Bread

10 Essential Tools for Making Sourdough Bread at Home

October 21, 2015

A tender crumb, a golden-brown crust, an intriguing smell, and an amazing taste—baking with sourdough is a project in craft, beauty, and nourishment, and mysterious blend of many conditions—the grain’s soil and natural environment, the premises where the grain was processed, the baker's environment and attitude, and, of course, the tools that are used in order to produce the best sourdough bread.

Here's what I use to make great-looking, delicious sourdough bread at home:

Jars

Wide-Mouth Glass Jars

When I made my first sourdough starter ever four years ago, observing all the bubbles along the sides and at the bottom of the jar was an inspiring experience. After all these years of baking, sourdough starter still amazes me every day with its growth, power, and resilience. Using glass jars to store your starter enables you to check on your starter’s activity. What's more, I like glass jars because they are easy to clean and are also a safe inert (that is, nonreactive) material to use. 

 

Dough scraper

Plastic Dough Scraper and Stainless Steel Bench Knife

These two are a must for efficient dough handling. With a plastic dough scraper, you can scoop the dough out of the bowl without deflating it too much and scrape the dough off your fingers (very handy when working with sticky flours like rye or einkorn). Before you use it, rinse it with water to prevent the dough from sticking to it. 

A bench knife is more robust than plastic scraper and it is used for lifting, moving, cutting, and pre-shaping the dough. Handling the bench knife is simple, only requiring a bit of practice; start using it and you will soon handle dough like a ninja. Wash them well after each use and store until the next baking. 

 

Scale

Digital Scale

"Freestyle" sourdough bread baking—that is, making the bread by feel rather than measuring the flour and water exactly—can be fun and very liberating to express yourself. However, if you’re searching for consistency in your baking, an electronic digital scale is worth your money. I like to measure everything that goes into my bread, from flour, water, and salt to sourdough starter and other add-ons. A few things to remember while measuring: Flour is considered the main ingredient in sourdough bread baking; the proportion to flour of all the other ingredients is called the baker’s percentage, and the water-to-flour ratio is known as the dough's hydration level. 

When purchasing a digital scale, pay attention to the following features: It should be lightweight, sturdy, easy to clean, and able to hold at decent amount of weight. The number should be visible while a big bowl is on the scale. 

 

Cross-back linen apron

Apron

Handling dough can be very messy from time to time, requiring a frequent wash of your hands (especially if you also want to take photos of your new baking creation). If you are someone who feels you can never find a dishtowel when one is most needed, an apron is a way to go. Cotton or linen aprons are one of my favorite kitchen accessories, as they make me feel decisive, stylish, and like a wise, experienced housewife. Additionally, you can store tools in the apron's front pockets.  

 

Brotform  Brotform

Bread Rising Baskets (Bannetons or Brotforms)

Bread rising baskets are used to support the soft dough while it is rising; they help the loaves hold their shape and structure when you put them into the oven. I purchased my first bread rising basket a few months after my jump into sourdough baking. Before then, I improvised with different glass and plastic bowls, and while improvising can be a great temporary solution, the material of the container should allow the dough to breathe during its rise. Rising baskets can be found in different shapes (round, oval, oblong) and materials like cane, wicker, or wood-fiber. 

Before using the rising basket, sprinkle it with water and generously dust it with whole grain flours or line it with a kitchen cloth (which you also dust with flour). This will help flip the dough out cleanly.  

 

Pizza

Baking Stones or Steels

Remembering the taste of a pizza baked in wood-fired oven lead me to purchase a granite baking stone in the early months of my sourdough baking adventure. The main feature of a baking stone is that it mimics the effect of brick ovens by being able to regulate and hold a lot of heat evenly, which is perfect for pizza and bread baking, as it helps to yield a dark and crunchy crust. A baking stone should be warmed and cooled together with the oven to avoid thermal shock and fracturing of the baking stone or steel. Clay baking stones are often less expensive than granite ones. 

 

Peel

Dough Peel

When my first sourdough pizza ended up looking like a calzone, I realized I needed a pizza peel urgently. Whether you use it for pizza or bread, a dough peel (aluminium or wooden) will allow you to perfectly and quickly slide the dough onto the hot baking stone. Before putting a pizza on a peel, make sure you dust it with flour or cornmeal to prevent the dough from sticking to it. When sliding bread on a baking stone, you can also put a piece of parchment paper underneath it. Dust off or wipe your peel with a wet cloth after use. 

 

Focaccia

Simple Baking Tins and Trays

When I started with sourdough baking, I thought sourdough bread with crispy crust could only be baked in cast iron Dutch oven. I was wrong: Years later, I use baking tins and baking trays as much as Dutch oven. I like to choose between high-quality enamel and handmade ceramic vessels in different shapes and sizes. If taken care of properly, they will last a lifetime. 

I use tins to bake mostly sandwich and swirl breads, and trays for focaccias and cinnamon rolls. In order to get a crunchy crust when baking in tins and trays, introduce steam in the first minutes of baking by preheating another, separate tray on your oven's lower rack. When you load in your bread, throw some ice cubes or hot water on the tray. The water will evaporate and produce steam, and create a crunchier crust. 

 

Razor Blades

Cheap razor blades that can be purchased at any cosmetic or hardware store are an efficient tool for scoring (slashing) the bread before baking. By scoring the dough, you can spur your creativity by creating a signature bread decoration. But most importantly, you can control how, in which direction, and how much the dough expands in the oven. The expanding of the dough in the oven is also known as the oven spring. The depth and the angle of the scores you make will produce different results and will also affect the magnitude of the oven spring. 

If you find that holding the razor blade between your fingers feels too dangerous, mount it on a simple wooden handle (like a coffee stirrer, for example) or use any other scoring tool, like scissors or a very sharp knife. Scoring is the prettiest when the dough has been perfectly fermented. 

 

Cutting bread

Bread Knife

A uniform, nice-looking, and untorn slice of sourdough bread is what I imagine to be a perfect slice. Investing in a sharp bread knife with a serrated edge is something you will never regret buying. Your serving plate will look more delicious and charming.

Read to get baking? Get tips for maintaining your sourdough starter here or visit Natasa's blog, My Daily Sourdough Bread

Share your own sourdough bread baking tips with us in the comments! 

16 Comments

Ann W. December 4, 2017
A pair of really great Oven Mitts, especially if baking in a Dutch oven, takes a lot of the danger of burning yourself. The best I've found are the Cuinart Cotton Puppet Oven Mitt with Silicone Grips! They cover you forearms, aren't too stiff and the silicone handles the hottest 500 degree pots without feeling the heat at all.
 
Frederique M. May 5, 2016
I use my mother's chicken "rotissoire", a white polka-dot (mini mini dots) black metal oblong pan with hollows on the bottom used for baking chickens and I guess, small turkeys. It makes awsome bread when you bake it 20mins with the lid and 40mins without! Never burned, always great!<br />
 
Cynthia April 9, 2016
When baking in the Dutch oven, my loaves used to burn a little on the bottom. Now I put the pizza stone on the lower shelf of the oven, a couple inches below the DO. No more burning.
 
felisalpina October 22, 2015
When buying baking tins and trays, you still want to make sure they're acid proof. I've had one tin (yes, enamel and quite costly) going rotten because of sourdough. On the next purchase, the box said 'sourdough resistant'. It works.
 
Author Comment
Natasa D. October 22, 2015
Thank you for sharing your point of view and sorry to hear about your experience!
 
Tom October 21, 2015
I know it's hard to choose 10 essential tools because you know it's 20 :). Great article, helps to start somewhere! Thank you!
 
Author Comment
Natasa D. October 21, 2015
Tom, exactly!! :) :) Thank you for your opinion, I appreciate it, Natasa
 
Sarah October 21, 2015
I also like a large can of water. I keep it in the oven for steam when I bake
 
Author Comment
Natasa D. October 21, 2015
Yes, also very helpful, Sarah, I agree! I would include this into the baking stones part. One other way to create steam is by throwing ice cubes on a baking pan on the lower rack. Sometimes I find it easier if trying to avoid burns.
 
Smaug October 21, 2015
This stuff might be convenient, but it's miles from essential. You really should have a bowl, though.
 
Author Comment
Natasa D. October 21, 2015
Absolutely! I counted the bowl as default, like water and flour, salt and starter. It would be interesting to try mixing a dough without a bowl, like they used to do it in petrins, though. <br />What are favorite and essential tools? I love to hear about other bakers' experience and habits.
 
Smaug October 21, 2015
I'm kind of a minimalist as far as kitchen tools (I have enough woodworking tools to make up for it). I'm a perforated baking pan guy as far as pizza and bread in the home oven, which puts me at odds with the culinary establishment (a position I'm very comfortable with). One tool that's pretty essential to me is a seedling heating mat (from a nursery)- it warms doughs to a perfect rising temperature in my frigid winter kitchen. Also, I'm fond of spoons.
 
Annette April 9, 2016
hey Smaug, hit a restaurant supply store and pick up a pizza screen. They make the best pizzas. Many are snobs when it comes to pizza and won't use them. I have tried many, many ways to make a good pizza in my home oven, and the pizza screen was the answer! Give it a try!
 
Dennis O. October 21, 2015
I'm surprised you didn't mention a Dutch Oven. The best tool for getting a really nice, dark crust on a boule short of having a wood-fired oven
 
Author Comment
Natasa D. October 21, 2015
Hi, Dennis, thank you for taking time to share your thoughts! <br />Yes, it is true, by using dutch oven we mimic the conditions in professional baking ovens (which are usually equipped with steam injectors) by trapping the moisture that evaporates out of the dough in the first minutes of baking. Steam prevents the crust from sealing too early which leads to a crunchy crust. <br />At home, I often use baking stone for baking bread as well as I can't fit batards, fougasse, baguettes etc. into DO and it's great for pizzas too. But yes, like you mention, DO is the best for boules. <br />What kind of dutch oven do you use, cast iron one?
 
Ann W. December 4, 2017
Lodge L8DD3 5 quart flat topped Dutch Oven is still the best because you can bake in the shallow lid or inside the pot. When baking in the lid, after 30 minutes and removing, you expose the bread all around for a nice even crust, as opposed to cooking it inside the pot, which sometimes gives slightly more oven spring.