Sourdough Surprises

Sourdough Surprises May 2014: Sandwich "Buns".

So it's been a few months since I made time for the Sourdough Surprises baking group but it's not because I didn't want to do it.  Time seems to be going even faster now that the weather has turned for the warmer, and just yesterday I realized that it was close to the 20th and that I had just happened to bake my rolls in the morning.  Technically the challenge was for a sandwich bun, and these are bun-shaped so I'm going with it. 

sourdough rolls

I don't usually mess with rolls.  I don't know why, maybe because bread lasts longer and stales slower?  Because it's less monkeying around?  I've been following a few bread boards on Pinterest, and when I saw these, I knew I had to make them.  Made of heftier grains and plenty of water, I suspected they would be a good sandwich roll, and I was right.  I made just a dozen and only one remains 24 hours later.

After baking, with just enough time for them to come to room temperature, they were actually nice and soft - despite me misting them with water to try and encourage a crustier crust.  I used Kosher salt instead of fine salt, and when eaten plain, I would have preferred them a touch saltier.  However, made into a sandwich with some type of salty cheese, they were perfect.

sourdough rolls
Not so creative, but delicious asiago cheese and cucumber sandwich.

They are heartier than most soft buns, but I think when using deeper tasting grains that is acceptable.  I'm still using the local Lonesome Stone Milling flours (except for the spelt, which I ground myself from co-op spelt berries), and the taste is so so good.  By today, they really had developed some great flavors.  In fact, I'm thinking of making them again for tomorrow.

The recipe is incredibly simple:  just mix up the dough and autolyse without the salt for 45-60 minutes, then add the salt and give it a few folds at 30 and 60 minutes.  Just wait until the next day, let it laze about on the counter for awhile and bake them.  I used a baking stone, and shoveled them in using a pizza peel dusted with cornmeal.  They are pretty sticky; use a bench scraper to help you cut them and gently form them into rough pieces.  The dough was so sticky I had trouble using a lame to slash - resulting in domed tops.  By the last pieces, I figured out to use a serrated knife - those rolls baked into a more appropriate shape.  Here is the recipe I used, I didn't alter it at all except to make a half batch.

sourdough rolls

I would like to experiment more with soft buns - and I'm sure the baking group will have lots of inspiration, have a look below!  I hope to be more on track for the summer months with Sourdough Surprises participation!



Sourdough Surprises: Monkey Bread

Monkey bread.  A pretty straightforward breakfast sweet, whose charm lies in the communal, pull-apart nature of the finished loaf.  I've never made monkey bread, but I have made many pans of cinnamon rolls, and thanks to Sourdough Surprises I had also made babka.  I married the two for this challenge, basing the monkey bread on Nancy Silverton's brioche recipe and hastily mixing up some sugared cinnamon to roll the portions in before letting them rise in a bundt pan.

sourdough monkey bread

I forgot how much I loved Silverton's brioche recipe.  I halved the recipe and ended up with about 2 lbs. of dough, suspiciously perfect for one 12-cup bundt pan.  I planned it out 3 days before Valentine's day, so I could bake it for a somewhat special morning.  This bread is not unlike a soufflé in that it tastes best moments after leaving the comfort of the oven.  When pulled apart barely cooled, the little puffs of dough taste feather light, a quality that leaves soon after the heat is gone.  I wouldn't say it's any less delicious when cooled, just different.  But that said, I'd probably recommend planning ahead to appropriately devote the morning to enjoying it.

sourdough monkey bread
monkey bread

Since I recounted the recipe for brioche on the babka post, I'll not post it here.  I used half measurements, by conventional weight, and my yield on the dough was almost an even 2 lbs.  I portioned the dough into 1 oz. bits, then rolled each into a taut ball.  Meanwhile, I had melted about 4 tablespoons of unsalted butter in a pot on the stove.  I also had mixed a dish of approximately 1/2 c. brown sugar, 1/4 c. granulated sugar, a few generous shakes of the cinnamon jar, a pinch of cloves and a pinch of salt.  When all the balls were ready, I rolled them first in butter and then in the cinnamon sugar and then positioned them concentrically in a well buttered 12-cup bundt pan working from the center out.  I sprinkled any leftover sugar mixture evenly over the top, taking care to let some fall down into the crevices. When the dough appeared about half risen, I preheated the oven to 350.

unbaked monkey bread
monkey bread

I baked the bread for about 35 minutes if I remember correctly.  I checked the internal temperature when the top looked nicely browned, and it was around 200 degrees, so I figured (correctly) that it was done.  I let the bread cool in the pan for 5 minutes before inverting it onto a plate - during which time I could see the bread settle down into the pan and shrink back a little bit.  After inversion I was surprised at how beautifully glossy the top became; this was short lived, since I didn't go overboard with the sugar and it absorbed into the tops of the puffs as they cooled more completely.

I was also surprised how much the dough rose. I know I shouldn't have been, but I guess 3 days of preparation and waiting, and then the beating the little portions into submission... I thought I had worked all the life from the bread.  Sourdough continually surprises, it has a deep life that is hard to beat back.

This bread is really not all that sweet.  I mean, it is sweet, but it's not tooth-achingly sweet.  It's a polite sweet that tricks you into eating far too much.  I had 32 light little puffs of portioned dough and they didn't last long...  I didn't eat them all myself if that's what you're thinking, but I certainly could have.

sourdough monkey bread

I'm excited to look around at the other ideas this month.  I know I could have taken monkey bread to a savory place, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it.  I'm curious how many were brave enough to tackle that!



Sourdough Surprises August 2013: Crackers

I was kind of glad that the Sourdough Surprises item-of-the-month was crackers.  I think I've consistently made sourdough crackers ever since I started my sourdough starter, in September of 2010.  In those early days of sourdough experimentation, I was obsessed with finding ways to use up my discard starter - probably because I had so much of it in the beginning.  It took me some time to be more efficient with my feedings and management of my fledgling starter, and pancakes and crackers became a staple part of my kitchen life.

sourdough crackers.

The recipe I first found for sourdough crackers is still the one I use most frequently.  I've gotten so good at making them that I rarely even measure, I just mix them up according to feel - and they always turn out good.  I always let the dough rest for at least 7 hours (making them a fully cultured snack with reduced phytic acid in the grain), but usually it ends up being a whole 24 hours.  On occasion, I've let the dough sit in the fridge for a couple of days before getting around to rolling them out, and that works too, though remember that you need to allow an hour or so for the dough to come back to room temperature before rolling it out.  The longer resting times make for crackers with a little more tang, but that is fine with me.

sourdough crackers.

My best advice making these is to invest in a silicone baking mat.  I found mine for a well-spent $11 at a restaurant supply store, and I can roll the dough out directly on it without bothering with wrinkling parchment.  I use this pastry roller, which was another rummaged gift of that bread genius, ex-boyfriend's mother.  She really was an inspiration to me in the baking department, and I like having little remembrances of her in this tool I use so often.

I've made these crackers with all sorts of flours, but prefer them best with plain old whole wheat.  I've also made them with both butter and coconut oil (and olive oil too, if memory serves), but I like coconut oil the best.  When I have quite a lot of discard starter I'll make a double batch; I've found that for a single batch I can fit exactly half of the dough on the silicone baking mat, so double batches take me much longer to bake.  I really need to invest in another baking mat to bake more efficiently.  Meanwhile, I try to schedule my cracker baking when I have something else to go into the oven as well.

sourdough crackers.

  • 1 c. discard sourdough starter (any hydration seems to work fine)
  • 1/4 c. melted coconut oil (or butter, olive oil) (if the coconut oil is spreadable consistency, I sometimes don't even melt it)
  • 1/2 t. kosher salt, plus more for top
  • 1/2 - 1 c. whole wheat flour
  • olive oil for brushing the tops
Combine starter with coconut oil and salt and stir well to combine.  Begin to add whole wheat flour, starting with 1/2 c., and stir or use your hands to start kneading it in.  Continue adding enough flour to create a sturdy dough that is smooth and not sticky, but don't add so much as to make it dry.  Form the dough into a ball, place in a clean bowl, and cover well with cling wrap.  Let stand at room temperature for at least 7 hours before rolling out into crackers, or storing in the fridge for up to 2 days.

Preheat oven to 350.   Divide the dough in 2 pieces.  Working with the first piece, roll the dough as thin as you like, I like to make the amount of dough fit the entire sheet pan - which makes them very thin (1/16").  I like to roll on a silicone baking mat as I described above, but you can roll between two sheets of parchment paper.  Use a pizza cutter to slice the crackers into squares or rectangles, and transfer the sheet to a baking pan.  Using a pastry brush, brush the top of the cut crackers with olive oil and sprinkle with additional kosher salt.  Bake for 20-30 minutes depending on the thickness of your crackers.

sourdough crackers.

 I have also tried adding a few spices to this dough, or just to the tops prior to baking... but really none of those experiments stand out.  I just like these as plain crackers, to munch on their own or with thin slices of cheese.  They also keep an amazingly long time - if they don't disappear first.  I store them tightly sealed in quart size canning jars.

round sourdough crackers
 I have cut fancy shapes from them, but it takes a bit longer than just cutting squares or rectangles...

sourdough cracker ends
...but then I just baked the ends right next to the rounds so I didn't waste any dough (and didn't take too long transferring them to another pan to bake).

I'm really looking forward to seeing what other group bakers used for recipes!  While I do truly love this recipe, I could stand to break out of my mold.  But if I could ever recommend a single quick and reliable recipe to use up a cup of starter (and that is fully cultured to boot) this is definitely the one.

Sourdough Surprises April 2013: Sourdough Pasta.

The Sourdough Surprises challenge this month was pasta.  I have to confess that while I have tried a whole lot of sourdough things, I have never considered adding starter to pasta before this challenge.  Sourdough starter really makes good pasta.

sourdough pasta

Since I am still obsessed with the Ken Forkish bread-making ratios, I often have extra 80% hydration starter to use up.  The day I mixed up this pasta, that is exactly what I used.  The recipe that The Gingered Whisk suggested worked well with my starter, I just added flour to feel (about a cup if I remember right) and kneaded by hand for several minutes until the dough felt most like the many traditional pasta doughs I've made in the past.  I also used a whole egg and 2 egg yolks, because I had a couple of extra yolks to use up.  Then I sealed it up in a glass bowl and just tried to be patient.  I actually had to punch it down a couple of times, as the starter was active enough that it was raising the dough...

I let my pasta ferment at room temperature for a full 7 or 8 hours, ensuring it was a truly fermented food.  By the end of that time frame however, it was late afternoon when I started rolling it through my Pasta Queen; I hadn't planned a meal around fresh noodles.  I rolled them to the level 6 (of 7 levels) thickness, then tossed them in plenty of flour, as my Mom does when cutting rustic soup noodles... then I decided to dehydrate them for using another day.

sourdough pasta

I only recently discovered drying out pasta in the dehydrator, and it really works well.  My only problem is that I need to keep my dehydrator in the basement for space reasons, and in addition to sometimes several trips up and down the stairs with loaded screens, sometimes I forget that I've left something in there for days after the drying has finished.  Not so much a problem I guess, but this pasta I forgot about for about a week before the Sourdough Surprises Facebook page posted a challenge reminder!  Then, I carefully brought my screens up and packed the fully dried noodles into jars.  They were more fragile than traditional noodles I've made, but when I boiled some quickly (as in fully cooked in three minutes) they were delicious and tender.  Maybe tender to the point of nearly falling apart... but that could have something to do with the dehydration.  Next time, I'll mix up pasta early in the morning and cook it fresh for comparison.

sourdough pasta

My boys devoured my sourdough noodles, which I only buttered and salt-and-peppered.  It was the fastest meal ever, since I pulled some frozen beef stew from the freezer and pan fried some finally here spring asparagus.  It really had a marvelous texture, despite being robbed of some looks.

I was very happy to be challenged to make pasta this month - and I can't wait to see some of the pastas that others have made.  I certainly want to try some stuffed pastas when I remember to allow more time, and I know this isn't the end of my sourdough pasta-making!

Sourdough Surprises March 2013: Cake!

It was funny that cake was the sourdough theme of the month for the Sourdough Surprises baking group.  Just before the announcement,  my Facebook friend (and all-around good, real food maven) Holly was talking about some amazing changes she made to a chocolate sourdough cake.  It took me a few days to realize that the reason her cake looked so good and so familiar was because I had already made it - and changed it with similar results!  I've said it before but it's true that it is a good thing that I have this space to write things down or I'd never remember half of what I've made.

sourdough chocolate cake

The sourdough cake that we both loved was this one from King Arthur Flour.  I had played around with it quite a bit (apparently, that was a year ago already), and then in my quest for not eating as much dessert, I let it go for too long a time.  As Holly did, I had cut the sugar in half, but in my experiments this month, I used a different hydration sourdough starter - and both coconut and olive oils for the fat.  The result was a moister version of that butter cake I made a year ago, and one that was not really high in sugar.  Not counting the frosting, and allowing for 9 large slices in a 8x8 glass pan, I figure it around a tablespoon per serving.

I've been in full swing with Ken Forkish's breads - all of them turning out stellar, and I may be hooked on the 80% hydration starter that he calls for.  I'm still figuring out the best feeding schedule for both my baking and waste reduction, but meanwhile, I'm turning 80% starter into all of my old favorites:  crackers, cake and pancakes all turning out better than with my 100% liquid levain.  The only thing I forgot about making this cake is that it takes some serious arm power (and lack of concern for gluten toughening) to incorporate the starter into a homogenized looking batter.  

Don't be afraid to beat this cake until you are certain you have overbeaaten it, otherwise you may have traces of white sourdough bits in your chocolate cake, which you can't really taste, but they aren't as pretty.  And a stand mixer might work, but avoid using a hand mixer... I learned the hard way that the batter tends to climb up the beaters and generally make a huge mess of things.

Chocolate Sourdough Cake (adapted from King Arthur Flour, with regard to Holly Langenburg, and my previous chocolate sourdough cake post)

makes one 8x8 inch cake
  • 1/2 c. well-fed 80% sourdough starter (about 150 g.)
  • 1/2 c. milk
  • 1 c. AP flour
  • 1/4 c. melted coconut oil
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • scant 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1 t. vanilla
  • 6 heaping T. cocoa powder (natural process)
  • 3/4 t. baking soda
  • 1 egg
Combine starter, milk and flour in a mixing bowl and let ferment. (KAF says at least 3 hours, I ferment at least 8, and this particular cake fermented for 16.  It's okay to leave it at room temperature during this fermentation time.) After ferment time, proceed:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a good sized bowl, mix the oils, sugar, and salt together well.  Add the vanilla, cocoa powder, baking soda, and egg, and mix thoroughly.

Add the sourdough/milk/flour ferment to the chocolate-butter mixture. I found it easiest to use a sturdy spatula to mix the two - be firm but not vigorous and also be patient. Stir to combine until very few streaks of sourdough remain, and the batter looks like batter. It's sticky stuff!

Pour into a greased 8x8 glass baking dish, and use a metal knife or spatula dipped in water to spread batter evenly in the pan. The cake does "dome" a little, so you can try to push a bit more batter into the corners than into the center if this matters to you. Bake for 30-35 minutes until a tester in the center comes out clean.

You can use whatever frosting you like to top it after it cools completely - I just went with a simple American-style buttercream in a thin layer..
lithuanian coffee cake.
Sourdough Lithuanian Coffee Cake.

I have made a number of cakes with sourdough starter - and also talked about them before.  Most recently, I was excited about this Lithuanian Coffee Cake.

I also truly love this fully fermented Applesauce Cake, which uses a whole pint of home-canned applesauce and is based on a Spanish Bar Cake recipe my Gram used to make.

I'm fairly certain that sourdough cakes are not something I'm done experimenting with - and I'm sure I'll find plenty of links this month to convince me to consume a bit more sugar!  Take a look below to check some of them out!