If there’s a singular culinary wave that’s been washing over America since the start of the Covid-19 lockdown, it’s a newfound love for home-baked carbs.

A warm, fluffy slice of sourdough might not be as scientifically studied as exercise or meditation for alleviating our countless anxieties, but anyone who has torn into some tangy crust after a long virtual day at the office knows how cathartic home-baked gluten can be.

As many of us have come to find out in recent months, the joy we get from bread (and breadlike substances) isn’t just how good they taste: The simple act of baking can be a spiritual experience, taking your mind off the world around you to deal with one small living thing.

I’ve made a few decent loaves in my time, but I’ve also consulted our resident gear nerds, local bakers, yeast experts, and sourdough-worshipping Mother. Here are their favorite tools, tips, and recipes.

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Step 1: Check Your Gear

Photograph: KitchenAid

You probably have many of these items around already, but I was surprised at how many affordable and awesome breadmaking tools that were recommended by experts, friends, and coworkers that I hadn’t thought about. Here are some favorites. In the name of simplicity, I mainly link to good products on Amazon, but similar products are available elsewhere.

  • A marble breadboard ($40): A standard cutting board or countertop will often suffice for rolling and kneading dough, but this marble one keeps dough colder longer (ideal for pastries and other temp-sensitive doughs). Pop it in the fridge for 15 minutes before you use it, and you’ll have less of an issue with dough sticking, too. Better still, it comes with a lifetime warranty.

  • A digital food scale ($20): There are many great food scales (and even cheaper ones are good), but I like this Etekcity model. It comes with a nice removable stainless bowl to weigh out your dry ingredients.

  • A 10-inch bread knife ($15): There are many more expensive bread knifes, but this cheap serrated model, though not the prettiest, will do just fine. It’s made from Japanese steel, so it will stay sharper longer, and it comes with a lifetime warranty. I also like that it’s longer than the 8-inch chef’s knife I used to use before this arrived, making slicing bigger loafs a no-brainer. Just watch your fingers—these come sharp.

  • A 6 Quart Dutch Oven ($66): I’ve had a slightly smaller version of this Dutch oven in my pantry for years, and it’s probably my favorite pot in the house. I cook nearly everything in mine, but Dutch ovens are particularly great for baking because they allow you to develop a better crust—trapping steam beneath the lid during the initial part of the bake.

  • A Wood Dowel Rolling Pin ($25): Many people like more traditionally shaped rolling pins (with the two handles on either side), but I actually find I can provide more even pressure when using a big dowel. Tired of dough sticking? Try a cool marble roller like this one.

  • A 6-inch measured dough scraper and chopper ($15): A good bench scraper makes dough easier to cut, fold, and move around. This one is particularly useful, because it comes with both centimeter and inch-length measurements on the sides, for perfect portions.

  • Flexible silicone spatulas ($7): If you’re anything like me, you never have enough silicone spatulas. They’re great for scraping wet ingredients, super cheap, and it’s always good to have a few more around.

  • Stainless steel mixing bowls ($26): You probably have a good set of bowls around, but if you don’t, here’s a quality set of stainless ones for your dough-making adventures.

  • Silicone baking mats ($14): Last Christmas, my lovely Gran gave me a pair of these silicone mats to put under cookies, bread, and veggies in the oven. They make cleanup and spatula use so much easier, I’ll never go back to baking without them. You can go cheap: I’ve compared these Amazon Basics mats to the fancier Silpat brand ones my mom has, and there’s not enough of a difference to matter.

  • A bread lame to score your dough ($14): If you want to make prettier designs in the slices on top of your dough, try a lame (pronounced “luh-may”). They’re little handles that you can attach razor blades too, allowing you to make more precise incisions on your dough.

  • A bread proofing basket ($36): Ever wonder how people get such perfect swirly flour shapes on their bread? They use a proofing basket like this one! It’s not required, but it sure makes your loaves look pretty.

  • A KitchenAid Stand Mixer if you wanna get serious ($279): The most expensive tool you might want if you’re really getting into the baking hobby is a proper stand mixer. There are many brands, but KitchenAid’s mixers have stood the test of time—literally. My Mom has used hers for decades with minimal maintenance, as have most amateur bakers.

  • You don’t need a bread machine: This was the one tool that was almost universally panned by amateur bakers and experts alike. A few people liked them, but the general consensus was that they’re not necessary unless you’re super strapped for time and need to constantly feed lots of people—and the bread it makes isn’t as good as the stuff you’d bake in an oven.

Step 2: Find Flour and Yeast

Photograph: Getty Images 

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