I baked up these buns as a special treat for Grant’s birthday brunch, and seriously, they were epic. Pillowy, tender, studded with crunchy toasted almonds, and perfumed with the essence of our heavenly freshly-harvested honey. They have just the right amount of richness without overdoing the butter, and like any sensible breakfast bun recipe, they’re designed to hang out in the fridge for a slow overnight rise after being shaped the day before, so they’re ready to sleepily toss into the oven while you start brewing a pot of your best coffee – special weekend treat-yo-self baking at its best.
We’ve been culturing a deep appreciation for sourdough here at flavorRD! We started with a crash course on sourdough’s history, science and nutrition benefits, followed by the how and WHY of getting your starter started. This week, I’m finishing the series by walking you through my weekly sourdough baking ritual, and sharing some of my favorite recipe successes from my experiments so far.
My Weekly Sourdough Ritual
Since the feeding and maintenance of a sourdough starter requires you to set aside a portion to “discard,” it only makes sense to synchronize feeding time with a weekly baking session. Make that starter earn his keep! Once you’ve grown a sourdough culture, no matter what tempting treats are on your “to bake” list, they all start with the same simple steps that make up the weekly ritual:
- Take the starter out of the fridge, pouring off any liquid that has accumulated on top (this is alcohol from the yeast’s slow fermentation!) and giving the rest a quick stir.
- Divide the starter into two halves – set one aside for baking, and leave the other in your ‘crock’ (FYI: mine is just tupperware) to continue your culture.
- Use a kitchen scale* to weigh 4 oz. flour** and 4 oz. water, and stir them into the remaining starter in the crock until smoothly combined. Allow it to sit, covered but not airtight, at room temperature for 2 hours before returning it to the fridge. This gives your microbial friends some time to eat before going back to ‘sleep’ for the week.
- Take the other half of the starter that you set aside, and use it in a tasty recipe! It can often be used in this “unfed” state (ie. in baked goods that either don’t need to rise much, that involve a pre-ferment, or in quickbread type recipes that include another leavener like baking powder/soda), but if you want it to be powerful enough to leaven bread, you’ll want to give this half its own feeding as well. To give it some extra “oomph,” feed the discard starter with 4 oz. flour and water just like in the last step, and let it hang out for about 12 hours before baking. If I’m planning to bake bread on Saturday, I usually take my starter out on Friday night, split it, and feed both halves. Then after 2 hours, I put one half back into the fridge for next week, and leave the other half out overnight to continue fermenting until I’m ready to bake the next morning.
* I actually use this inexpensive + very precise pocket scale!
** I usually feed my starter with unbleached all-purpose flour, which yields the most reliable results. But once every few weeks I prefer to liven things up with a feeding of whole-wheat flour instead.
Highlights of my Sourdough Baking Rotation
And finally, what we’ve all been waiting for… the recipes!
Pizza Crust: I’ve already mentioned (and teased on Instagram) my obsession with crafting the perfect whole grain sourdough crust for pizza night. Recipe testing is still in progress, but you can definitely look forward to seeing the results here once I get it dialed in.
Pancakes + Waffles: Weekend breakfast turns your sourdough ritual into an opportunity to show your household some love. This basic recipe from King Arthur Flour has an overnight rise with buttermilk, and comes out superbly light and fluffy. I substitute whole-wheat pastry flour instead of the all-purpose stuff, with great results, and it’s also a good foundation for customizing variations with your favorite mix-ins. In fact, I have a new seasonal specialty coming your way soon!
Biscuits: I’ve only experimented with sourdough biscuits once so far, but they definitely warrant further study! I tried a variation on this cheddar biscuit recipe from Cultures for Health (great resource for all things fermented), and although it came out a little more like a dinner roll than a fluffy/flaky biscuit, we still ate them enthusiastically. The dough is marbled with sharp cheddar, black pepper and garlic, which I was compelled to enjoy savory-sweet style: topped with a drizzle of honey. Next, I’ve got my sights set on these cheddar-chive beauties.
Seed Bread: When I wrote last week about my motivations for starting a sourdough habit, there was another bullet point that I should have included: because I am addicted to sourdough seed bread! I first got hooked on the version they sell at the bakery department at Sprouts, and then when I found this recipe from Smart Nutrition (one of my all-time-fave RD bloggers) I’m pretty sure it was seriously the tipping point that inspired me to adopt my new sourdough pet. I add hemp seeds to mine, and it is outrageously good.
Those are the baking basics that have stood out as the house favorites during my first couple of months experimenting with my new sourdough ritual, but I look forward to baking plenty more healthy, fermented grainy goodies. You can keep up with ongoing updates on my baking inspiration on my Sourdough Recipes Pinterest board (next on my list: those popovers and those donuts!)
Readers, now it’s your turn: tell me about your sourdough! What are your best tips and must-try recipes?
flavorRD is on a sourdough baking kick! Last week we started with a crash course on sourdough’s history, science and nutrition benefits. This week, it’s all about getting your own culture started.
Want to know the coolest thing about getting started experimenting with sourdough in your own kitchen? You don’t need to have connections with a veteran baker or buy a special culture – the microorganisms that make up sourdough are all around you, just waiting to forge a symbiotic relationship with you and your baking habit. Wild yeast and lactobacillus bacteria live on the surface of flour granules and in the air around us, and when you provide them with the right conditions, they’re happy to set up shop.
How do I capture a culture?
All it takes is a container of flour and water mixed together on your counter. At regular intervals, you feed the culture with more flour and water, after first removing some of the mixture before feeding time (in addition to making sure you don’t end up with a giant doughball that takes over the city, this basically serves to keep acidity in check and to cull the herd, allowing a smaller population of microorganisms to eat what you feed them and multiply with less competition, and fewer byproducts of metabolism that might slow their growth). Simply follow the feeding schedule, and you’ll have your own thriving culture in about a week!
I’m not going to break down a step-by-step schedule here, because it’s been done well many times on the web already. When I started my starter, I mostly followed this guide by the people at King Arthur Flour, with the benefit of some extra insights from Smart Nutrition and The Kitchn. The simple flour/water/time protocol yielded a healthy, happy starter that just chills contentedly in my fridge all week, and unfailingly springs to action when I take him out to play.
OK, but remind me again why it’s worth it to take time from my busy schedule for the care and feeding of a living baking ingredient?
Excellent question. With the word-count I’m saving by outsourcing the how-to, I’m choosing to dig a little deeper into the why-to. Home-baked sourdough bread is a nice way to enhance a happy-healthy life, but it does take a little effort. You might think of it in the same light as other “healthy habits” that you’re motivated to work into your life, like taking time on the weekend to chop up a surplus of your favorite veggies.
So let’s consider motivation. Sourdough’s health benefits are a good reason to incorporate a starter into your baking repertoire, but honestly, I knew about those facts for months before I mustered up the will to get started. Motivation is about a personal, emotional connection to your goal. If you feel like you want to do something, take a moment to think about WHY you feel that way. Once you can define your motivation, you can use that connection to fuel your inspiration, to decide that it’s worth your effort to start it up and stick with it.
Sound like a chore? It’s really just about getting in touch with the good feelings you have about your aspirations. Allow me to demonstrate with the easy-breezy answers that come to mind when I ask myself the question:
Why Should I Start a Sourdough Habit?
Because it makes me feel like a baking wizard. Or at least, you know, some kind of baking MacGyver. I can’t diffuse a bomb with a paper clip, but I can make a mean loaf of bread with just flour, water, salt, and time. Knowing about traditional methods of food production is a valuable life skill; we come from a long line of humans before us, and it’s good to be in touch with our roots. During my weekly baking sessions, I often think about my post-apocalyptic survival skills, and how my camp will still be enjoying the pleasures of leavened breads as long as we can get our hands on enough flour!
Because science is fun. It’s good to be curious, and science is really just organized curiosity. Some of my reasons for creating this blog centered on joining like-minded readers in the joys of paying attention to the wonders of the world around us, and working with sourdough is a great opportunity to learn something cool. I love that my sourdough science project takes me back to my college days in microbiology class, except even better (ie. instead of cramming for exams, I’m cramming baguettes in my mouth. science rules!)
Because life is too short for bad bread. Before I took up my sourdough project, I often settled for some pretty uninspiring grocery-store bread to keep up with my household’s carb appetite. Now, since almost every weekend yields a batch of awesome home-made sourdough baked goods (often with leftovers to bank in the freezer) I’ve cut way back on the riffraff. Good bread makes life better!
Starting a sourdough starter is really a pretty easy, foolproof project – it’s amazing what you can do with just a little flour, water, time, and motivation! If you have your own culture or plans to cultivate one (or if you could use a little more inspiration first), don’t miss next week’s post: I’ll be talking about the simple steps of my weekly sourdough ritual, and the best recipes in my baking rotation.
Say hello to my doughy little friend.
It’s a bubbling, fermenting colony of bacteria and fungi that lives in my fridge, but it’s nothing to get squeamish about… it’s just sourdough! I started my first starter about 3 months ago, and I’ve been experimenting with this ancient form of baking biotech just about every week since then. It’s been a fun learning experience, and now I feel like I’ve gotten enough of a handle on it that I can share my dietitian/baker perspective. This post is the first installment of a 3-part series covering the ins and outs of the process, along with the reasons why you might be motivated to start up a habit too!
What is Sourdough?
To give a satisfactory answer to this question, let me break it down into two parts:
The History Lesson: If you peer far enough into the past, you’ll find a time when all breads were sourdough breads. At the dawn of agriculture, humans began eating their newly cultivated grains, ground and mixed with water as porridge and flatbread. When these simple batters were left out long enough, they created a moist & cozy home for the local wild yeast and bacteria. That’s when our neolithic ancestors discovered the magical leavening and preserving qualities of sourdough.
The Science Lesson: The sourdough culture is a symbiotic community of microorganisms that naturally grow on the surfaces of grains and in the air around us. These microbial friends include wild yeast (whose fermentation of starches/sugars yields carbon dioxide gas, which creates the air bubbles that leaven bread) and lactobacillus bacteria (whose fermentation yields lactic acid, which keeps the medium acidic enough to resist spoilage, and which also contributes to sourdough’s signature flavor).
Sourdough is Healthy?
If you only think of sourdough as a tangy flavor in specialty breads, you may be surprised to learn about all the attention it’s been getting lately for its nutrition benefits. Research has been revealing some fascinating facts about sourdough, and it’s all due to the probiotic cultures living in this fermented food.
- Increased mineral bioavailability. Whole grains are full of essential minerals like zinc, magnesium and iron – that’s why dietitians are always on your case to eat more of them! But grains also contain compounds called phytates that bind to these minerals and inhibit their absorption in the gut. The lactic acid created by the bacteria in sourdough breaks down phytates, and consequently increases your ability to absorb the minerals in your bread.
- Lower glycemic index. The lactic acid in sourdough alters the starch/protein microstructure that forms during baking. The resulting bread has starch that our bodies digest more slowly. Slower breakdown of starch means a less dramatic glucose response, preventing undesirable spikes in insulin. (If you want to really dig into the science, this paper is fascinating.)
- “Probiotic” benefits. Although our microbial companions are not able to survive their trip through the oven, their byproducts hang in there, providing a variety of the benefits associated with fermented foods. Before they check out, the good bacteria are nice enough to leave us a selection of antioxidant, cancer-fighting and immune-boosting compounds.
- Elimination of gluten. Enzymes from both the wild yeast and lactobacillus bacteria work together to degrade wheat flour’s gluten proteins into smaller peptides. The microorganisms are so good at this, that researchers have measured certain sourdough breads as having gluten concentrations of just 12 PPM… that’s legally gluten-free! This is good news if you have trouble tolerating gluten (and tolerating the taste of gluten-free breads).
Is your interest piqued? Don’t forget to tune in next week, when I’ll be back to talk about getting your starter started!