You don’t need any fancy equipment to make sourdough, but there are some things that I find incredibly helpful.
Firstly, please know that as long as you have hands and a bowl to mix your dough in, you can make sourdough.
Having said that however, having a Thermomix has proven to be a lifesaver for me in terms of preparing dough quickly and easily. I can make six dough at a time (which is what I do weekly) well within 40 minutes. I know that seems pretty fast and perhaps a touch unbelievable, but I have been doing this process for a long time so I don’t even need to think about it, and can go from one dough to the next quickly. I also prepare all my dough on “Day 1”, then bake them over the next two days. But more on that process later.
You can make all types of sourdough with just using your hands, but the one dough you will need a machine for – whether a Thermomix or stand mixer – is a brioche. Brioche dough is incredibly soft and beautiful, and trying to knead the dough yourself on a kitchen bench whilst incorporating butter is very challenging. So if you decide to tackle that, please use a Thermomix or stand mixer … you will enjoy the process so much more.
So in terms of sourdough equipment, this is what I use:
1 LITRE (MINIMUM SIZE) ROUND PLASTIC CONTAINER:
This is to house my starter in. I use a 1 litre plastic container as it is light (see here), because if I used glass and dropped it, then there is the potential to lose my starter if the container broke. I also prefer a round container as it is easier for me to stir my starter in a round direction, with finally scraping around the sides to clean the starter off it so that I can see what the starter is doing whilst it is in there. You will need the container to have a capacity of at least 1 litre, as I keep a base starter of 300g, which once fed 200g to activate will double in size and you don’t want the starter to overflow your container.
LONG HANDLED FLAT SPATULA
I use these spatulas to help stir my starter so that I can get to the base of the container (see here), and then also easily scrape the sides of the container once I’m done. I also find these are great at getting to the base of the Thermomix bowl if you are using a Thermomix. I have many of these spatulas and use them all the time so they never go to waste.
NON PERMANENT MARKER PEN
I use these pens to write on top of my plastic starter container the date I last fed the starter. I also mark the sides of the container of where the starter is sitting when it goes into the fridge, and also when it comes out of the fridge and I have fed it. This allows me to see what the starter is doing, and when it has doubled ready to be used for making bread. You can also use an elastic band around the container if you prefer, but you will still need a pen to mark dates on top of the starter container which is something I always recommend you do so you can keep track of when it was last used.
You can use any type of bread tins you have, but I prefer the Mackies tins which are Australian made (see here) and are commercial quality.
When I used to run my classes I bought the tins direct from the manufacturer in Sydney, but I don’t have a supply now, so in Perth you can buy them from All About Bread in Greenwood (see here). There is no need to grease Mackies tins, and the loaves will pop out easily once baked. The tins do not need to be washed, just wipe them out once they are cool, and store for the next time you use them. Mackies offer four basic tin sizes: Small 340g; Medium 450g; Large 680g; and Jumbo 900g (as a guide, the gram size relates to the end weight of a baked loaf … this is what All About Bread explained when I asked about the sizes).
I have been told that Kitchen Warehouse also has the same sized bread tins as Mackies which are made in Australia (see here). They look exactly the same as the Mackies tins but they are “uncoated” which I believe means they need to be greased first before using, and I am sure the staff there would be able to confirm that. Just be aware of that difference in case you use different tins as you don’t want your bread sticking. The most important thing to consider is that you want your bread to easily pop out of the tin you are using, so if in doubt, either grease or line your tin before using and decide if you are happy with it after your first bake.
For everyday loaves I use a Mackies small tin (340g) which holds up to 800g of dough and is regarded as a “standard” loaf; or you can put two standard loaves into their jumbo tin (900g), but it can be harder to bake bread evenly in the jumbo tin because of its size, which can potentially give you a slightly uneven bake. If you do use two loaves in the jumbo tin, then bake the bread for an extra 5 minutes, so 35 minutes in total.
I use freezer bags for storing unbaked dough when it is made and put into the fridge for resting, and then also for once it is baked and kept in either the pantry or the freezer.
OLIVE OIL DISPENSER
I use a Décor oil dispense which I love (see here).
These are a must and a priceless investment. If you have a Thermomix TM6 there are scales within the machine that will measure in single grams, but if you bake a lot digital scales are so handy to have as a standalone unit for everyday use, and will save you a lot of time fiddling around.
I have multiple scrapers, small and large, and use them for all sorts of things … they are especially useful for scraping flour off your benchtop before wiping down with the warm sponge cloth (saves dry flour getting caught in a wet sponge).
For spraying dough before baking – this helps to create steam in the oven, which is what commercial bread baking ovens do, and helps to create a lovely crust on your bread (see here).
NB: You may decide to use ice cubes and / or water in trays in your oven which also creates steam which will give you a good thick crust on your bread. Personally I find that quite messy to do, and as I prefer a thinner crust I am happy to spray my bread before placing into the oven which gives me the crust that I like (again this comes down to personal preference).
LARGE PLASTIC CONTAINER WITH LID
I use this for storing dough in tins or banneton (see here), whilst they are rising which stops the dough creating a “skin” and drying out which can affect their ability to rise. Some people like to cover the individual tins or bannetons with shower caps which is also a good idea, but I like to see what the dough is doing, and having them in clear containers makes it easy for me to move them around the kitchen if I need to.
Nothing beats having a good quality serrated bread knife to cut your loaves – blunt knives tend to tear at your bread
This is a sharp blade on a handle which is used to “slash” the tops of loaves before baking. I use a Wilkinson Sword blade which I position on the end of a chopstick for this purpose. If you do the same please be careful because the blade is very sharp (I know you know that, but it is amazing how we sometimes forget!). So I press the ends of the blade slightly together carefully with one hand, which allows me to push the end of the chopstick through two gaps in the blade with the other hand. I store this in the box holding the chopsticks and only bring it out when I am going to slash my loaves.
OBLONG COOLING RACKS
If you start making loaves weekly, then oblong racks will allow you to cool a few loaves at one time (I can get four onto one oblong tray)(see here).
These are baskets used to proof dough when you make a free form loaf … All About Bread sell these (see here), as well as retail shops like Kitchen Warehouse. Keep in mind that for this you can also use containers you already have in your kitchen such as bowls, colanders, etc. All you need to do is line them with a cloth – preferably linen or cotton which have less fibres to stick into the dough as it rises – ensure you coat the cloths well with flour, then put your dough in to rise in exactly the same way as you would do with a Banneton.
If you have a pizza stone it is a good idea to store it on the lowest rack in your oven and just leave it there. Pizza stones are made to draw in and hold onto heat, so this will help to control/even out the heat in your oven whilst you bake at any time, and not just for bread. I leave my pizza stone in the oven, which means I don’t need to find a “home” for it in my kitchen cupboards, and it is serving a useful purpose.
NB: Bread rises from the bottom up so many bakers prefer to bake their bread on a pizza stone as it helps to create the intense first “hit” of heat needed for a good rise. However, I find the process of getting the dough onto a pizza stone for baking quite messy (flour tends to go everywhere), and as I mainly use commercial quality Mackies tins, they give me the baked results that I like.
Some people like to bake their sourdough in a Dutch oven (see here) which will give you a thick and crusty exterior, and a more “artisan” looking loaf. But for everyday bread I prefer to use bread tins, so this might be something you explore down the track as you become more comfortable with your sourdough baking.
Personally I feel a Dutch Oven is quite dangerous as it is not only heavy, but it has to be preheated to a high temperature before placing the dough in it for baking. That means there is the issue of handling a very hot heavy item, whilst trying to get your dough into it so that it is positioned correctly, cover the pot, into the oven for roughly 20 minutes, out again, uncover, and back into the oven for roughly another 20 minutes. Whilst I know the bread can look gorgeous, you have to be very careful with this method, particularly if you have young children around.
As another option to a Dutch Oven, Celia demonstrated on her blog her use of an Enamel Roaster (see here for roaster), which does not need to be preheated. These roasters are available from time to time from different bread and kitchenware shops and are worth grabbing if you intend to use it regularly. For Celia’s process see here.