Get started with sourdough baking recommendations.
You can make sourdough bread with the equipment and utensils already in your kitchen but getting some basic tools will no doubt make things easier and more consistent.
Here’s a list of the bits I use, I’ve included links to these recommended products on Amazon if you want to check them out. If you buy through the links I’ll receive a commission which I really appreciate – and won’t cost you a penny more!
You can get started in sourdough baking without any specialised equipment. But after a few bakes, you’ll want to get some tools of your own. Quality sourdough baking equipment will improve the consistency of your favourite bread whilst making it easier and less time-consuming. You can see my home baking equipment guide here, but before you do, let’s discuss the topic of using a Dutch oven for baking sourdough.
Before you start baking, you’ll have to decide what you will use to bake your bread. You can either use a Dutch oven or bake it in the oven directly. A Dutch oven creates a mini baking chamber inside of your oven. With the lid on, it provides a tight seal enclosure, so the dough remains moist in the early stages of baking. For an explosive oven spring (an extra rise in the oven), the crust area needs to be moist to rise. Bakers not using a Dutch oven will spray the oven with a water mister or add water to a preheated tray at the bottom of the oven. Many bakers find that adding sufficient water to aid the oven spring will cool the oven so much so that it struggles to return to temperature, thus reducing the amount of oven spring. Most domestic ovens aren’t well-sealed, so the steam leaks out, meaning extra steam must be created. The bread bakes in a better-sealed environment with a Dutch oven, so less water is required. The downside of Dutch ovens is that standard ceramic versions discolour when preheated, so the dough is baked from cold. Baking in a cold Dutch oven means the temperature of the baking chamber slowly increases. This can be handy if you bake in a cooler climate as slightly under-proofed bread will enjoy a more significant oven rise. But suppose you are after a thinner and improved crust texture and control. In that case, the bread should be in immediate contact with the desired baking temperature.
Cast iron Dutch ovens or bread pans such as the Challenger can be preheated to offer a superior baking environment. The Challenger is bigger, allowing more choice in the type and size of bread you can bake. That said, they are more pricy if you are just getting started or a casual baker.
Baking without a Dutch oven means you’ll need to place an upturned baking tray or a baking stone to preheat in the oven. The dough is then slid onto the surface for baking which means heat is conducted directly into the bread. This solution provides excellent oven spring, lowers the risk of underbaked bases and has a bigger surface for baking larger loaves. Depending on the size of your oven, you may be able to bake several at a time.
Dutch oven baking is not a realistic solution if you want to make several loaves or sell your bread. Owning many Dutch ovens takes up a lot of space and is expensive to collect. Simply using a baking stone to bake sourdough is cheaper. You may also need to use a baking stone with your Dutch oven if you suffer from underbaked bases or poor oven spring.
The downsides of baking on a baking stone are:
There are ways to improve your oven to make it more suitable for baking sourdough bread. See my upgrading an oven to make bread post to see the tricks and tools I use.
To summarise, there are pros and cons for each. The best way to bake bread is in a professional deck oven, but of course, it’s not a realistic investment for most home bakers! Dutch ovens are more beginner-friendly and provide fewer options for bread shapes. However, they are a great way to get started! You can get a decent one like the Uno Casa I recommend for around $50 (£40). Prices can stretch to several hundred bucks if you get a Challenger bread pan or a Le Cruset. If you already have a Dutch oven, you’ll be able to use it for bread if the manufacturing guidelines state that it is suitable for baking at 230C (450F).
I first embarked on my sourdough journey when I used to prepare par baked sourdough boules in a supermarket bakery I worked in. We’d plonk the frozen bread on a tray and bake for 25 minutes. The taste was pleasant, but not remarkable and I quickly forgot about sourdough.
A few years later I went to an artisan bakery and took a sourdough loaf home. When I cut into it I was amazed at the strength of flavour, a compassionate combination of acid and warmth, yet frustrated that I’d underappreciated sourdough bread for so long.”
Sourdough Beginner FAQ’s
Some bakers master baking sourdough on their first attempt. But this is rare so if you give it a go and it doesn’t work out the first time, don’t let it put you off. To help you there are several articles in this sourdough section that will accelerate your theory and practical knowledge of sourdough. Most people get something they are happy with after the third or fourth attempt.
Not at all. The reason I use the fridge in many of my sourdough recipes is twofold:
Yes! Sourdough bread baking is usually proofed in a banneton. A baking tin can be used for sandwich-style bread. It will be a little bit denser than yeast made bread, but much more flavoursome.
Pop all the ingredients in the maker and mix. Leave to rest inside for 5 hours and then commence with the rest of the program and, a breadmaker might do the work for you. But it might not.
Sourdough is unpredictable so I wouldn’t recommend making it in a breadmaker, if you can start each stage manually you might have some joy.
The best way to store sourdough bread is wrapped in a clean tea towel and placed in a cupboard or bread bin. This allows it to breathe a little whilst slowing down the oxygen flow which would make it go stale quickly.
With so many choices of ingredients available at supermarkets and many disagreements that occur on social media groups, it’s hard to choose which ingredients you should be using in your starter and to make your bread. Here are my recommendations and a little about the science behind my choices.
Bread flour containing 11-12.5% protein is ideal. All-purpose flour can be used, especially if it has a similar amount of protein. Still, for beginner sourdough bakers, bread flour provides more reliable results. With experience, you might want to try making sourdough with flour that was less protein. With weaker flour, you’ll increase the fermentation time to encourage the damaged protein to repair itself. If the flour is extra high strength for baking, 14% upwards, the bread can sometimes be dense and chewy if it’s not used correctly in high-hydration doughs, so it is best to swerve if you are new to sourdough.
High protein flour is ideal for use in a starter as it contains more minerals for the bacteria to consume. Organic flour also has more microflora which accelerates gas production and provides a more robust depth of flavour – but it isn’t essential.
Rye flour is an excellent addition to sourdough. I recommend switching 10-20% of the white flour used to refresh your starter with rye flour. The reason for this is the ash content of rye flour is higher, which means it supplies lots of nutrients and minerals for the microflora to consume. The result is a more active starter. Making 100% rye flour starters is tricky as rye contains pentosan proteins instead of gluten to trap gas and rise. This means it has a different behaviour when used in sourdough, which takes a bit more work to master.
Many bakers like to change the flour in an existing starter but often find that it degrades. This is because the bacteria and enzymes that control the ecosystem of the starter culture need to adapt to the new ingredient. After a couple of sluggish days and several refreshments, the starter will recover, and its vibrancy will be restored!
Whole grain flour variations such as wholemeal, spelt, and rye makes excellent and healthy sourdough bread but is harder to make. Master making white sourdough loaves to start with, then experiment with whole grain flours.
Tap water is all I ever use in my bread making. High quantities of chlorine in your water can kill the helpful bacteria and slow down your yeast production. If you believe this to be the case, try a change to bottled. The temperature of the water should be cool, ideally 18-20C (64-68F). Ice-cold water can be used if it’s really warm in your kitchen. If the room is cold, you can use warmer water. This is a relatively simplistic overview of controlling dough temperature yet sufficient to get started. For optimum dough temperature control, read my guide on desired dough temperature.
I use sea or kosher salt in most of my bread, preferably small grains if you find them without additives. Table salt contains anti-caking agents, which can affect the structure of the bread. I have never noticed a difference when I’ve used table salt. I just prefer to keep my ingredients as clean as possible.
You only need four ingredients to make sourdough bread; flour, water, salt and a sourdough starter. As a starter is made from flour and water, it’s effectively three! There is no requirement to make sourdough bread any more complicated by adding extra ingredients. It’s fantastic without anything else. However, you might like to experiment with different flours and extra ingredients to explore new flavours and textures. Popular additions include; olive oil, seeds, nuts, beer, malt, dried fruit, chocolate and ancient grains such as spelt and buckwheat. But, changes in the proofing time and temperatures can also bring about alternate flavours, textures and aromatics. See my upgrading your sourdough bread guide.