Sourdough bread is a tricky thing to get right. But Breadwinner, a new smart gadget in development from hardware designers (and bread lovers) Fred Benenson and Sarah Pavis, is looking to try to take a little bit of the mystery out of the yeast by offering an app-connected gadget that can track the volume and temperature of your starter and notify you when it’s ready to bake, via Laughing Squid.
If you’ve never baked with a starter before, it’s very different from store-bought yeast. Your starter (mine, in case you were curious, is named Lancelot) needs to be fed frequently and rises and falls throughout the day as the yeast feeds on the sugars in the flour and creates bubbles of carbon dioxide — the same bubbles that help make your finished loaf of sourdough so fluffy and delicious.
But figuring out when to use your starter after a feeding is a tricky balance of art and science. What Breadwinner aims to do is take the guesswork out of the equation by letting you track the growth of your starter after a feeding and letting you know precisely when the peak point is to start mixing your doughs. It also logs previous feedings, allowing you to track the performance of your starter over time and tweak variables to get that perfect loaf.
The Breadwinner unit itself is designed to fit on top of a 16oz Ball Mason jar, and it works by using an infrared sensor to measure starter height. It also can take temperature readings of the surrounding air to make sure that it’s not too hot (or too cold), and it includes Wi-Fi connectivity to connect to your smartphone. A button on the top lets you easily log when you’ve fed your starter.
The current model — which costs $140 — is in the middle of a public prototyping phase. Buying a Breadwinner today is emphatically not buying a finished product. The hardware is extremely unfinished, and the current version charges via Micro USB, which I am fervently hoping will be swapped to USB-C for the finished product.
Obviously, that’s a lot to spend on any gadget, much less one that’s still extremely unfinished and as limited in function as this one — but if you’re someone who really likes baking bread, gadgets, and data analysis, it could be a fun addition to your kitchen.
The Breadwinner team is also planning to use feedback from early users — and the valuable data from the different types of starters, flour mixes, and feeding schedules from more users — to further refine the product before a commercially produced version arrives in the future. That might be worth waiting for if you’d prefer a more refined (or cheaper) product. To sweeten the pot, the prototype also comes with access to a Breadwinner Discord and a $50 discount of the final model when it’s released.
Breadwinner isn’t just about the single gadget, though. The site is pitched as an online community for bread enthusiasts, a self-described “social network for yeast” that aims to be a place for bakers to post recipes, share bread pictures, and get advice from fellow bakers, too.