baking doesn't mean you've joined a secret cult. There's no secret handshakes or oaths. There's no 'First rule of BreadClub'...well, there is, but that's for me to know and you to find out. 

Happy, get on with it. 


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