Sourdough for Beginners

Everything You Need to Make Sourdough Bread at Home

updated Mar 25, 2020
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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Brett Regot

With everything that’s going on right now, I’ve been hearing of more and more people who are taking up the soothing art of making sourdough bread at home. I totally get it. There’s something super comforting about caring for a starter and pulling a perfectly round loaf out of the oven. It’s one thing you actually can control during these incredibly unpredictable times.

If you’re new to baking sourdough bread, it might sound intimidating. But trust me, once you have a great basic recipe (like this one) and a handful of essential ingredients and tools (many of which you probably already have on hand) you’ll find it’s not as complicated or scary as you might think.

Here are the 10 things you’ll need to get you on your way.


1. Sourdough Starter

You can’t have sourdough bread without sourdough starter. It’s the true lifeline of your creation, as it’s filled with all the bubbly, active yeasts that cause your loaf to rise and give the bread its signature tangy flavor. While it’s quite simple to make starter from scratch using just flour and water, it does take about a week until it’s ready to use. If you want to save time, you can buy one that’s all ready to go.

Buy: King Arthur Flour Classic Fresh Sourdough Starter, $9


2. Plastic Storage Container

Once you have an active starter, it’s important to feed it equal parts flour and water so that it stays alive. I like to keep my starter in a plastic storage container. This allows me to see it rise and bubble after it’s been fed, so I can track how active it is. I don’t like glass for this because, if you drop it, it could break and then your starter is over. Plastic is lightweight and won’t shatter if you drop it. You can use takeout containers, but I love these restaurant-quality containers because they’re just the right size. Plus, they’re what pro bakers use.


3. Digital Scale

While many sourdough bread recipes (including ours) list volume measurements, for the most accuracy — and therefore a more successful end result — weighing your ingredients is crucial. It’s also a whole lot easier to dump ingredients into a bowl that’s placed on your scale than it is to measure them out a bunch of different measuring cups.

Buy: Escali Primo Precision Kitchen Food Scale, $20


4. All-Purpose or Bread Flour

If you already have all-purpose flour on hand you can definitely use that to bake great sourdough bread. However, I do think it’s worth ordering a bag of bread flour if you have the space for it in your pantry. Bread flour is higher in protein than all-purpose flour, which helps create a lofty loaf with a chewy texture and crumb. Basically, it gives you bakery-like results.

Buy: King Arthur Flour Unbleached Bread Flour, $5


5. Salt

You probably already have this in your kitchen but it’s still worth calling out because it’s such an important ingredient in any sourdough bread recipe. Just like everything, seasoning your bread dough with salt ensures the end results are delicious. My go-to salt for cooking and baking is Diamond Crystal Kosher but you can use any fine table salt.

Buy: Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt, $25 for two 48-ounce boxes


6. Mixing Bowls

Mixing bowls are important for a number of things. You’ll use one for mixing and rising your dough and another one or two for proofing your dough. There are fancy proofing baskets you can buy to do the latter, but I find mixing bowls work just as well.

Buy: Premium Stainless Steel Mixing Bowls, $21 for set of six


7. Kitchen Towels

Your hands will get messy throughout the process, so it’s great to have a clean towel nearby to wipe them off on. Also, if you’re using mixing bowls to proof your dough, you’ll need to line them with clean kitchen towels that are dusted with flour. (This makes it much, much easier to turn out the dough into your baking vessel to bake it.)

Buy: Zeppoli Classic White Kitchen Towels, $16 for 15


8. Pastry Scraper

This is a useful tool to reach for when you’re dividing the dough, if the recipe calls for it, and when you’re shaping the dough. It’s a great sidekick in the kitchen, beyond bread baking, so it’s definitely worth investing in.


9. Dutch Oven

Different sourdough bread recipes have you bake your bread in different vessels but, in my experience, nothing beats a Dutch oven. You’ll trap steam inside when you drop the dough into a hot preheated pot and add the lid (this helps the bread rise.) You can use the Dutch oven you already have, but there people out there who say that preheating their empty enameled Dutch oven has caused it to crack. I’d rather not take that risk with my expensive Le Creuset, so I’ve invested in a simpler non-coated Dutch oven that I use specifically for bread baking.

Buy: Lodge 3-Quart Combo Cooker, $39


10. Paring or Serrated Knife

There is a specific knife that exists solely for scoring bread dough before baking, so that steam can escape when it’s in the oven. It’s called a lame. While you can get one for around $12, I tried to avoid single-use tools and have found that a sharp paring or small serrated knife works just as well.

Buy: Kuhn Rikon Colori Straight Paring Knife, $8.50