Saturday, February 28, 2009

Basic Stuff You Need to Make Sourdough Bread

Now that we've got our Sourdough Starter active and ready to make bread, I thought I'd provide a simple and tasty recipe for you to get your head around my favourite method of breadmaking.
It's my favourite because it involves no machinery, no fancy additives, and not mu
ch effort or time. Zen simple, really.
But first, you will need a few
basic pieces of equipment - and I promise this stuff will not cost much at all, nor be hard to find. So you can put that credit card away!

Everything you need for most of my sourdough bread recipes:

  • A plastic box or bowl large enough to knead dough in, but small enough to fit in your fridge. It should have a close fitting lid, but not an airtight lid. My favourite kind is rectangular, about 45 cm long by 30 cm wide, and 20 cm high. This container serves a number of purposes; it's for kneading in (though this recipe doesn't require much kneading at all), for resting and refrigerating the dough, and for proving the dough in the tin when it's ready. You should be able to hold about 5 kilos of dough in your container - though you will rarely make that much dough! But you can, and later, when I show you some really light breads, the extra size will come in handy.
  • Two or Three bread tins - mine are smallish at about 30cm by 10cm by 15cm. They need to be able to handle about 800g to 1kg of dough. Bear in mind that sourdough grows by only about 1.5 times in volume - a bigger tin can make the finished product look small!
  • A plastic 'blade' for scraping dough down the sides of things, and a stainless steel spatula for cutting the dough. If you can get your hands on a dough divider from a kitchen shop, great. These are very handy because you can put a fair bit of weight on them. Likewise, the plastic blade can be substituted for a plastic plasterer's blade from a hardware store, or cut from a thick piece of plastic if you're really stuck.These also double as bench scrapers, because you will find, if you are new to home breadmaking, that dough is very hard to clean off things. Scraping is better than wiping every time!

  • A flat laminated surface for dough to be divided and formed on. Because you're dealing with flour, make sure it's free of 'bench furniture' like bowls, crockery and 'stuff' - these all become extra things to clean later. A metre or so of space, say 600mm deep by about a metre or more wide, will suffice.
  • A sink nearby, clear of 'stuff' also! If you have dishes in the sink, you will find that dough gets into everything (as a default position, if you clear the kitchen of stuff in general before each doughmaking session, you'll find that things are simpler later on in terms of cleaning).
  • Oven gloves or silicon mitts (I've recently disovered silicon mitts, which are great because they don't get smelly and can be washed up with your utensils. They also handle hot tins far better than oven gloves).
  • A basic set of kitchen scales. If you can get digital, make sure it can manage 2 gram increments, up to 2kg. I've got cheap, robust ones for dough, and accurate digital ones for things like salt, where you need to be precise. Note:You will find that you can get away with measuring spoons for the finer measurements. They are cheap and can be purchased in any supermarket.
I should also mention here that scales are not absolutely necessary. Most of my recipes work on one kilo or half kilo measurements, so 'guesstimates' can be good enough. Ultimately, though, if the bread bug bites, you will want to get some scales. The ones pictured here cost me $20 and have lasted about 2 years so far!
  • A large plastic or stainless steel sieve for 'dusting'. Make sure the mesh is quite fine, to prevent lots of flour falling through.
  • A 1 litre measuring jug - preferably see through. I like plastic because they tend not to break like glass can (and does). Some people like stainless jugs - my guess is these people may well be aesthetes, and these jugs are durable. You just can't see what's in them from the outside!
  • A nylon floor scrubbing brush to scrub dough from your hands. There are gentler ways, like using disposable foodservice gloves, or wet tea towels - but if you get the right kind of scrubber, it will be your best bakery friend! These are also very handy when it comes to scrubbing tubs and bowls which have accumulated dough and flour residue on them. The one pictured here has very soft bristles, and does not hurt your hands when used.
  • A serrated bread knife and a bread board for slicing your freshly baked bread!
These are the very basic pieces of equipment, enough to get you started. As you progress, you'll want (or need) other bits and pieces. A few of these are listed here:

Some Optional Extras
  • A probe thermometer which has a narrow temperature range - say from zero centigrade to 50 degrees. This is handy for diagnosing what might be going wrong with your dough, or for achieving better consistency from batch to batch. I'll talk more about this later.
  • A flat baking sheet - either stainless steel, aluminium or silicone - for batards and viennas, platts, cobs and other shapes. Please bear in mind that 'free form' breads require a bit more skill, both in doughmaking and dough handling. However, once you get the basics right, you'll want to turn out really professional looking breads, and a sheet is definitely an asset at this point.
  • A water sprayer for moistening your finished formed dough prior to dusting with flour. I still just wipe mine with wet hands - but each to their own, I guess!
  • A paring knife for slashing your dough prior to baking. Any sharp knife will do, though.
  • A large, round bowl, either stainless steel, porcelaine or plastic for kneading in. I haven't included this as an essential item, because the plastic box I mentioned earlier will suffice, and takes up less space in the kitchen. But a nice large (and I'm talking 60cm across the top) bowl, with a flat base is certainly nice to use for mixing dough.
If you want to know more about making sourdough bread, check out my new website at:

Ok. That's about it for today. Once you've assembled this stuff, you'll be ready to make sourdough bread!