So, what do you reeeeallly need to make sourdough. The honest answer. Here's a handy list of some good equipment and clickable links. With our budget, I think about 'need to have' and 'nice to have'...you might be the same.
I also have a video with a quick explanation you can find here. Sourdough Gear - Show & Tell
Need to have:
- Some kind of dutch oven or combo cooker, You can get by with just baking on a sheet pan (free form) but you'll need to do some tricky stuff to get the steam you need. Dutch ovens don't have to cost a fortune. Just make sure the one you use doesn't have any plastic on it. My Combo-Cooker is dedicated to bread and my other Dutch Oven is an all-purpose workhorse that also bakes bread when I'm doing 2 loaves at a time.
- A scale is REALLY important but technically not essential. I still think it's a 'need to have'. Please, please buy a scale and get one that weighs within a 2-gram measurement and not a 5 gram (as in 0 then 5, then 10). Those gaps are too wide. A scale will make you a better baker, there's way less clean up (not getting measuring cups dirty) and once you start using it you'll wonder why on earth you haven't been doing this all along. If you're wondering then how will you convert between US volume and 'rest of the world' metric? There are reference lists all over the place online. King Arthur flour has one that's about 100 miles long and easy to use. Many reliable recipe sources will have a toggle button imbedded in the online recipe itself (me!). You get my point - but I do hope you switch to one.
- A razor blade. A must-have for a score - which is to slice the dough just before baking to create a controlled space for steam to release. A sharp knife might work in a pinch, but the danger is you could slice too shallow and you'll get a blowout or slice too deep and it could splay open your loaf, releasing all the surface tension you've built.
- Thermo-pen or thermometer - a 'need to have' for 2 reasons: it's important to check the temp of your dough as you move through the stretch & folds and bulk ferment, and it will also save you from using water that's too hot and causing problems with your levan.
Nice to have:
- Bench scraper - another technically not essential but super nice to have. It will help you flip dough to prevent misshaping it.
- Heavy-duty oven mitts - if you don't have some kind of thermal protection gloves then double or triple up on your oven mitts or pads - because that dutch oven is HOT.
- Lame - definitely nice, but not need to have. You can always use a straight razor blade (sharp on one side only). I often do that even though I have 3 lames in the drawer.
- Shower caps - they work perfectly to cover the bread bowl and also banneton, they're washable and obviously reusable. I've had the same ones for years. OR - a frugal free thing - pick up a few extra plastic bags from the produce section in your grocery store, and use these. They're generally large enough to fit over your bowl during bulk ferment, and my store has super big ones that I use to literally put my banneton inside it, then I blow it up like a blowfish and twist & knot the end. It's perfectly sealed and if the dough rises it won't hit the top surface of the bag.
- Boule bannetons and Batard bannetons - another nice to have but you can easily use a mixing bowl lined with a clean linen or cotton dishtowel, dust the heck out of it with rice flour (or regular all-purpose) so your dough won't stick.
- Dough scrapers - a very handy tool, makes things easier, but not entirely necessary.