What You Need to Make Perfect Sourdough Bread At Home


Homemade sourdough boule with black sesame seeds

Sourdough bread is healthy, nutritious, tastes amazing and……very expensive if you buy the real stuff! This was one of the reasons I started to bake it myself many years ago, using only the equipment and ingredients I already had at home.

What do you need to bake sourdough bread at home? The minimum list of baking tools and ingredients needed to bake sourdough bread at home are the following:

IngredientsEssential ToolsExtras
FlourKitchen weighing
scales
Dutch oven/
baking stone
WaterLarge bowlDough scraper
SaltLoaf tin/
banneton
Dough
thermometer
Sourdough
starter
Dish towelLame/
grignette

As there are different methods of making sourdough bread, you may need different tools according to the methods you choose to use. I’m going to go through the general process from start to finish, detailing all the equipment and ingredients you might need. I’ll also explain which items you would need for which methods of sourdough bread making, along with explanations of what some of the tools and ingredients are!

NOTE: If you’d like step by step guidance on making sourdough bread from scratch and then moving onto mastering it at a more advanced level, check out my brand new course.

What Ingredients Do You Need to Make Sourdough Bread at Home?

Traditional sourdough bread is made up of 4 simple ingredients:

  1. Flour
  2. Water
  3. Salt
  4. Sourdough Starter

The first 3 ingredients are basic ingredients that can be found in most kitchens, but sourdough starter is the secret to making great sourdough bread.

What is Sourdough Starter?

Sourdough starter is a mixture of flour and water that has been ‘cultured’ to produce a collection of wild bacteria and yeasts that live together in harmony within the flour and water mix. These wild caught bacteria and yeasts are what give sourdough bread its rising power and flavor.

If you think of traditional bread, the yeast added to it is what makes it rise. Sourdough bread however, uses sourdough starter instead of added yeast.

The basic idea, is that this cultured flour and water mix is ‘fed’ more flour and water at regular intervals, which keeps the wild bacteria and yeast alive and active (the bacteria and yeast ‘feed’ on the sugars and starches in the flour, which is what allows the bacteria and yeast to thrive).

Sourdough starter will live forever if it is maintained and fed regularly. Traditionally, it has been passed down from one generation to the next for hundreds of years in many parts of the world. It’s the stuff that all leavened breads were made out of before yeast became prominent during the industrial revolution.

Where Can I get Sourdough Starter from?

There are a few options when it comes to getting hold of some sourdough starter:

  1. You can purchase it from a specialist supplier
  2. If you know a sourdough baker, they can share a little with you
  3. You can make it at home from scratch using flour and water
1. Buying Sourdough Starter from a Specialist Store:

Sourdough starter can be bought from a specialist bakery or shop, although not all areas will have it available. Purchasing online can be a good option if you don’t have a local specialist store or bakery that will sell to you.

Etsy has a really great choice of sourdough starters made from different flours and in different parts of the world. Click hereOpens in a new tab. to check out the selection of available starters on Etsy.

Usually, when you buy sourdough starter, it is a ‘dried’ version that you can re-hydrate and feed to make it active again. It will usually come with instructions, but normally all you need to do is add water to it and let it sit for a few hours to soak in the water.

Thereafter, you can begin to feed it daily (with equal parts flour and water) and the sourdough starter will be ready to use by the 2nd or 3rd feeding.

2. Taking some Sourdough Starter from a Friend:

If you know someone who makes sourdough bread, they will be more than happy to share some of their sourdough starter with you. All they have to do, is take a portion out of their jar for you to take home.

When you get home, you can begin feeding your portion of starter with flour and water, and it will create an active sourdough starter for you to use to make your own sourdough bread with.

3. Making your Own Sourdough Starter:

Making your own starter from scratch can be very rewarding, and is fairly simple to make, but you have to be aware that it may take a couple of weeks before the starter is ready to make bread with. But if you are interested in making your own starter, here are some simple instructions:

You’ll need:

  • A clean glass jar
  • A silicone spatula or wooden spoon
  • strong white bread flour
  • rye flour (or whole grain flour if you can’t find rye)

Day 1 – In a clean glass jar, place:

  • 5 grams of white bread flour
  • 5 grams of rye or whole grain flour
  • 10 grams of water

Mix with a silicone spatula, clean off the edges and leave in a warm place, loosely covered for 24 hours.

Day 2 – Add the same ingredients again to your jar:

  • 5 grams of white bread flour
  • 5 grams of rye or whole grain flour
  • 10 grams of water

Mix thoroughly again, clean off the edges and leave in a warm place loosely covered for 24 hours.

Day 3 – This time, to stop yourself getting too much starter, discard half of it, and then repeat the feeding instructions above. You should continue to do this once a day from now on (i.e. discard and feed), until you see the starter become very bubbly, and it will rise and deflate over the time between each feeding. At this point, the starter will be ready to use.

It can take any time between 5 days to 3 weeks before the starter is ready to bake bread with. In the mean time, you can use any starter that you discard for making pancakes, or other recipes. Check out my article here for some inspiration on what to do with sourdough discard.

NOTE: You only need to continue to discard during the time you are establishing your starter. After that, you can feed it without discarding any (just like on days 1 and 2).

What Equipment Do You Need to Make Sourdough Bread at Home?

This will largely depend on which method of sourdough bread making you would like to use. Let’s go through the entire sourdough process from start to finish, and talk about which tools you would need for which method. I’ll also talk about:

  • any alternatives you can use if you don’t have the tool around
  • what is essential to the sourdough making process
  • what is ‘nice to have’ i.e. will make the process easier, quicker, or give you a better bread result

Step 1: Preparing your Sourdough Starter

The first part of making sourdough bread, will be feeding your sourdough starter and making it active for your bread. To do this you will need:

Glass/ceramic jar – Your sourdough starter will live in this jar, and it needs to be glass or ceramic, preferably with a glass lid too. Sourdough starter reacts with metal and won’t survive very well in a metal environment, so if you don’t have glass or ceramic jars, go with a good quality food grade plastic container. I bought these Weck jars from Amazon because they have a glass lid and removable ring, which is a great environment for your starter to thrive in.

Silicone spatulasthese spatulasOpens in a new tab. are by far the least messy way to mix up your sourdough starter and clean off the sides of the jar, but a wooden spoon would also do just fine.

Step 2: Mixing your dough

Assuming that you now have an active bubbly sourdough starter, it is time to mix up your ingredients and make the dough! For this you will need:

Large bowl – The bowl you choose, should be:

  • made of glass, ceramic, or food grade plastic
  • be large enough to accommodate your dough at least doubling in size

NOTE: You should NOT use a bowl that is made of metal for making sourdough, because sourdough is acidic in nature and can react with the metal. (You may also find that sourdough is less active and won’t rise as much when placed in a metal container)

Kitchen scales – A good set of kitchen weighing scales is also a good idea when making sourdough bread. Accuracy is particularly important for the sourdough process, and ideally you would want a bakers kitchen scale like this oneOpens in a new tab., that calculate’s bakers percentages for you too.

Now, the method you choose to make your dough will determine which tools you need at this stage:

How are you going to Mix your Dough?

Stand mixer – If you are going to be kneading your dough, a stand mixer is very useful. Kneading sourdough can be hard work, and a stand mixer can really speed things up in terms of both time and effort. Make sure that you use a dough hook attachment. I prefer the Bosch universalOpens in a new tab. to mix dough, because its dough hook attachment imitates hand mixing/kneading much better, and there is less risk of over kneading your dough.

Dough Whisk – If you are going to be using a method that doesn’t require any kneading, then a dough whisk like this oneOpens in a new tab. (link to Amazon) is a handy tool to use for the initial phase of mixing your dough.

A dough whisk is designed to quickly separate clumps and efficiently mix dough evenly without developing gluten, which is important during the first phase of dough mixing. You can of course use your hands for this stage, but I find that using a dough whisk gives the dough a more even mix much more quickly, and makes the whole process a lot less messy.

Step 3: Fermenting your Dough

Once your dough is mixed, it is time to ferment it, which basically means, leaving it to rise for several hours. For this, there are a couple of tools that are really handy:

Dough proofer – The ideal environment to leave your dough to rise is a warm, humid place that is free from drafts. I like using this dough prooferOpens in a new tab., to give my dough the ideal environment to rise in, especially because you can adjust the temperature that you leave your dough in with this proofer. If you don’t have one, you can leave your dough in a warm place, covered with a cloth to protect it from drafts.

Dough Thermometer – This is handy when making sourdough bread to help understand how long to ferment your dough for and how it is doing. There are many food thermometers available at a wide range of budgets. A middle of the range digital one like this oneOpens in a new tab. from Amazon, is sturdy and accurate. It can be used both to check your dough temperature AND to check your bread temperature when it comes out of the oven.

Step 4: Shaping your dough

Once your dough has risen, it is time to shape it. For this you will need:

Dough scraper – If you are working with a particularly wet dough, (which is more likely with sourdough), then you will need a dough scraper to help handle and shape it. A dough scraper is useful for:

  • dividing dough in a mess free and easy way
  • scraping the dough out the bowl when turning it out
  • helping to build tension on the surface of your shaped bread without making a sticky mess.

NOTE: If you are working with dough of a lower hydration, you can get away with using just your hands, but for the most part, a dough scraper is good to have around when shaping.

Dough scrapers can be silicone, metal or plastic, and it’s just a matter of preference which one is best. But beginners prefer to use silicone ones like theseOpens in a new tab. (Amazon link), because they are a little more non-stick, and won’t leave scuffs on your counter tops!

Flour dredgerthis handy gadget Opens in a new tab.can be useful to have around at the shaping stage of the process. Although not essential, it’s handy for flouring your surfaces with a nice even coating, and giving your dough a nice even coating of flour for decorative purposes.

Step 5: The 2nd Rise

Once the dough is shaped, you will need to place it in something for a second rise. What you use, will depend on what type/shape of bread you are making.

What Type of Loaf are you Going to Make?

Pan bread – For this type of bread, you will need a loaf tin of some sort to place your dough in for the 2nd rise. The bread will be baked in the loaf tin and will take its shape, so whichever type of tin you use, it has to be oven safe. The ideal, is a specific loaf tin that you use exclusively for bread, like this oneOpens in a new tab.. But you can also use a deep casserole dish if you don’t have a specific loaf tin. Be sure to grease it first before placing your dough in it!

Boule – This is what is known as a ‘free form’ loaf, that is of a round shape. It holds it’s own shape in the oven, and does not require a tin to prop it up. For this type of loaf, you will need a boule shaped proofing basket like thisOpens in a new tab. (also known as a banneton).

NOTE: You can use a bowl lined with a dish towel if you don’t have a banneton available, but this is not ideal, as it can cause the dough to become too ‘sweaty’ and cause sticking when turning it out to bake in the oven.

Batard – This is also a free form loaf, but of a more elongated shape. A batard requires a proofing basket that is ‘batard’ shaped like this oneOpens in a new tab..

Couche – If you are making french bread, a coucheOpens in a new tab. is a cloth specifically designed to hold long thin bread shapes in place while they are rising. If you don’t have a couche, then a large dish towel or thick cotton cloth can work just as well. Do remember to flour it well to prevent sticking.

Step 6: Scoring your Bread

Scoring sourdough bread just before placing it in the oven is important for controlling the heat distribution while it is baking, and ensuring the loaf will rise to a predictable shape. For this you will need:

Dough scoring knife – Also called a lame or grignette (pronounced ‘larm’ or ‘grin-yet’ respectively), a dough scoring knife is an extremely sharp, extremely thin, flexible blade with a handle. This tool helps to make clean, sharp cuts on the surface of your loaf, helping to produce a beautiful healthy oven spring. (Check out my Essential Tools section for my top pick).

NOTE: If you don’t have one, it is best to carefully use a razor blade, rather than a sharp knife. A knife will most likely not be thin enough, or have the type of sharpness needed to make effective scoring lines in your dough.

Step 7: Baking your Bread

When it comes to baking your bread, you want to place it in an environment that will give it the best chance of rising nice and tall. For this you will need:

Oven – You will obviously need an oven to bake your bread in! But my suggestion is that the oven has a good seal on it. Seals around oven doors should be replaced every so often to keep the oven working efficiently, and putting a new seal on the oven door can make a surprisingly big difference to the result of your bread.

The ideal environment for bread baking is extremely hot, and with plenty of steam. There are several ways to do this. You can use…

Dutch oven – Baking your bread in a Dutch oven is easy, and will give you great results. Check out my favorite in this article here. If you don’t have a Dutch oven to bake your bread in, or you don’t have one that is big enough for your bread, there are other options…

Baking stone/baking steel – Baking your bread on a baking steel/stone is the other option. It will keep your oven hot enough for your bread to rise, and the advantage is that you can bake more than one loaf at a time. Be sure to add steam to your oven though if you will be using this method to bake your bread.

NOTE: For more effective ways to create steam in your oven if you don’t have a Dutch oven, check out my article here.

Bakers peel – This is a handy gadget that makes it easy to place your dough on and off of a hot baking stone. (Here’s one that comes in a set along with a baking stone that’s really good value from Amazon). If you don’t have a bakers peel, you can use a cookie sheet lined with baking parchment instead.

Step 8: Cooling your loaf

It’s important to cool your loaf properly before cutting it open, because it continues cooking on the inside during cooling time. For this you will need:

Cooling rack – A cooling rackOpens in a new tab. is necessary to make sure that the loaf cools with enough air circulating around it to allow for steam to escape evenly as it cools. This is important for the crust formation of your bread. If you don’t have a cooling rack, you can use one of your oven shelves stacked on top of some cups.

Step 9: Slicing your loaf

Time to slice the bread open! For this you will need:

Bread slicing knife – Having a proper knife to slice your homemade bread is SO important! It needs to be sharp, serrated, long, and slightly bowed to make sure that slices can be cut without ruining the crust or the crumb.

Here’s a link to a decent beginner’s bread slicing knife available at Amazon, but if you would like more information about what to look out for when buying a good bread slicing knife, check out my article “Guide to Choosing a Bread Knife”. If you don’t have a bread slicing knife, perhaps it’s best to have a ‘tear and share’ policy!

Step 10: Storing your Sourdough Bread

You should aim to keep your bread as fresh as possible, for as long as possible, and that can only be done if your sourdough bread is stored properly. For that you will need:

Bread bag – A cotton bread bag is the best way to keep your bread fresher for longer. It will protect the bread from drying out, whilst preventing the bread’s crust from going soft and becoming moldy. (I like theseOpens in a new tab. all natural cotton bread bags from Amazon).

List of What You Need to Make Sourdough Bread at Home

Here’s a summary table of everything you may need for making sourdough bread at home:

EssentialsUseful to HaveGood for More
Advanced Baking
After the Bake
Flour, water,
salt
Dutch oven/
baking stone
Dough
proofer
Cooling
rack
Sourdough
starter
Dough
scraper
Dough
thermometer
Bread slicing
knife
Kitchen
scales
Lame/dough
scoring knife
Bakers
peel
Cotton
bread bag
Large
bowl
Silicone
spatulas
Loaf tin/
banneton
Dough whisk/
stand mixer
Jars for
starter

As you can see from the table above, you don’t need a lot of fancy equipment to make sourdough bread, you just need a little know how. Some additional items are good to have around, but the bare essentials can be found in most kitchens.

For more information on the equipment I love and recommend for making sourdough bread at home, check out my Baking Tools section.

How Long Does it Take to Make Sourdough Bread?

As with most answers, this depends. Assuming you have an active sourdough starter, then the bread can be made over the space of one day, or can be stretched to a few days. But most of that time is spent leaving the dough to do it’s work. It is passive time. The active time it takes to make sourdough bread can be anywhere from 10 minutes of work, to about 45 minutes, depending on the type you are making, and the methods you are using.

What’s the Best Way to Learn to Make Sourdough Bread?

Sourdough bread can be made in as many different ways as there are people. Everybody has their own way of doing it, and what works for one person, will be different to what works for another. This can be good and bad. Good, because you have many options and can find a method that will suit your lifestyle and temperament. Bad, because when you want to learn, it is easy to get overwhelmed with the wealth of information available, that seems to contradict itself all the time.

The best way is to find someone you can trust, and learn how they make their sourdough bread. Be it online, through a book, or in a class. Sticking to one school of thought, and getting good at that particular method is the best way to learn without getting overwhelmed.

Once you have gained a basic understanding of sourdough and how it works, it is a lot easier to start experimenting and learning different methods. If you’d like to learn from me, click hereOpens in a new tab. to learn more about my online course. It’s suitable for complete beginners, and moves you up to more advanced bread baking techniques very quickly, without the overwhelm.

Aysha

I've been baking sourdough bread at home for years now and have had a journey full of successes and failures. This has given me great experience in understanding what makes a good bake!

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