Nearly Everything You Want to Know About Sourdough!
Since the 50’s it has been a weekly tradition in our family to make sourdough pancakes one weekend morning.
Mother’s sourdough starter came directly from Henton’s Lodge (now The Sportsman’s Lodge) at Cooper Landing on the Kenai Peninsula, not long after the road from Seward to Anchorage opened. We like to believe that the sourdough starter we use today still has its ancestry in that starter Mother obtained in the early 50’s. Henton’s cooks swore that it’s origin came from an actual “sourdough” gold miner around the turn of the century.
Mother’s Sourdough Instructions:
Keep a cup to a cup and a half of starter on hand in a ceramic or glass pot in the refrigerator. If you don’t use it for more than a week, add a little white flour to it and stir; it will keep for a long time by doing that weekly if not used. You should let at least 4 or 5 days go by between using the starter. If you want to use it more often, keep the starter “pot” on the kitchen counter, as it will be more active than in the refrigerator. You may have to “feed it” with flour and water if you need to make a larger batch of starter or if it forms a liquid on top (hootch).
The night before you are ready to use your starter, take it out of the refrigerator, and put the starter in a large glass or ceramic (NOT METAL or plastic) mixing bowl. Never use metal utensils with it – I use wooden spoons, but the new spatulas will work, too. Put the starter in the bowl and add enough flour to make what you think you’ll need for pancakes (3-5 cups), and warm water. As it tends to thin out, I like to make it fairly thick. Cover the bowl and let it sit on the counter in a warm location overnight. Always make plenty, so you can be sure and have enough to replenish your starter pot.
The next morning, when you are ready for breakfast, remove enough of the batter to be your new starter (1 to 1½ cups), cover it, and put back in the refrigerator. Remember, NO METAL spoons!
The batter will really froth up after you add the following, and then goes flat fairly soon, so I don’t do this until ready to cook. When ready, add:
1-2 Tbsp olive oil (or other vegetable oil), added to batter
1 egg (optional)
In small cup, mix:
2 Tbsp sugar
½ tsp salt (or to taste)
1 ½ tsp soda
Add just a wee amount of warm water, enough to cover, but not dissolve the dry ingredients.
Add to sourdough mixture and stir gently, folding over, with spoon. Do not beat. You are ready for pancakes! Cook on moderately hot grill or pan.
Your starter “pot” should be ceramic or glass. I prefer Corning Ware. They make a nice 2+ cup soup cup with a handle that is just perfect. It comes with a lid, but I use plastic wrap on top of the pot.
Mom used to add the egg only if she was making waffles, rather than pancakes.
My Daughter, Naomi’s Sourdough Instructions:
Legend has it that this starter has been in my family since the late 1940’s when my grandmother and grandfather obtained a starter from Henton’s Roadhouse somewhere between Anchorage and Homer. According to our family legend, the owners of the Roadhouse claim that this starter had been continuously used since around of the turn of the century (1900).
Members of my family will always tell visitors that come over for pancakes the above story with great pride. In fact, this seems to be a point of pride among many sourdough users, I suppose the idea has something to do with taste, the older the sourdough the better it tastes!
What I find hilarious is a conversation I had with my grandmother many years ago, I had lost the starter I had obtained from her and was requesting more and lamenting the fact that I had failed to preserve my starter (actually, it was probably just fine, I just did not know enough at the time.) Anyway, my grandmother shared with me that she had lost the starter many times over the years and had to start over – basically making a new starter ‘sponge’. If you google sourdough, you will find many different ways to start sourdough.
Sourdough is interesting, it is low in gluten so people who have gluten intolerance can eat sourdough without problems, it is incredibly difficult to kill, and it is quite high in protein. I do not like pancakes unless they are sourdough; probably this has to do with familiarity as those were the only pancakes I had ever had growing up. However, I think it has to do with taste and texture as well, many people that I have introduced to sourdough refuse to go back to any other type of pancake.
Your sourdough is fine unless it has pink in it, the pink indicates that harmful bacteria has gotten into it. I have only had that happen once and it was when I was leaving it out on the counter (not refrigerating) and then I stopped using it daily. When you put the sourdough in the refrigerator in a jar, you can poke some holes in the jar lid to give the sourdough air (I do not do that and I have had no problems and my sourdough doesn’t absorb some of the other smells, it seems to taste better, at least to me). As your sourdough sits in the refrigerator, it is still alive but the growth process is slowed due to the cold. Over time there will be a clear liquid that forms on the top of your sourdough, as time marches on it will become grey and then progressively get darker. Please do not become alarmed, your sourdough is fine and this is ‘hooch’, the old sourdoughs used to drink this when they could not get alcohol. Some folks recommend draining it off, I do not, I stir it back in as I think it adds flavor to my sourdough. Either way is really a preference and neither way is wrong. If you store your sourdough in the refrigerator and are not using it weekly, periodically you should revive the sourdough by adding a tablespoon or two of flour, maybe an equal amount of water and if you want a tablespoon of sugar.
Remember – sugar will sour the flavor of sourdough and baking soda will sweeten the flavor.
First things first, lets talk about the starter:
You will always make a sponge using your starter. The night before (12-24 hours) you will put an equal amount of flour and warm water into a large ceramic bowl (don’t use metal it destroys sourdough, plastic does not retain enough heat) and add the jar of sourdough starter (usually about a cup worth or so). Cover this with a dish towel and let it sit overnight. In the morning you should see that the sourdough has increased in volume, is bubbly and gloopy.
Before you do anything else, take out about a cup of the starter, returning it to the jar and put it into the refrigerator. If you use your starter all of the time, you can leave it out in a ceramic sourdough pot, taking from the pot as you need starter and refreshing the starter with flour and water. You do run an increased risk of getting harmful bacteria in the sourdough, particularly if you are not using it every day.
My pancakes which will feed three or four comfortably:
Start the night before with 3 cups flour, 3 cups warm water, the starter and sometimes I will add a tablespoon or so of sugar. I cover this with a flour cloth towel.
In the morning when I am ready, I pull out about a cup of sourdough (I fill the jar ¾ of the way full).
I get my griddle going and begin heating the maple syrup.
I then add to the remaining batter, 2 eggs, and about 1-2 tablespoons of oil and mix it in.
Once that is mixed in and right before I am ready to begin cooking the pancakes, I take a small cup and add a teaspoon of baking soda, 1 tablespoon of sugar and a ½ teaspoon of salt. I add just a bit of warm water, mix that all together. I add that mixture to the pancake batter and fold it in. The sourdough if mature will bubble and rise when I do this. You will want to cook your pancakes right after you add this mixture.
Preserving sourdough for storage or travel:
Sourdough does not travel well in liquid form. It re-activates when warmed and will begin expanding. It can and will overflow out of containers. I have given it to folks who have packed it well in their luggage, only to have it explode during traveling and it is all over their clothes.
You can dry sourdough! Who knew? I will often make extra ‘sponge at night’ with the intent of drying some of it. You can get wooden spoons, dip the spoon into the sourdough and then dry the sourdough onto the spoon, you can wrap those and give them as gifts.
I will take some and spread it on parchment paper that I lay out on cookie sheets, put those in the oven (no heat) and let them dry. In about two days, it is dry and I can then put the cracked sourdough pieces into plastic bags or glass jars and store them in my pantry just in case. Make sure that the layer of sourdough is really thin, this allows for faster drying and is easier when you are breaking it up.
Sourdough needs a bit of time to re-start from a dried form. You use the same method of starting your sourdough from the dried form as you do to refresh your sourdough.
Mature sourdough has yeast like properties and will rise. The true test of a sourdough starter is if you can successfully make raised bread without using yeast.
From time to time you do want to refresh your sourdough, particularly if you have long spells where you are not using it. You do this using the following steps:
In a ceramic bowl add 1 cup flour, 1 cup warm water and your sourdough starter – cover and let rise 12-24 hours.
Throw away ½ of the batter – (sourdough is like glue, do not pour down the sink, I put it in a plastic zip lock bag and chuck it in the garbage). Get a fresh ceramic bowl, add 1 cup flour, 1 cup warm water and the other ½ of the batter – cover and let rise 12 -24 hours.
Repeat this process until the sourdough is bubbly and gloopy.
With the dry starter I will put it in a small bowl with really warm water, let it dissolve a bit and then put it into the flour, warm water mix. I also do 2 cups flour and 2 cups warm water for the first batch, then move into the refresh process.
You can make lots of things with sourdough, I make bread, rolls, pretzels, cinnamon rolls, cookies and pie crust. I use it for sweet and savory pies as well as turnovers. There are tons of recipes out there, my favorite place is the Sourdough Surprise website – http://sourdoughsurprises.blogspot.com/ . Each month they challenge folks to use their sourdough to make all sorts of stuff; the recipes there are awesome. I have made the pretzels and the baklava sourdough cinnamon rolls (yummy) !
Many of these recipes use yeast, I do not use yeast, instead I keep my sourdough very mature and it will rise without adding yeast.
Jana’s Sourdough Bread
1 c. starter
5 c. flour
2½ c. water
Mix, cover and let set 18-24 hours on countertop.
Next day add:
Mixture of 3 Tbsp. oil or shortening
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. salt
1½ tsp. baking soda
Mix well; add additional 2½ c. flour
Kneed and shape into two loaves. Place in glass 5×9 baking pans; cover and let rise 2-5 hours. Brush with melted butter. Bake at 400° for 45 minutes.
Maxine Reed’s Sourdough Pancakes (Pauline’s mother)
In medium sized bowl beat one egg white stiff, but not dry. In another bowl put:
1 egg yolk
1 tsp. soda
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. oil
½ c. undiluted condensed milk
Beat well. Add 2 c. sourdough sponge. Blend as quickly as possible, taking care not to break bubbles, as they are the leavening. Fold in beaten egg white. Cook on griddle immediately.
A Valuable Resource:
Jana’s 90% Gluten-free Sourdough Pancakes
There is some thought that the action of the sourdough breaks down gluten in the flour, and therefore sourdough is safe for those who are gluten sensitive. I don’t know how true this is. I do know that gluten is required for dough to rise. I’ve tried to make sourdough bread with gluten free flour, with no success.
Since I don’t have the time or energy to delve whole-heartedly into totally gluten-free sourdough recipes that call for different kinds of fermentation and use of chia seed or flax seed jell, I invented my 90% gluten-free sourdough pancakes. I make these pancakes with gluten-free Bob’s Red Mill Oat Flour combined with Bob’s Red Mill All Purpose Baking Flour and they are hearty and yummy! Furthermore, I make them at least once a week and usually have a dozen or so left over that I keep in the refrigerator and pop into the toaster oven to heat up on days I’m not making sourdoughs from scratch. My husband loves them and uses them instead of bread for sandwiches. At least this way, I know what the ingredients are and don’t have to worry about all the preservatives and fillers that even commercial gluten-free breads have. Plus, they are delicious, even warmed up after several days in the refrigerator, and yummy with peanut butter!
I do make sure that my starter remains pure in the sense that I only use good flour – in this case Bob’s Red Mill Unbleached White Flour combined with Bob’s Red Mill All Purpose Baking Flour. So there is gluten in my starter, but not in the “sponge” that I make my pancakes from. For those who aren’t familiar with sourdough terminology, the starter refers to the yeast-brew that you keep in a crock on the counter or in the refrigerator and feed with warm water and flour every few days. If left in the refrigerator, it can go for a week or more without feeding. Leaving it on the counter, it will warm up and grow and it will need to be fed every few days. These techniques are handy for times you will either be away from the house or kitchen for several days and want to keep it in the refrigerator, or if you want to make your “sponge”, you will want to place the starter on the counter to warm up and be fairly active.
As odd as it sounds, adding sugar will cause the starter to have a more sour taste. When working with my sponge, I have started using powdered stevia instead of sugar, and it is working out well.
Sourdough needs at all times to be in ceramic or glass bowls and you must only use plastic or wooden utensils. Metal interferes with sourdough in some way. A nice ceramic crock will work well for your starter. I have been using a 20 oz. Corning Ware soup cup with a handle and that seems to work just fine. I don’t use the lid, rather use plastic wrap to cover, held in place with a rubber band. Often the starter will froth up and I need to stir it down and replace the plastic wrap.
90% GLUTEN-FREE SOURDOUGH PANCAKE RECIPE
To make sourdough pancakes:
Split your sourdough starter. Keep about half in your starter crock and place the remaining starter in a large glass bowl.
To the starter remaining in your crock, add 3 to 5 heaping tablespoons of organic Bob’s Red Mill Unbleached White Flour. Add quite warm water and stir vigorously. I like to keep this mixture fairly thick. Cover with plastic wrap. Return to the refrigerator. In the large glass bowl on the counter that has the other half of the starter in it, sift in Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Oat Flour and Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free All Purpose Flour. I sift in one of the flours, add quite warm water and stir. Keep adding sifted flours and water until mixture is the amount you want. I usually end up using about ½ a package of the Oat Flour and an equal amount of the All Purpose Flour. It will make about eighteen pancakes, 4-4.5 inches in diameter. These stay nicely in the refrigerator for some days and work great for toast or as a peanut butter snack. They keep well frozen and then thawed.
Cover the “sponge” with a towel and let it sit on the counter for 18-24 hrs. I use a huge mixing bowl so the mixture doesn’t froth up and run over the edges and onto the counter.
The next day when you are ready for pancakes, in a small glass, add:
2 tsp sugar or 1 tsp stevia
1 tsp baking soda
¼ – ½ tsp salt (I measure in my palm)
Very warm water to cover and dissolve.
IMMEDIATELY before cooking add 2-3 TBSP olive oil to your sourdough sponge and the sugar/soda mixture. Fold into batter (it will rise as you fold in the soda mixture) and cook on griddle. Keep making pancakes until all your batter is gone. It will not keep its structure long.
Yummy with butter and maple syrup!