Monday, August 20, 2012

(Mis) Adventures with Sourdough

Middle son and his girlfriend, Blaine, were here for a short visit this month. Blaine was carrying with her a sourdough starter acquired from her Uncle Louis...which she was willing to share. Yeah!  A new thing to try. I like a challenge, which is a good thing, because this has been just that...a real challenge!

This isn't going to be a real how-to. There are many, many, many sites on how to make, keep, and use sourdough starter. I happen to be stubborn and want to use Uncle Louis's specific directions, even though they haven't yet resulted in edible bread. I'll just chronicle my mishaps; maybe you can learn what NOT to do.

After receiving the starter, I perused the 'net looking for advice on how to feed it and keep it alive. (Sourdough starter is at its most basic, a chemical reaction between the bacteria in the flour, the air, and creates it's own leavening agent. It must be "fed" periodically to keep that fermenting process going.) Uncle Louis said to keep it in the fridge, but I remember my mom keeping it on the counter. What I learned was that you can keep it in the fridge, it slows the process down, so you don't need to feed it as often.  And you can go away for a few days without hiring a sourdough sitter. Or you can keep it room temp and feed it more often. 

I opted for the fridge. When we lived in our old neighborhood Amish Friendship Bread made the rounds, which was kept on the counter and fed twice a day. I had starter in ziploc baggies everywhere....and no one would take it. It was like zucchini in August...everyone locks the doors when they see you coming with an armload.

Here're Uncle Louis' directions:
  1. 1. In a large bowl mix together 3 cups flour, 2 tsp. kosher salt, 1/2 cup sourdough starter, 1 1/4 cups water
  2. Mix thoroughly, cover, let sit overnight on the counter. (8-12 hrs)
  3. Scrape the dough out of the bowl onto a floured surface, let sit for 5 minutes.
  4. Stretch and fold over itself both ways twice. (kinda like a sheet) 
  5. Flip it over, gluten (stretched) side facing up. Sprinkle with some four if it is shiny. 
  6. Cup it in your hands (with a little flour) pushing the top upwards, then lay on floured surface and cover with a floured towel
  7. Preheat oven and cast iron pot (with lid) to between 430 and 450 degrees, the bread can sit for 20-30 minutes while the oven and the pot get hot. 
  8. Flip the dough, cover & bake for 30 minutes.  
  9. Uncover, cook for 30 more minutes, cool on a rack.  
  10. Add 1/2 cup flour to your starter and about 1/4 water, keep it on the counter overnight with the top loose, in the morning tighten the top and refrigerate it until you use it again.
Following the directions exactly, I got....a brick. Actually more like a stone. Very attractive, but my sharp bread knife didn't even dent the crust. 

Attempt number two, I made a few changes.
1. I kneaded it this time, until a finger pressed in it bounces back.
2. I didn't heat the pot when I preheated the oven.

Attempt number two also turned out like a stone. 

Attempt number three:
1. Took the starter out the night before and fed it. Left it on counter.
2. Let the dough rise for 10 hours rather than 8
3. And I did not knead it.

Attempt number three resulted in a slightly raised but very dense loaf, with a really tough crust. Also inedible. Lest you think this process has been truly wasteful, I will tell you that the bread did get eaten. All three loaves. Just not by people. (Chickens love sourdough rocks.)

By this time I was feeling quite the sourdough failure. So to cheer myself up, I made sourdough pancakes.

2 cups sourdough starter, room temperature (see below)
2 tablespoons sugar
1 egg
4 tablespoons melted butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon warm water

The night before using your sourdough starter, remove from refrigerator and let come to room temperature. Then feed the starter with flour and water. Let this sit at least eight (8) hours, preferably overnight. It is now ready to use in your sourdough pancakes.

In a large bowl add sourdough starter, sugar, egg, melted butter, and salt; mix well; set aside.

In a small bowl stir 1 teaspoon baking soda into 1 tablespoon of warm water. Important: Only add baking soda/water mixture to the pancake batter just before you are ready to cook the pancakes.

Heat your griddle and lightly grease it.

When ready to cook your sourdough pancakes, fold the baking soda/water mixture gently into the prepared pancake batter (do not beat). This will cause a gentle foaming and rising action in the batter. Let the mixture bubble and foam a minute or two before using.

For each pancake, pour approximately 1/4 cup sourdough pancake batter onto hot griddle.
When pancakes bubble, it's time to flip! Cook the pancakes 1 to 2 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Remove from heat and serve.


  1. The pancakes were great! Way more flavorful than regular old white flour. Thanks wife!

    1. Thanks Husband. I was afraid you might be offended with my attempt at making breakfast. Totally your area of expertise!


Thanks for the comments!