Making sourdough bread and trying to get really good at it has become a hobby and bit of an obsession over the past few years. Gaining skill and technique through a lot of practice is probably the most important piece, but being set up with the right tools is the place you have to start. I love baking because there is so little required other than the dough, but there are a few essential pieces I have found that make the bread-making experience not only easier but also produce better loaves. If you are looking to get into baking bread, especially sourdough, having these things on hand will totally change your bread game and help you bake like a pro...these and lots of practice!
1. Kitchen Scale
I have gotten the best bread results when measuring by weight, not volume. Having a kitchen scale is useful for so many things, but I think my favorite use it for baking bread. Going by weight allows the recipe to remain the same, even when you change the kind of flour used, as some more whole grains are heavier than white flour, and overall the consistency is better. All of the recipes and guides for bread I've found use weight, so that's the method I have used the most, and I don't think I'll ever go back!
2. Mixing bowls or plastic food service containers
If you are just starting out making bread, mixing your dough in clear plastic containers, like a Cambro, can be really helpful. Since the goal is to manage fermentation for a proper rise, being able to see the dough in action is extremely useful for gauging when the dough is ready, and they are usually marked for volume so you can see how much it has risen. If you have been baking a while and feel like you have a handle on when dough is proofed enough, then stainless steel or glass bowls work great for mixing and proofing dough.
3. Bench Scraper and Dough Scraper
Whether you are dividing your dough into loaves or scraping bits of dough and flour off of your counter, having a bench scraper (aka bench knife) around is extremely handy for making bread. It makes clean up easier, and you are able to flip, turn and handle your dough without touching it too much, leaving in lots of the air you built up in fermentation. I like mine that is stainless steel with a wooden handle, but there are all-metal or even rubber-handled varieties out there to suit your taste.
Also known as a banneton or proofing basket, a brotform is used during the second stage of fermentation to give your bread shape as it rises. You line them with a cloth, so the dough comes out easily, and it keeps the shape of the basket you are using. I usually make boules, or round loaves, when I bake bread, but there are longer, rectangular baskets for making different shapes of loaves like batards.
5. Linen, flax or cotton cloth (clouche)
Used to line your proofing baskets, cloths that are made from natural fibers and are easy to clean are perfect to keep your dough from sticking to the basket. They also help to prevent the dough from drying out when left to ferment, and to shape loaves that aren't risen in a basket, such as baguette. I use cotton tea towels, but you can buy cloth specially made for proofing bread, usually made of flax or linen, which is known as clouche.
6. Bread Lame
There are several tools that can be used to score bread, which is making slashes in the top to allow for a good rise in the oven. Some use single razor blades, or very sharp serrated knives. I, however, have found the best results when I use a bread lame. This is essentially a double-sided razor attached to a handle, giving you extra control when scoring the top of your loaves. I tend to be able to do more elaborate designs, and generally get deeper slashes, ensuring the best oven rise possible.
7. Dutch oven or "combo" cooker
In a home oven, it can be hard to create steam to get that moist inside and golden, crisp crust that you would find in bread baked in a commercial bread oven. Since you likely don't have steam injection at home, you can duplicate the results in a dutch oven/combo cooker, which traps in steam during the first part of baking, then when you remove the top during the second baking stage, you can get a nice, chewy crust without drying out the loaf. You could
8. Baking Stone or Cast Iron Pizza Pan
If you are wanting to make any kind of bread other than a standard boule or batard, then having a baking stone will be essential. This can be used for baking baguette, fougasse, or other fancy loaves, as well as sourdough pizza, which I almost always make on bread day. I use a cast iron pizza pan, but a baking stone works great, too. If you are making baguette or another crusty loaf, you will need to place a pan with water in the lower shelf of the oven when baking to create steam, since it is not a closed vessel.
Since the best bakes happen when you put dough right onto a hot pan, using a peel is needed when baking with a stone or cast iron pan. This way, you can slide loaves of bread or pizza pies right onto the pan safely, and also take them out without having to remove the hot pan from the oven. There are beautiful wooden peels available, or you can use a stainless steel version. I tend to use a thin cookie sheet that doesn't have sides, which works pretty well if you are making pizza and don't have a fancy peel! Also, if you are making baguette, there are special wooden baguette boards you can get for handling and flipping those loaves so they keep their special shape. I haven't tried one yet, but I can't wait to do it.
10. Cooling Racks
Bread that is properly cooled stays fresh for longer...but I know it is so tempting to tear into a warm loaf of sourdough bread! If you can possibly wait, cooling on a cooling rack is the best way to make sure your bread comes to room temperature without getting soggy on the bottom, like it would if you just rested it on the counter or a tea towel. These are cheap and easy and totally worth it.
Other helpful tools, but not totally essential...
Great because they look super cool, and they are really helpful for mixing your dough together, dough whisks (the one pictured above is from the Brotform.com website, since I don't currently have one...) are a pretty nice tool to have in your bread-making kit. Also called a brodpisker, the Danish dough whisk is perfect for getting your dough really well mixed in the beginning stages of the bread, ensuring everything is well-incorporated and even, better than just a wooden spoon. Or if that isn't enough of a mixing tool, you could go with the stand mixer...
Stand Mixer with Dough Hook
I might be old fashioned, but I really like to mix my dough by hand. That being said, you may find it helpful when mixing your dough together to use a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment. This is especially true for enriched dough, like when making sourdough brioche or cinnamon rolls, when you would wnat to do a lot of mixing to incorporate the butter and other ingredients. This will make things easier, but I odon't have one, and unless you
Brine & Broth
I am a nutritionist in Southwest Wisconsin, focused on traditional, nutrient-dense foods. My goal is to provide you with simple and delicious recipes that fit into real life, and information for choosing healthful real foods. Enjoy!