I only want to mention a few things here though in time this list may grow to a more complete guideline. For the most part we are dealing with only four ingredients: water, flour, salt and yeast. Knowing what you’re looking for will save you some time and trouble.
If its good enough to drink, its good enough to eat. Don’t get fancy. That said, some people like to re-activate dried sourdough starter with distilled water to keep the starter in a “pure” medium. This is fine, but its maybe too much trouble for bread baking. It’s been said that bread is like solid beer, and in brewing the water used contributes greatly to the beer’s character. For ease, let your breads water character flow freely from the tap in your kitchen.
There are too many options here so lets keep it simple:
Bread flours have reasonably high protein levels, into the 14% range at times, and are great for baking bread (duh). In some respects it is also a good beginner flour as it “sets up” in a more manageable way in my opinion than “all purpose” type flours. I am, however, not convinced that it makes better bread in all circumstances, but this is open to speculation. King Arthur Bread Flour is readily available, and I have bought bulk (50# bags) bags of others in the past labeled as either Bread Flours, or High Gluten Flours. I have also used White Lily Bread Flour with decent results.
All Purpose Flour
The All Purpose Flour that I’m talking about here has a protein level in the 11% range. There are All Purpose Flours with much lower protein levels and these should be avoided. Try to find King Arthur All Purpose Flour, or if you have a Trader Joe’s nearby, their AP Flour makes wonderful bread. I started learning to bake rustic hearth breads with bread flour but at least for the moment am finding better tasting results with All Purpose.
If you get into pizza baking big time, you might want to try out some 00, like this Caputo flour. It’s expensive, but sometimes there’s a deal to be had.
For now these will appear on an as need basis.
This get’s simple. Do not use iodized table salt. It tastes like iodine and I have never found a baker favoring the flavor of iodine over a decent salt.
You can find this in bulk in a lot of stores that deal in reasonable amounts of bulk items. Or order it. I buy it a half pound to a pound at a time and it costs a couple of bucks. In the grocery store it is labeled in a small bottle as “Real Salt” and is horribly overpriced.
This is marketed as Celtic Sea Salt a lot, and in my opinion this is about as good as it gets. One problem though, do not feed it to people with shellfish allergies as it is not a processed salt and does contain trace shellfish. But damn, it’s good.
Here I’m referring to commercial yeast, not sourdough “yeast”/starter/leaven. We’ll use commercial yeast in all of our non-sourdough style breads. I recommend the instant variety over the active dried variety. First, they are both dried and inactive, but more importantly instant yeast is made in smaller granules, and activates not only faster, but in high hydration recipes requires no proofing in water before using. The local grocery stores here sell a 4 oz. jar called “Fast Rise Yeast” for about $3.50 and it will last a long time. You can also buy SAF Instant Yeast from Amazon in a pound pouch, but unless you bake a lot, and I mean a lot, you might not be able to use a pound fast enough….seek out smaller amounts.
If you use active dry yeast, you need to multiply the amount called for in the recipes by 1.3!