Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Most sourdough bread can be made completely by hand, without the need for an expensive stand mixer. Still, nevertheless, there are numerous tools essential to the practice, and others that will simply make your sourdough baking better or easier.

I’ve put together a list of what I consider some of the most important tools in my sourdough toolkit. (To be clear, though this collection is sourdough-focused, many of these items are useful no matter what sorts of bread you bake!)

Scales

The one essential tool for any bread baker is a precise digital scale—one that reads in 1-gram increments and is accurate to within ±2 grams. And preferably one that is high-capacity, meaning it can weigh up to 10 pounds or more; not only will that allow you to scale up your doughs to multi-loaf amounts, but it also leaves extra capacity to cover the extra weight of the containers you mix your doughs in. Here are our recommendations for the best kitchen scales for bakers.

It’s also nice to have a pocket scale that can accurately weigh small-quantity ingredients like salt, yeast, or sugar. While larger digital scales usually read in 1-gram increments, they are far less accurate when it comes to measuring small amounts—less than five grams or even fractions of a gram—and they sometimes won’t even register changes to the weight until you exceed a certain threshold. Pocket scales often don’t have the high capacity of larger scales, but they are far more accurate with smaller amounts. Most are inexpensive, so an easy addition to a bread baker’s toolkit. There are a lot of them out there, but this one from AWS has served me well for years.

Serious Eats / Emily Dryden

Dough Whisk

While you can certainly mix your dough using your hands or a wooden spoon, my go-to mixing tool for sourdoughs is a Danish dough whisk. This stiff metal curlicue-on-a-stick is far better than any other tool for turning a mass of wet and dry ingredients into a uniform dough. It can mix drier dough as efficiently as a balloon whisk can do with more liquid ones while being thin and open enough to not get glommed up with dough. I’ve written extensively about my love for the Danish dough whisk in many places, including here at Serious Eats

Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Starter Containers

Most home sourdough bakers proof their starters in tall, narrow containers since it makes it easy to observe the expansion of relatively small quantities of starter so that you can know when it is ready to use in a dough. (I, like many other bakers, wrap a rubber band around the container to mark the initial starter volume.) I prefer my starter containers to be straight- and smooth-sided, so it is easy to stir and remove the starter cleanly. You can certainly use mason jars or plastic deli containers to store and proof your starter, but I’m a big fan of these clear glass 3/4 liter Weck canning jars, along with matching plastic lids, to replace the all-too-easily broken glass lids they come with.

If you, like me, often feed and store your sourdough starter in small quantities between bakes so as to conserve flour, Weck also makes a mini, 5.4-ounce version of the same jar, with a smaller matching plastic lid.

Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Starter Proofer

While you can certainly proof your starter at “room” temperature, most kitchens are on the cool side, since the “ideal” temperature for a starter is between 75˚F and 85˚F. (At other times, kitchens can also be too hot for a starter, at least in mine in the summer months.) So it’s nice to have a dedicated proofer as a “home” for your starter so that it will proof at a consistent and optimal rate. While you can use a larger bread proofer to do this (more on which below), there are two small-footprint starter-specific proofers available, namely the Brod & Taylor Sourdough Home, and the Sourhouse Goldie. I’ve used them both, and both work well, though I am partial to the Sourdough Home because it can be set to any temperature, even colder ones, for those times you want to slow the starter down without putting it in the fridge, where temperatures can be a little too cool for short-term starter storage.

Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Instant-Read Thermometer

Sourdoughs are as sensitive to temperature as sourdough starters, so it’s useful to have a way to track the temperature of your dough and the ingredients that go into it. (One key bread-baking practice is setting your dough at a specific temperature at the start of proofing by raising or lowering the temperature of the water you use since that is usually the only component that can easily be adjusted up or down.) For this reason, every sourdough baker will want to have an accurate instant-read thermometer.

Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

Dough Proofer

Professional bread bakers use proofers to hold their doughs and loaves at the ideal temperature range (again, usually between 75˚F to 85˚F). For home bakers, there’s the Brod & Taylor Folding Proofer, a collapsible box that can hold a tub of dough or a couple of shaped loaves and keep them at a precise temperature, anywhere between 70˚F and 195˚F (provided ambient temperatures outside of the proofer are lower than the desired temperature—the Folding Proofer can only warm the bread, not cool it down if your kitchen is too hot).

Bench and Bowl Scrapers

A bench knife (or “scraper”) is another essential tool for working with dough, whether to divide larger quantities of dough into smaller ones, to move pieces of dough around, or to shape a dough piece into a loaf (not to mention cleaning the work surface of flour and stray bits of dough once you are done). You can find our recommendations for the best bench scrapers here

A flexible bowl scraper is also useful for sourdough baking, whether to help detach the dough from the sides of a bowl, or to fold the dough in the bowl. Here are our recommendations for bowl scrapers.

Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

Bannetons

While some sourdoughs are proofed and baked in loaf pans, most are “hearth” breads, baked freeform in a pot or on a hot baking stone. Hearth loaves are usually proofed upside-down in concave baskets known as bannetons (proofing them upside down helps retain the rounded shape of the loaf as it proofs). Bannetons come in various shapes: round for boules or oblong, for bâtards. And they can be made of many different materials—wicker, cane, paper pulp, or plastic, lined with cloth or not—but the best ones are able to wick away moisture from the outer surface of the loaf, to help form a skin and to ensure it comes out of the basket easily when it comes time to bake. Find our round-up of the best bannetons here.

Serious Eats / Jesse Raub

Shower Caps

A loaf needs to be protected from drying out as it proofs in a banneton. You can cover the banneton with a slip of plastic wrap or set the entire thing in a plastic bag, but many bakers like to cover the top half of the banneton with an elastic shower cap, preferably washable and reusable ones, like these.

Lame

Once a sourdough loaf is proofed and ready to bake, it needs to be scored, so that it expands fully and in an ordered, symmetrical way in the heat of the oven. While you can get away with using a sharp serrated knife to do this, most bakers use a dedicated tool known as a lame. Scoring bread dough cleanly and quickly requires an especially sharp tool, preferably one where the blade is easily replaced after just a few uses, and a lame is a double-edged disposable razor blade held on the end of a handle. We’ve got recommendations for the best lames here (both of which I personally use myself).

Serious Eats / Jesse Raub

A Dutch Oven or Dedicated Bread Vessel

Most sourdough loaves need two things for maximal oven spring, an open crumb, and a crackly, crisp crust: lots of heat under and around the loaf, and steam. While there are a variety of ways to get both, the simplest is to bake the loaf inside of a covered, heavy pot like a Dutch oven. By preheating the pot along with the oven, it pumps heat into the underside of the loaf, to cause it to spring up quickly. Covering the pot causes moisture in the exterior of the loaf to fill the surrounding area with steam, which keeps the crust soft during the phase of baking in which it is expanding. (Once the loaf has sprung fully, the lid is usually removed to allow the crust to brown and crisp.)

Just about any heavy pot large enough to hold the loaf comfortably will work, which is why a cast iron Dutch oven of at least five quarts works well. However, many bakers prefer to use dedicated bread vessels, which have features that make them easier to use and more effective. Some, like the Challenger Bread Pan (my favorite) and the Lodge Combi Oven have “lids” which make up the bulk of the device, so that once it is removed, the loaf is more fully exposed to the heat of the oven, for better browning. (The Challenger is also large and rectangular so that it can hold loaves of many shapes and sizes easily.) Others, like the Fourneau Bread Oven, are like miniature bread ovens, with a door on one end for inserting the loaf. You can read my recommendations for dedicated bread pots here.

Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Bread Sling

While you could just invert the loaf directly into your Dutch oven or bread pot, and then score it, you risk burning yourself and/or missing the mark, leaving you with a misshapen loaf. It’s better to invert the loaf onto a sling of some kind, score it, and then use the sling to gently guide the loaf into the pot. While many bakers just use a sheet of heat-resistant parchment paper cut or folded into a long rectangle, I prefer to use a dedicated bread sling, which is a reusable slip of heatproof material much like a Silpat, cut to hold the loaf perfectly, with just enough extra length to provide two handles at either end. You can find my review of my favorite bread sling right here.

Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Heatproof Gloves

Moving a heavy, blazing-hot Dutch oven or bread vessel in and out of the oven is a risky business without some serious heat protection for your hands. While you can use a pair of folded, heavy towels, you might want to invest in some heatproof grill gloves, which will protect your hands more fully. We’ve got a roundup of the best grill gloves right here.

Serious Eats / Jesse Raub

Bread Knife

Once the bread is out of the oven (and cooled down—don’t cut into your sourdough before it cools to room temperature, or the open crumb you’ve worked so hard to achieve will smear and collapse!), you’ll need a razor-sharp knife to do it justice, especially given the crusty crust most sourdough have. One of the best (and least expensive) bread knives out there is the Tojiro Bread Slicer.

Serious Eats / Jesse Raub

A (Fancy!) Toaster Oven

One of the best things about sourdough bread is how much longer it stays moist and tender compared to yeasted bread (thanks to the organic acids produced during fermentation). But even sourdough breads eventually go stale, which is why you might want to consider upgrading to a Balmuda toaster oven. This amazing device uses a burst of steam to tenderize and crisp up even rock-hard bread and pastries, and it even enhances fresh bread, for perhaps the best slice of toast you’ll ever have. Check out my review of the Balmuda right here

Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

FAQs

Is sourdough bread gluten-free?

While sourdough bread has less gluten in it than traditional yeast bread, it still has gluten and is not gluten-free. It is not recommended those with celiac disease eat sourdough bread unless it’s expressly labeled as gluten-free.

How do you make a sourdough bread starter?

You can find our sourdough starter recipe and guidelines here. The starter should take two weeks to get up and running before you can begin to make bread with it.

Why We’re the Experts

Andrew Janjigian is a frequent contributor to Serious Eats. He previously worked for America’s Test Kitchen. Andrew is working on an upcoming bread-focused cookbook and teaches baking classes at King Arthur Flour.

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