People have been baking sourdough for thousands of years, and they used only very primitive tools. But humanity has a way of improving upon ideas, so fast forward a couple thousand years and now we have everything you need to make bread baking easier and more delicious! As a beginner, you may want to pick up the basics and then move toward more specialized tools once you're ready to perfect your bread and other baked goods.
A nice, large, sturdy mixing bowl is a must-have for combining your ingredients. Stainless steel and wood make great choices. Plastic will do the job as long as it's thick enough. Glass and ceramic can work too, but make sure it's thick enough to take a beating. You'll want to stay away from metals other than stainless steel because the acid in the sourdough can react with the metal and leach toxins into your dough, however it's uncommon to find non-stainless steel metal mixing bowls.
Most bakers have a nice, sturdy mixing spoon. This can also be made from stainless steel, wood, or plastic. Again, make sure it's not flimsy, otherwise you may end up with a broken or bent spoon. If you're an extreme minimalist, you can always mix the dough with your hands instead!
A bench scraper is an invaluable tool for shaping loaves, picking up your dough from your work surface, and it makes cleanup a breeze!
Loaf pans are perfect for beginners because they give the dough support. This is helpful because it takes some practice to get the shaping of free-form loaves right, and until then, you can still have a well-risen loaf! Loaf pans also help you make the best sandwich bread, of course.
Most people have a baking sheet in their home and that will do just fine for baking bread. If you add a pan halfway filled with water on the bottom rack as you preheat your oven, it will help create the steam that makes a golden brown and crispy crust. Just make sure to (very carefully) remove the pan of water halfway through the bake.
A Dutch oven creates an incredible golden brown, crispy crust due to its ability to trap heat and steam. You'll want to put it in the oven as you preheat it, then set the dough in carefully and gently. An easy way to accomplish this is to set your dough on some good quality parchment paper and then lower the dough in by holding on to the parchment paper.
This is another great choice to accomplish a delicious golden brown and crispy crust. Place it on the middle rack of your oven while it preheats. If you also add a pan halfway filled with water on the bottom rack as you preheat your oven, it will help create the steam that makes a golden brown and crispy crust. Just make sure to (very carefully) remove the pan of water halfway through the bake.
If you're an experienced baker, you can take your bread out of the oven and knock on the bottom. If it has a hollow sound, it's done. If you'd rather take away the guesswork, you can insert an instant-read thermometer into your bread and when it's 190 degrees, it's done!
Optional, but Good to Have
For the best accuracy, you'll want to advance to weighing your ingredients. A digital scale will give you an accurate reading quickly!
A proofing basket with a liner allows for your dough to rise and expand to its full potential because it won't be pressed up against a hard surface. It also makes for an easy transfer to your Dutch oven, baking stone, etc. Flip the dough as gently as you can onto your baking surface so you don't pop any gas bubbles.
Scoring is for more for just decoration, although it does make your bread look beautiful! This is what you do to control the gas release when your dough is placed in the hot oven. Without scoring your bread, the gases get trapped in the dough until they explode, which can result in your bread puffing up like a balloon in one area and the rest may deflate. While it's possible to use a very sharp kitchen knife, a lame helps you get the angle just right.
The Brod & Taylor folding proofer takes a lot of the guesswork out of timing your rise. Once you know how long it takes your bread to rise at a certain temperature, it will take that amount of time (or close to it) every time! It also helps create a warm environment for your your dough and starter in in the fall and winter months.
Butter muslin is very versatile in the world of fermentation. Most commonly it's used as a breathable cover, and this is the case for your sourdough starter. It's also good for covering your dough when it's rising to preventing it from drying out (just either be sure to flour the dough generously if you're not using a proofing basket).
A cotton bread bag allows your finished loaf to breathe, which keeps it fresh and prevents mold from forming. If your kitchen is pretty dry, you may want to keep your bread (inside the bread bag) in a cupboard or bread box to prevent too much moisture from escaping.
Cooling your bread on a cooling rack allows it to cool faster and also prevents it from being gummy and developing mold. It may be tempting to eat your bread while it's still hot, but you'll be happier with the texture if you wait at least an hour to allow it to cool. It's also best to cool your bread directly on the cooling rack because your Dutch oven/baking stone will retain heat and prevent moisture from escaping.
Other Tools and Gadgets
Bread baking can turn into an obsession and there are countless tools that will help you create that perfect loaf of bread, pastry, cake, etc. There are straight-sided containers for proofing, bread knives, infrared thermometers, brick ovens, and so much more. But this list will get you off to a good start!
About the Author: Carly
More from the Cultures for Health Blog
Choosing Equipment for Baking Sourdough
Developing Your Sourdough “Sixth Sense”
Skip the Store-Bought Kefir – Make Your Own Fun Flavors!
Kids’ Kombucha Experiment
Blog Post: A Cultured Food Book for Every Fermenter
Blog Post: 100% Rye Sourdough Baking
Blog Post: Cheesy, Sprouted Sourdough Rolls: Monkey Bread Style