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Sourdough Bread


Product Sources and Reviews

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Needed for pretzel making. This used to be a common grocery store item.  I still have an old plastic Red Devil lye bottle. Fortunately, soap making hobbyists also use lye, so it is available. Now, the only local source I have found is at Lowes, for $15 for two pounds. It is sold as drain opener. Personally, I wouldn't hesitate to use it for baking. Just make sure the ingredients are 100% sodium hydroxide.  However, Amazon has food grade lye for the same price, delivered.

I have purchased 2 lbs. for $12 delivered, but that seller is currently out of stock.  The above link has smaller quantities, but the per-ounce price goes way up. If you throw your lye solution away every time you bake, you will go thru it faster than you would think. I finally started saving my lye solution in a well-marked plastic container with a lid.  It does not need to be refrigerated.

Here is some not marketed as food-grade at a couple dollars savings:


Pretzel Salt

Get Morton's Coarse Mediterranean Sea Salt. It is perfect. Wal-Mart has it. I want to try pink Himalayan salt too.


11-watt light bulbs

Your turned-off oven is a great place to feed your sourdough and let your bread rise. Leaving the oven light on will warm the oven in the winter. However, the 40-watt bulb typically found in ovens can overheat your starter. I killed my starter that way.  I went to Ace Hardware, and found an 11-watt bulb, which raises the temperature inside my oven by about 8 degrees.  The bulb cost $5, and lasted only a few months.

I found out that these 11-watt bulbs are made to be put in outdoor signs, and are quite inexpensive when purchased in bulk.  Here is the most bang for the buck on Amazon. 

My last bulb lasted about 6 months, so 20 bulbs are more than I really want to order. I ordered two from eBay, but they took forever to arrive and cost about a dollar each. I can no longer find small quantities on eBay without getting ripped off on shipping.  You can get 12 for $9 on Amazon, but again, not much savings over just getting 20.

If you are local, contact me and I will sell you a few of mine.



I first tried an inexpensive "instant read" mechanical thermometer from Wal-Mart.  It worked OK, but was chintzy and didn't hold together very  long. I really didn't want to have something else with batteries if it could be avoided, so I ordered a better mechanical thermometer made by Rubbermaid from Amazon. It is well-built and is even dishwasher-safe. However, it took forever to read the temperature.  In fairness to this product, it is not advertised as rapid-read.

So I decided to try a digital thermometer.  An important feature for me was that it use a common battery that I keep on hand. It had to use AAAs, or worst-case LR-2032 button cells.  Walmart has a Taylor brand unit that looks nice, but it takes LR-44 batteries.

This thermometer uses 2 AAAs, not included. It works great with  rechargeable low-drain NiMHs.

It has a small, sharp probe that reads in 5 or 6 seconds.

It has a oven-save external probe which is nice. You can watch the internal temperature of the bread as it bakes. Insert the probe after the bread has begun to bake a little.  It is difficult to insert in raw high-glutin dough.

My only complaint is that the magnet is not really strong enough to hold it on anything.  Perhaps that problem is unique to my unit.

A Place for your Starter to Live

I have found that a covered Anchor-Hocking batter bowl to be the ideal home for your starter. Plenty big, and easy to feed, mix, and remove starter from. Get two of them. Every so often, move a little starter to the second as you clean the first. These were in stock at WalMart for around $8, but they are not in stock anymore.  Amazon's price is way out of line. I suspect Anchor-Hocking may have discontinued this item.

 Wal-Mart has a 7-cup Anchor-Hocking food storage container, currently on sale for around $4. Although I haven't personally tried this, it looks ideal. Remember to get two.


Unfortunately, I do not have a specific scale recommendation. I purchased one of these for about $20, and am very happy with it. It is a functional work of art.  The dishwasher-safe glass pedistal removes for easy cleaning, and has all of the features described below.  Unfortunately, it is apparently no longer manufactured.

Things to look for in an expensive kitchen scale:

  • Something that takes standard batteries. Except for a few rechargeable models, most use either AAAs or LR2032 button cells.  Reviews of models that use LR2032 cells usually complain of short battery life. So look for a model that takes AAAs.
  • 8kg/17 lb capacity. Most inexpensive scales have a 5 kg/11 lb capacity.  While this is enough for most home baking needs, I figure a scale with a larger capacity will be more durable.  And remember, the weight limit must handle not only your dough, but any heavy mixing bowls you may be using. Ours also doubles as a postal scale, so the extra capacity coms in handy for that.
  • The scale should have "touch buttons".  These are not actual buttons, but sensors under the shell of the scale that detect a nearby finger.  Mechanical buttons will get flour in the crack around them. Membrane buttons will eventually fail. The membrane tends to crack. 

    A note about touch buttons:  They will trigger if you spill water on them. I was pouring water out of a jug, and some dribbled onto the tare button.  Fortunately I had written the weight of the mixing bowl on it, and was able to calculate the total weight.  But now I pour water from the side of the scale.
  • The scale should read negative weight. This is handy for dividing dough.  For example, you want to make pretzels that weigh 125 grams each. Place the dough and the bowl that it is in on your scale. Press the Tare button to zero.  Remove dough until the scale reads -125 grams. Zero and proceed to weigh your second pretzel. I am not sure if this is a standard feature of all scales or not.  If in doubt, ask the seller before ordering.
  • Standard features that are on most if not all scales include a lbs/oz. and gram mode, with display accuracy of 1 gram. A Tare button zeros the scale after you apply weight to it. 
  • I prefer something with a pedistal so that the display and buttons are more accessible.  If the scale is flat, you can always use a peanut-butter-jar lid or something similar to  raise what you are weighing off of the platform.
Here is a scale that checks most of the boxes, including negative weights.  It got great reviews and the price is great. It has a 10 kg/22 lb. capacity, and has a Milk mode to determine the volume of milk based on weight. I have not personally used this scale. I just did some shopping for you. This is the one I would probably order if I needed a scale.

Consider purchasing a scale locally. You can open the box, see the quality of the buttons, and perhaps slip in some batteries and play with it. The Harbor Freight unit is a bit more expensive than other 5 kg models, but comes with an AC adapter, which is handy if you have a place to plug your scale in. The buttons looke like membrane buttons. I will look the next time I am at Harbor Freight.
Wal-mart stocks some scales too.

The good news is that any inexpensive digital scale that you find will get the job done. They are all accurate and will last for several years or more in the home kitchen.

Milligram Scale

This scale measures weights up to 50 grams/1.7 oz with accuracy to a few milligrams.  That's a few thousandths of a gram!  This is not something that you will need when baking bread.

I purchased it for dividing thyroid pills, and have used it to weigh spices and for weighing salt for bread.  However, my regular kitchen scale is fine for weighing salt when baking bread. If the salt is a gram or two off, it is not a big deal.

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