7 Tools You Need to Start Baking Sourdough
There's a lot of conflicting information about how to get into baking sourdough bread floating around the internet, but most of it points to a kind of discipline that can scare off new bakers. If you're already wary of baking and pastry, like me, the idea of going onto a forum where sourdough obsessives chat about hydration percentages is intimidating. The daily feedings of your sourdough starter! The 48 hours making of bread process! It's a lot to take in. The Sourdough Lifestyle feels like as much responsiblity as adopting a dog. Is there even a way to do it without committing your whole life to artisan bread baking?
Of course, sourdough bread has been made for centuries before the internet existed, and sourdough starter is actually an incredibly forgiving thing once you get it going. You can get as far into the details of temperature and specialty flours as you want, but if you're just someoone who wants to make a nice loaf of bread every once in a while, that's a totally feasible task. If you keep your starter in the fridge, you only need to feed it once a week (dump out about half the starter and add a roughly equal quantity of flour and room temperature water to it, stir, that's it) rather than twice a day. You don't need any specialty equipment, really, but there are definitely some tools that will make your life easier when you're beginning to make sourdough
Things You Actually Need:
You probably already have several, if not all of these, in your home kitchen already. If not, these are the items that are pretty essential to starting your sourdough career.
Clean Glass Jar
This can be a Mason jar, a Weck jar, or whatever other glass jar you have floating around your house. Technically, you can use all kinds of containers for your suordough starter, but a clear jar is nice because it allows you to easily track how quickly and how much your starter has risen, which is helpful for seeing when it's strong enough to use to bake bread with. A quart jar is ideal, but whatever you use, make sure it's big enough for the starter to have room to grow.
I know this isn't the first time you've heard about how much easier it is to use a kitchen scale to measure ingredients for baking, but let this be a reminder that they are very, very useful. Flour and water are the main ingredients you'll be using in baking loaves of sourdough, and flour is notoriously difficult to measure by volume, since packing it into a cup measure can result in wildly different measurements. A scale will give you precision, which can be really helpful in baking.
When you're adding water to your flour, or measuring the sourdough starter, knowing how hot it is can help you make adjustments in how long things will take. An instant read thermometer like this one is ideal for quickly and accurately measuring how hot something is, rather than you just guessing what "room temperature" could mean.
Flour, Lots of It
This might seem obviously, but baking bread means you'll be using a lot of flour. You can experiment with what works best for you and doesn't break your budget, but in general, unbleached bread flour is a good bet, and whole wheat is particularly good for sourdough starters.
Things That Are Nice to Have:
Once you move from beginner to intermediate sourdough baker, depending on how often you're doing it and how much your kitchen space and budget allows, it might be worth it to pick up some of these more specialized baking tools.
Dough Scraper or Bench Scraper
A dough scraper tends to be a piece of curved plastic that's designed to help scoop things out of the bowl and will go a long way towards coaxing sticky dough out of wherever it's resting. A bench scraper is a flat piece of metal with a handle which is useful for sectioning dough and lifting off of a counter or cutting board. Both can be a real help for handling dough.
When you're baking boules of sourdough, you want to make slashes at the top of the loaf before it goes in the oven to let steam escape. A bread lame knife is basically a razor blade on a handle that allows you to control those slashes really finely. You can do he job with kitchen shears or a serrated bread knife, but a lame comes in handy for executing those fine cuts.
A Benneton Basket is a bowl designed for dough to proof in. Of course, you can use any mixing bowl you have on hand, but Benneton bowls are helpful because they wick moisture away from the surface of the dough which helps get that crispy outside crust when you're baking a loaf of bread. Many of them also come with an elastic cloth cover, sort of like a shower cap for bread, to easily cover the dough. (You can also use a clean, floured kitchen towel).