Friday, May 1, 2020

The Other Side of Sourdough

When the pandemic hit, I kind of had a hunch that the world would turn to baking. After all, there is no food more fundamental, more grounding, more essential than a loaf of bread. But I had not foreseen the magnitude of what was about to happen, because the last time I went grocery shopping on Amazon, there was no AP flour, no bread flour, no wheat flour, no yeast, no vital wheat gluten, no baker's dry milk, no diastatic malt powder, no rice flour.

The only thing left are bannetons.

This, my friends, indicates some serious baking. But hey, I am among the millions of Americans to blame, so I really cannot complain here. I can only try harder to score the much-needed items. (As a matter of fact, as soon as I finish writing this post, I will put on my sneakers and my mask, and go hunting for some flour in the New York City supermarkets.)

But first, let me tell you about my baking passion du jour.

It's sourdough. But wait, it's not what you think. Sourdough breads are magical, and like any other baker I share the passion for making that perfect loaf, with huuuuuuge holes, and dark crispy crust, and the big eye, and all of that, and I hate to brag, but I am kind of proud of the loaves I've been turning recently (check out the photos *wink wink*), but, no. No, no, no. That's not it. I am currently obsessing over a different sourdough creature.

It's sourdough discard I am talking about. Because, one really ought to ask oneself: why feed all that lovely bacteria twice a day, only to get rid of most of it??? This thought is quite painful actually. Why do that when one can turn it into cakes, muffins, pancakes, crackers, batter, and whole bunch of other delectable goodies. Now, if you are one of those people who are feeding a couple of starters at the same time, you may end up with respectable quantities of sourdough leftover. So, for those of you, let me share my three favorite sourdough discard recipes of the moment.

No. 1 -- the berry cake. It's a more grown up, more complex version of the beloved original. There is a tang to it, and maturity that makes you want to ask questions about where it came from and what it did in its previous life. Do try to make it with white cornmeal if you have some, because it adds a new layer of flavor. (And in case you were wondering -- lemon blueberry combo is a classic, but believe me, orange is waaaaaaaaay better!)

No. 2 -- the crackers. We just can't get enough of them. Olive oil, rosemary, and black pepper pairing is straight out of the Flavor Bible, but if you are in the mood, you can add an invisible pinch of lavender. But no matter what, make sure to use your most flavorful, most robust olive oil, because the life of this cracker depends on it.

No. 3 -- the pretzel bread. If you happen to be surrounded by people who pretend to admire sourdough breads, but secretly crave those soft, fluffy creations, sweet and mellow, and almost cake-like (and I mean all of this with lots of respect and in a really good way), what else to bake than potato bread. But then, at least you can twist it a little, and turn it a little, and make it into a pretzel. Ha! It does look glorious and it tastes like a Cinnabon roll minus the cinnamon.

That was it.
Must go seek out my supplies now.
Be well, stay safe, take care of your loved ones.

Potato Flakes Sourdough Discard Bread 

for the bread

200 g AP flour
45 g mashed potato flakes
35 g baker's dry milk
100 g unfed sourdough discard at 100% hydration, at room temperature
60 g butter, softened
175 g water, at room temperature
1 tsp instant yeast (I use SAF Red)
25 g sugar
7 g salt

for egg wash

one egg
a handful of unroasted white sesame seeds


parchment paper
baking sheet

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, potato flakes, dry milk, sugar and yeast. Mix well. Add the sourdough starter and water, and mix with your finger until everything is roughly incorporated. Add the butter and salt. Slowly mix in and knead in the bowl with the palm of your hand for about two minutes, until you get coherent dough. It should be slightly sticky to the hand, but still manageable.

Dust the work surface with flour. Turn the dough onto it and knead gently for 7 minutes, until you have smooth, supple dough. Shape the dough into a ball and place it in a bowl. Cover, and let it rise for 75 minutes, until it's nearly doubled in bulk.

Transfer the risen dough to a lightly dusted work surface and pat or roll it into approximately 16"x12" rectangle. Roll the dough into a log the long way. When done, with your hands stretch the log gently, until you get about 30" long rope. Place the rope onto the a baking sheet and make a pretzel (see the picture below for the instructions). 

Slide the parchment paper with the pretzel onto a baking sheet, cover with kitchen towel and let it rise until it becomes noticeably round and puffy, about 60 - 75 minutes.

While the bread is rising, preheat the oven to 400°F.

In a small bowl, beat the egg. Brush the pretzel with a thin coat of the beaten egg and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake for 22 - 25 minutes until it's nicely golden. A digital thermometer inserted into the center of the bread should read at least 200°F.

Remove the bread from the oven and allow it to cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.

Mixed Berry Sourdough Cake  

150 g all-purpose flour
100 g cornmeal flour (preferably white)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup unfed sourdough starter at 100% hydration
1 large egg
1/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3/4 cup sugar
zest of half orange grated on a microplane
juice of half orange
1 tbsp vanilla extract (I use Nielsen-Massey) 

450 g blueberries and raspberries (or any berries really) 

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Grease a 9x5 inch loaf pan.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, baking soda, and salt.

In another bowl, beat the egg. Add the sourdough starter, buttermilk, olive oil, and sugar. Mix until fully combined. Add the orange zest, orange juice, and vanilla.

Add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture and stir gently without overmixing the dough. Stir in the fruits, until just blended.

Pour the batter into the baking pan, and place in the oven. Bake for about 40 minutes. Reduce temperature to 350°F and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove the pan from the oven and allow the cake to cool for about 15 minutes before removing it from the pan.

Rosemary and Olive Oil Sourdough Crackers  

115 g King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour (or 70 g all-purpose flour and 45 g whole wheat flour)
1 cup unfed sourdough starter at 100% hydration
1/4 cup robust-flavored extra virgin olive oil
1 generous tbsp finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 tbsp honey
1 1/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp coarsely ground pepper


wax paper
rolling pin
parchment paper
large baking sheet

large chopping board or cutting surface 

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sourdough starter, olive oil, honey, rosemary, and salt. Mix with your finger until combined, then knead gently. The dough will be somewhat sticky, but after about a minute of kneading it will become smooth and cohesive, and a bit oily, and should not stick to your fingers.

At this point you may want to separate the cracker dough into two sections, it can be easier to work with (I have a large baking sheet and chopping board and I do it all at once). Place the dough on the wax paper and shape it with your fingers into a rectangular slab. Dust the dough lightly with flour. Flour the rolling pin. Roll the dough as thin as possible -- you are aiming for less than 1mm thin dough.

Place the sheet with the wax paper onto a large cutting board and into the freezer for about 30 minutes, until the dough is firm enough to cut, but not entirely frozen. (This will make it much easier to cut the squares.)

Preheat the oven to 350°F (325°F convection bake). Line the baking sheet with parchment paper.

Take the sheet with the dough from the freezer. Using a sharp, heavy knife (chef's knife works great here) cut the dough into 1 1/4" squares. If you like, prick each square with a fork or skewer in the pattern of your choosing. Return the sheet with the dough to the freezer for another 20 minutes to firm up again. (This will make it easier to move the squares onto the baking sheet.)

Gently move the squares onto the baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Place the baking sheet onto the lowest rack in the oven. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the crackers are fully browned. (If you prefer crackers to be on lighter side, take them out of the oven at about 25 minutes, when they start to brown around the edges. But I really, really like them darker.) Midway through baking, rotate the baking sheet to help the crackers brown evenly.

Transfer the crackers to a cooling rack and let them cool completely before eating. Store in airtight container at room temperature for a couple of days.