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Making your own bread can seem intimating at first - all that kneading, rising, proofing. But it doesn’t have to be that hard. Yes, making bread from scratch can be a day long process, but there is an alternative. No-knead bread recipes allow you to skip some of the hard work and fit breadmaking into your daily routine with just a few easy steps and a few key tools. In my opinion, the results are just as delicious.
First, let’s talk method. No-knead bread uses a long rising time and a wet dough to produce bread that comes pretty darn close to bread cooked in a more laborious fashion. Recipes for no-knead bread can call for letting the dough sit out for anywhere from 3 to 18 hours, giving the enzymes more time to do their thing. The book we use, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, has you place the dough in the refrigerator, where the yeast will continue to work until you pull it out to bake a loaf (and the flavor will deepen over time while stored). The dough will be stickier than you might expect, but with a little bit of sprinkled flour and quick moves you can get it from container to pan pretty easily.
Note: For an explanation of how this process works, read this article in Serious Eats. While this article focuses on the use of a cast iron dutch oven to produce a moist environment (which really works quite well) you can also achieve that environment by heating up a pan underneath where you will bake your bread and pouring water into the pan right as you load your dough into the oven.
Second, let’s talk recipes. The easiest way to start making bread is to use no-knead recipes like those in the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day book. But you don't have to stop there. If you keep your eye out for recipes that use similar methods you'll find you have lots of options to choose from. Check out their follow up book on Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day, or try this Crusty Whole Wheat recipe from King Arthur Flour (or one of the many others on KAF's website!).
Third, let’s talk equipment. Making bread is a heck of a lot easier if you have a few pieces of equipment to help the process along. A stand mixer, like a Kitchen Aid, makes the whole process very easy. But beyond the mixing you’ll also want to be able to easily store, handle, and bake the bread. To get you started, I suggest you invest in a small handful of items.
A dough rising container – especially for the Artisan Bread in 5 Recipes, you’ll want a container to store your dough for both the initial rising period the up to 2-week refrigerator storage period. The container should have a loose fitting lid, and the ideal starter size is probably a six quart size like this Round Storage Container from Cambro. This will run you about $14.00.
A flour shaker - There is no way to make bread without having an ample supply of flour, and working with these wet doughs means you’re going to need that flour easily on hand. In fact, do not attempt breadmaking in any form without a flour shaker! This Winware Stainless Steel Flour Shaker comes in at less than $5 and has a handle, which I very much appreciate when my hands are covered with dough.
A good loaf pan - If you want to bake your bread in a loaf pan, its worth purchasing a nice quality pan that has non-stick qualities like these simple Wilton loaf pans (these are a longer variety which we like for making a loaf that will last all week). You can purchase 2 for under $15.00.
A proofing basket - If you want to make a “boule” – a rustic rounded loaf, you’ll want a proofing basket or “brotform”, which you can get in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some come with linen liners, but we use ours without a liner (just make sure to use plenty of flour with the wet no-knead dough!). These Round Banneton Bread Proofing Baskets also help to create that spiraled look on the flour on the outside of your bread. (under $20.00)
A bench scraper – this tool is valuable for many more tasks than breadmaking, but for breadmaking it can be used to scoop and shape the loaf and clean the flower off the counter better than most other implements. You can get a decent Stainless Steel Bench Scraper for around $5.00!
A baking stone - you have two options for cooking a round loaf – you can use a dutch oven as described in the Serious Eats article mentioned above, or you can cook it on a stone. We love our pizza stone and use it for all sorts of baked goods, and always use it for round loaves. The Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day uses directions for this method, having you place a roasting pan on the lower rack to put water into for moisture when cooking. You can go with rectangular or circular, and you’ll find stones, like this Pizza Stone by Pizzacraft, average around $25 (but you’ll use this for other things too, like, um, pizza).
If you bought all of these basic pieces of equipment, you’d end up spending about $85 to get fully set up to make your own bread. Spread over the many years you’ll benefit from these tools, and the many hundreds of loaves you'll make, we think it’s a worthy investment.
In our next post, we’ll talk about key ingredients to make your breadmaking even more scrumptious.
Let us know how it goes!