Some Very Useful Tools
There are some tools that are useful enough that I'd hate to do without them. Some are pretty common. But sometimes, people still ask me what a certain tool looks like. So... here, in no particular order, are some of my favorites. I suspect this page will grow until people tell me the pictures take too long to load.
Please remember that you can click on (almost) any of these images and see a larger version of the picture!
0Brød and Taylor Folding Proofer - Proofing and raising dough can be a real problem for people in colder climates and in colder months. A very good answer is the Brød and Taylor Folding Proofer. It folds into a compact package, and can proof a reasonable amount of dough. Well worth a look. We talk about it more in its review.
SuperPeel - a good while ago the good people at SuperPeel asked us to look at their SuperPeel. At the time, I was up to my ears in starting a bakery and while I looked at the SuperPeel, and while I liked the SuperPeel, I never wrote it up. I'm correcting that oversight now.
The SuperPeel is a scaled down version of a commercial oven loader. It is like a pizza peel, but it has a movable canvas belt on it that lets you pick up and deposit bread, pizza, and other things you want to bake quickly and easily. In a recent baking class, I had students make Pizza for lunch. We picked up fully loaded pizzas and deposited them in the oven on tiles without losing ingredients or deforming the pizzas. All the students are ready to go off and buy a SuperPeel for themselves. It's a great tool, and one we heartily recommend. I'd post a picture of my own, but my SuperPeel is showing wear and not really pretty. So, I "borrowed" a picture from the SuperPeel web site. If you go to their web site, you'll see pictures of new SuperPeels and some very nice videos of things you can do with a SuperPeel - I especially like the deep dish pizza movie - I can't wait to try that technique!
A Kneading Trough - The dough trough or kneading trough. This type of trough was sold by a local vendor for a number of years. It was, I am told, carved by a local American Indian tribe. The trough fits nicely over my sink, with one end catching on the lip under the window above the sink. It contains the mess of mixing and kneading, and minimizes cleanup. I should oil this poor thing more often than I do. You can find them being auctioned off on eBay. Similar troughs are made of metal, but I prefer wooden tools, by and large. I have tried, to no avail, to find a local supplier of these troughs in a selfish attempt to resell them. If you can't find a similar trough in your area, you might try looking on eBay and search for "dough bowl" or "dough trough". What is available will vary widely from day to day. (It's called a "Turban Squash", and I put in the trough to give the picture a bit more of a sense of scale.)
A Banneton - the banneton, or rising basket. These are available from many sources. Many specialty houses have them at prices starting at $20.00 each and going up from there. If you are in the USA, and near a Cost Plus Import house, Cost Plus usually has them for around $5.00. The liners are a bit weak. If you wash them, let them air dry, don't dry them in a dryer. The bannetons help shape the loaves, and leave a nice wicker pattern on them. The liner helps wick away moisture, which helps form a better crust. To prevent sticking, make sure you flour the liner.
The nice wicker patterns tend to be stronger before the dough is baked. Oven spring usually wipes out the pattern. However, if the dough was pretty much at its full rise, the pattern can remain. Here's a loaf of three-stage French bread ready to go into the oven, and a loaf of Bohemian Rye that's been baked.
Retarder - a device, often a refrigerator or walk in refrigerator, where bakers put dough in order to retard it. Retarding dough helps develop the bread's flavor and can help control the process timings. If you have a wine cooler with a bit of free space, the temperatures are likely to be just where you want them to be. If you want to have a retarder and you are on a budget, a used upright freezer (look at The Thrifty Nickel or other local "bargain" papers, or CraigsList for inexpensive used freezers) with an external thermostat, available from brewing supply houses, can work very nicely.
Proofer - a device that holds dough at an elevated temperature, usually with controlled humidity, to speed the dough's rise. Overused, this can cause problems due to too fast a rise depriving bread of taste.
Proofer - retarder - a device that combines the functions of a retarder and a proofer. These are usually controlled by some sort of automation so the dough can be held at low temperatures for a certain length of time and then at higher temperatures to complete the rise.
A Dough Whisk These are often sold as a Danish or Amish Dough Hook, I was initially skeptical about this. Many of these have a wooden handle which prompted me to say, "Yeah, someone bent up a coat hanger and stuck it in a broom handle and called it a baking tool!"
My mind was changed when Becky, our pastry chef, gave me one for my birthday. At that point, I had to try it out. And nothing pulls dough together as quickly. It's great. We use them in class and students ask if I'm selling them - and I should start stocking them! The finish on the wooden handled one wears out, so we've been buying ones like this with a stainless steel handle.
A week or so after a class a student called and told us a story - he'd bought a dough whisk. He loved pasta salads but always smushed the peas. The dough whisk let him blend in the peas without smushing them.