Despite the fact that bakeries are still up-and-running; that flour is conspicuously absent from supermarket shelves, and that some of us don’t even eat that much bread, Australian’s seem to have jumped right onto the sourdough bandwagon that has gripped the world in light of COVID-19 and self-isolation.
If you are interested in making sourdough bread or starter but don’t know where to begin, then look no further! We have enlisted Sourdough Sensei, Chef Kelly Syms, to guide you through this pungent process.
Welcome to our Essential Sourdough Series and let the baking begin!
Sourdough Bread Making Equipment
Is there any aroma more welcome than fresh bread baking in the oven? Picture this – you’re standing in your kitchen, with a beautiful linen apron on and a glass of wine in hand, feeling those Martha vibes as you watch your golden loaf rise. With the right tools, it’s less toil and trouble than you think. Why not let us demystify the art of bread-making for you with a handy list of equipment?
Having a few sizes of mixing bowls helps keep you organised. You may want one for mixing sourdough levains, another for dough mixing and smaller ones for measuring yeast, salt and mix-ins like cheese, herbs or seeds. Stainless steel is an excellent choice for lightweight durability, but you could also treat yourself to an heirloom Mason Cash* earthenware bowl for all of your dough mixing. The wide, shallow shape is perfectly suited for the job and looks beautiful to-boot.
Move over cup measures – precision is king when you’re baking bread! A set of scales will prove indispensable to you and we’d recommend a digital scale that goes up to 5kg. It’s important that you’re able to see the display screen while a large bowl is sitting on the scale so in this case bigger is, in fact, better.
If you’re doing free form loaves, want your bread to have a European look and a lovely crust, cane banneton baskets will soon become your best friend. Also known as proofing rattan baskets or brotforms, they provide your loaves with structure and shape during their final rise. You can also buy and use plastic bannetons – the material may be different but the effect is the same.
If you are at all concerned about how to clean them, then not to worry – simply use a pastry brush to brush out the excess flour and store the basket in a dry place.
A versatile staple in the kitchen, it never hurts to have a variety of sizes. Loaf tins for bread tend to be taller to accommodate rising bread. It makes sense – metal conducts heat and greater surface contact with the tin means more even baking. Non-stick or traditional, having a loaf tin in your arsenal brings you that much closer to having excellent sandwiches and toast every day.
The crown jewel in any home baker’s kit – a large, good quality cast iron enamelled dutch oven works like a mini baker’s oven. The heavy bottom of the pot conducts heat and acts like the sole stones in a professional oven. The heavy lid serves to create a perfect steam chamber where your bread can get great oven spring and become beautifully crispy with a shattering crust. Heavy based dutch ovens like those from Le Creuset* are also incredibly versatile – besides baking bread you can use them for making soups, braises, casseroles, for roasting and more.
A pizza stone expands the range of breads you’re able to produce. From crusty baguettes to olive-studded fougasse, airy ciabatta and of course, it’s namesake, a pizza stone lets you explore the wider world of specialty breads. Imagine a fluffy pita baked just before you wrap them around homemade falafel swiped with hummus and topped with icy cold lettuce and pickles. Brilliant, and so easy.
Baker’s Blade / Lame
You need a sharp blade for sharp cuts – look no further than a baker’s blade, or ‘Lame’ as per french tradition. A good baker’s blade reduces the amount of friction when you cut, so no tearing or damaging of the loaf’s fragile dough skin occurs. It is essentially a razor blade with a handle, so expect extreme sharpness and accuracy every time.
Coming back to precision, most modern bread books require you to take accurate temperatures of your water, flour and doughs. This means consistent results each and every time. A thermometer is an essential tool to have in your kitchen arsenal and can also be used as a meat thermometer, during candy making and more.
Bowl and Bench Scrapers
They may look simple but bowl and bench scrapers are titans in the bakery. For a tiny investment of a few dollars you get a huge return – get every skerrick of dough out of a bowl, evenly divide loaves and use them like an extra hand when shaping sticky doughs.
With your kitchen well stocked and equipment on-hand, it’s time we talk about how to make a sourdough starter…
*Available from the Essential Ingredient Newcastle.