If you have ever dreamed of trying your hand at sourdough but worry you can’t create beautiful bread without banneton baskets or expensive tools, then this blog is written just for you! As a lover of bread and a frugal to-a-fault mama, making perfect sourdough without special equipment has become a daily ritual in our kitchen. I’m here to show you how you can make it part of yours too!
You’ve probably been told that baking your bread at home is easy and cheaper than purchasing it from the store, but one scroll through Instagram or Amazon says something a little different. But let me assure you, you can make homemade sourdough and actually save money.
When I first jumped on the Sourdough bandwagon a couple of years ago, I gawked at the beautiful banneton baskets and heavy Dutch ovens. I dreamed of starting sourdough, but I couldn’t bring myself to pour so much money into it just starting out.
After working with sourdough for a couple of years and selling all organic loaves in local shops, I can safely say you don’t need to spend a fortune or take out a second mortgage to make a perfect loaf of artisan sourdough bread.
I’m going to show you how to make perfect sourdough without special equipment.
The items listed below are replacements for the typical sourdough tools you will generally see recommended when baking. Most of these items are probably already on hand in your kitchen or can be purchased secondhand at a local thrift shop!
The Basics of Sourdough
Since the pandemic sourdough bread has become increasingly popular. When shelves were lacking commercial yeast, many took to their own kitchens to begin their first sourdough starter and meet the needs of their family.
As often happens, what started out of necessity quickly became a hobby, an art form, and later an Influencer craze.
I get it. I love watching videos of gifted hands forming extravagant loaves with intricate scoring, but sourdough was not born on TikTok or Instagram- sourdough is an ancient form of bread baking.
Before ovens. before the Internet, before the rise and fall of the Roman empire, before the Israelites tread the wilderness for forty years- there was sourdough.
My point is this special equipment is all new to the wonder world of sourdough.
There were no banneton baskets in the Great Depression. No costly bread lames during the Dust Bowl. Long before there were Instagram influencers armed with a kitchen scale, a bread machine, or even a cooling rack- sourdough bread graced meal after meal.
What are some must-haves for Baking a Perfect loaf of Sourdough bread?
Sourdough bread is generally defined by its health benefits from fermentation, its beautiful oven spring, and its crispy crust.
None of these require special equipment to accomplish.
The best results in baking perfect sourdough are in the technique far more than in a fancy proofing basket.
Whereas yeasted bread may require honey, milk, sugar, or even eggs- sourdough is only flour, water, and salt. This is one reason why baking sourdough bread at home may actually save you money on your grocery budget.
There are only a handful of essential tools required for sourdough- mixing bowls, a tea towel or two, something to bake the bread in, and something sharp to score it. These tools are most likely already stored away in your kitchen just waiting!
So let’s go over some basic sourdough equipment and what you actually need or can use instead.
What should I store my sourdough starter in?
The thing about sourdough is you can make it as expensive or as cheap as you want to make it. There are a million fun gadgets, skinny spoons, and eccentric jars, but none of them are essential.
An active starter, however, is essential!
Sourdough starter is a combination of flour and water that is allowed to ferment and culture off the wild yeast in your very own kitchen. It is then added to flour and water rather than commercial yeast to rise and properly ferment. (Note: Sourdough is a fermented food, click here to read more about the benefits of sourdough in our Gut Health for the Whole Family blog.)
But the best part of starting the sourdough journey is that you already have the starter ingredients in your kitchen. And you don’t need anything fancy to store your growing starter in!
I keep my starter in a gallon jar now because I tend to keep a lot on hand, but it started in a humble mason jar.
A glass jar, topped with a cloth or coffee filter fitted with a rubber band is all you need to store your starter in! You won’t want to place a tight-fitting lid on the jar as it can be blown off as a result of the gases created during fermentation.
I simply add in my equal parts flour and water and stir it with a wooden spoon until incorporated, being mindful to scrape down the sides of the jar. For our full guide on creating a Sourdough Starter from Scratch, click here!
Do you need expensive flour to make Sourdough?
I often hear this being a reason many are afraid to begin their sourdough journey. They don’t want to fork over the money for truckloads of fancy flour- and neither do I!
Sourdough doesn’t need any special flour.
As an organic baker, my flour of choice is simply an organic all-purpose flour.
Of course, you can always add in whole wheat or whole grain flour, or an ancient grain like Einkorn, Kamut, or Spelt for added health benefits. Even still I would suggest starting slow. If your bread recipe calls for four cups of flour, try 3 and a half cups of all-purpose and only one-half cup of specialty flour for better results.
This is more about learning the feel of a new flour than it is about saving money.
Sourdough doesn’t require freshly milled spelt from the coasts of a mystic island, simply play around with the flour you have on hand.
Also if your starter needs CPR, rye flour will do the trick!
How do you shape sourdough without a banneton basket?
This one kind of bothered me at first. I had never seen sourdough that wasn’t risen in a textured banneton basket.
The thing is, though, sourdough is an ancient form of bread-making and I am quite sure the Israelite women living in bondage in Egypt were not rising their bread in eccentric banneton baskets.
The purpose of a banneton basket is to help the bread hold its shape as it rises and ferments.
So what can you use in place of a banneton basket?
Simply use a well-floured cloth or tea towel- you’ll want something that isn’t fuzzy. And for the bowl, any mixing bowl will work. You’ll want something small enough that the sides of the dough touch the bowl to keep its shape.
What’s missing from this method is purely aesthetic. If you have a crafty hand for crochet you could easily create a liner that gives a similar effect.
Helpful Tip for Cleanup: If your dough sticks to your cloth, simply add more flour next time. If your cloth is left doughy and you don’t feel comfortable running it through the wash as is, soak it first in ¼ cup baking soda and ½ cup vinegar and enough water to cover it. In a few minutes, wring it out, if any dough remains it should release easily just from running your hand down it.
How to score Sourdough without a bread lame
This is the only actual sourdough tool I have in my arsenal. My husband got it for me for Christmas last year and while I like it, I scored bread for a long time without it using only a kitchen knife and a steady hand.
A sharp knife, a razor blade, or any other sharp tool can be used to score your bread. (I’ve also used fondant sculpting tools before.)
A few helpful hints on scoring sourdough:
- The trick is in the wrist:
It matters less about what you use and more about how you use it. The thing about a bread lame is you don’t have to have quite as much precision in angling your blade as you do with a kitchen knife. When using something like a steak knife, be mindful of where the serrated side is and twist your wrist according to the design you plan to make, use only the sharpest point of the knife facing directly down and minimal force to achieve a purely aesthetic look.
2. Two kinds of cuts:
There are two kinds of cuts in sourdough. One of them is essential and the other is purely decorative like the leaf patterns or wheat stalks. The long deep cuts you see in a loaf of sourdough that separate along that line when baked are essential for baking. When your bread bakes in the oven, it will naturally rise and expand. Without those cuts to show your loaf where you want it to ventilate, it will choose for itself resulting in blowouts that may disrupt your well-thought-out design.
For these cuts when using a kitchen knife, you will want to use more force and make that cut deeper. You may choose to cut one side in a moon shape, a large ‘X’ across the middle, made into the design itself, or one long slit. Your bread needs a place allotted for expansion.
The other cuts are purely for decoration and can be in any design or pattern you choose. You simply don’t want to cut them too deep or they will expand as well. (This is the same concept with or without a bread lame.)
Do I have to have rice flour to make sourdough?
The simple answer: no.
I have never used rice flour when baking sourdough. I didn’t even know until recently when someone asked if they needed to use it that rice flour was even a thing.
Rice flour is used for dusting bannetons because it does not absorb moisture the same way other flours might.
I have never used rice flour in baking sourdough. I’m fairly sure this ancient form of bread making has survived without it in the past.
If you choose to use it, that is completely fine. It is also a gluten-free option! But if you are questioning if you can forego the rice flour in sourdough- you 100% can! Just use all-purpose or whatever flour you normally use in its place!
How to bake sourdough without a Dutch oven?
I would love to have a Dutch oven. I showed my husband the one I wanted the other day because I have high hopes for Christmas. The thing is though I want it mainly for soups and roasts, but would absolutely try bread in it.
However, I have made hundreds of sourdough loaves without one just fine.
I simply use a piece of parchment paper and my cast iron skillets.
I always preheat my cast irons, though never for the time recommended, A lot of recipes call for preheating your cast iron for a full hour! Honestly, that seems like a waste of energy and this post is all about frugal sourdough baking.
I preheat my oven to 475 and toss in my cast iron to heat up with the oven.
While my oven preheats, I pull my dough from the fridge (you can do this up to an hour before baking). I pull the dough from the bowl by gripping the ends of the cloth. I then lay the dough directly onto my parchment paper with the correct side up, pull off the cloth, and dust the dough in a bit more flour.
Lastly, I score the dough in the desired design, give it a ventilation slit, and then after carefully removing the hot cast iron from the oven, I transfer the parchment paper with the dough into the cast iron and place it back into the oven.
I generally bake my bread for 20 minutes at 475 and then lower the oven temperature to 425 and bake another 15 to 20 minutes. For especially crusty bread, use a spray bottle to spritz water on the outside of the loaf.
Tips for Purchasing and Caring for Cast Iron:
- Purchasing a brand new cast iron can be costly and if you are purchasing it for non-toxic cookware, you will most likely end up reseasoning it anyway since many are seasoned with soybean or other seed oils. Purchasing second-hand is the best way to buy cast iron. Nearly every thrift store has some abandoned beauties in need of a little love. I got my large cast iron skillet at a second-hand shop. It was caked in cooked eggs and only eight dollars. I baked the egg off in the oven on a high temperature, reseasoned and I have made everything from eggs to pancakes to roast and bread in it ever since!
- There is a lot of conflicting information on caring for cast irons. Use dish soap, don’t use dish soap, clean regularly, never clean- and on and on it goes. Whatever camp you find yourself in is fine with me, but the most important things are:
Caring for Cast Iron:
1. Never put your cast iron away wet. As soon as you wash it, wipe it dry and store it in a dry place. I store mine in the oven and I often put them back in while the oven is still warm to ensure they are nice and dry.
2. Season regularly with a good oil. I will leave a video here for how to properly season your cast iron; this really helped me when I first started.
3. Remove stuck-on bits through either heat- in a high-temperature oven to basically bake it off, using a stainless steel scrubber- like these here, or using coarse salt and a kitchen sponge!
If you don’t have a cast iron and don’t want to purchase one just yet a pizza stone, baking sheet, or even a loaf pan will suffice. It may affect the shape, but you will still get good results and the taste will still be well worth it!
How to tell if your bread is baked
There is nothing worse than going through the full process, the long ferment, the beautiful bake, slicing into a lovely loaf and finding it underbaked and gummy inside.
One way to tell if your bread is baked is simply by using an internal thermometer. Bread should be between 195 and 210 to ensure it is properly cooked through.
This is a frugal sourdough blog though, so what can you do if you don’t have a thermometer and don’t want to purchase one?
You knock on it.
I’m not kidding; this is always how I check my bread. Bread that is properly baked should be golden brown b- not blonde or still presenting a dough-y appearance, and when you knock on it, it should sound perfect hollow!
This has been controversial over the years, but really it is a timeless practice and I have never had it fail. If you have any doubts that your bread is not cooked through, bake it a little longer!
Need a simple sourdough bread recipe to get you started? Check out this one from Farmhouse on Boone!
A Simple Start to Sourdough
A lot of people have grown interested in sourdough recently, but a lot are feeling put off by this idea that they need a ton of equipment, cash, or even skills to start.
When we want to take up sewing we generally start with only a needle and thread. For every hobby, every craft, and every new skill there are a million things marketed as “must haves”. And I’m certain they are fun to have and add new elements to your work, but they are not essential.
The hardest part of starting anything new is just taking the first step.
It doesn’t matter how anyone else’s bread looks or what special tools they use, all that matters is that you are beginning something new that will be a blessing to your family.
So if you’ve been too scare to start, let me invite you to take the first step today! You can absolutely make perfect sourdough without special equipment! Check out our blog on simplifying sourdough and let’s bake (and aim!) together!