I’ve always baked bread, but in a super-casual, no-special-gear way. And I really love kneading dough; it’s the grownup equivalent of Play-Doh.
But I remember how in 2007, when Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Bread hit the scene, we all fell hard for the gorgeous, professional browning and crustiness you can get by baking your loaf inside a super-hot Dutch oven. Our Test Kitchen recipe for Almost No-Knead Bread even offered flavor improvements to the original recipe. I (reluctantly) quit kneading and (enthusiastically) pressed my Dutch oven into service as a bread oven. (A side note, if you have our favorite Dutch oven and don’t like to see it darken from baking at high temperatures, it’s a good time to grab our Best Buy model from Cuisinart. I’ve also used a vintage uncoated cast-iron combo Dutch oven with an inverted-skillet lid that I happened to have.)
When Cook’s Illustrated developed an awesome recipe for homemade baguettes, I tested linen couches to cradle and shape the loaves, as well as razorlike bread lames (pronounced “lahmes”), used by professionals to slash the surface of the dough. Slashing creates expansion zones and flavorful ridges of crust, as well as fanciful decorative patterns. (Our favorite lame, from Breadtopia, is super sharp and comes with five extra blades.)
And this past spring, while I was stuck at home, like thousands of others I began to grow my own #quarantinystarter and bake loaf after loaf of sourdough. This slightly more finicky dough takes some special handling and equipment, and I started investing a bit more in my technique and gear.
Here are a few gadgets that I’ve found help me make the whole process easier, faster, and more enjoyable, with more professional results.