Monday, January 12, 2009

Experiments with sourdough starter

I've been wanting to bake with sourdough starter for a long time. About twenty years ago - when I was 5 - (ha!), someone gifted me with an Amish friendship bread starter and recipe, but, while it was very good, I didn't experiment beyond that one recipe.

Over the last few years, my husband has expressed a desire for sourdough pancakes. He had them once, oh, maybe ten years ago, in a restaurant and has never forgotten how good they tasted. Well, fine, this was just additional incentive for me to get some starter. I like surprising Jim with special things to eat. You know, the way to a man's heart....

Anyway, when Angie of Children in the Corn told me she was working with sourdough starter, I playfully suggested she send me some. Guess what? She totally did! All the way from Michigan! Did you know you can dry sourdough starter and reactivate it later? You can read Angie's side of the sourdough story: here.

Of course, right about the time Angie's envelope of white powder arrived, we had a huge snowstorm raging and then the holidays hit, so my experimentation with reconstituting dried sourdough starter didn't begin until the new year. But then I was ready!

According to an online sourdough reactivation site, all I had to do was add a couple teaspoons of starter, some water and some flour and the process would begin:

2 teaspoons starter:

1/3 cup water:

1/4 cup flour:

Stir well to incorporate air, cover (with a paper towel to allow continued air flow), and let sit for 12 hours:

At the 12 hour mark, though, very little had changed. The instructions said I should see some bubbling and the mix should smell "sour", but neither of these things were evident in my jar:

Maybe it wasn't going to work after all. Did I do something wrong? I decided to give it another day:

24 hours later...Bingo! Bubbles and the sour smell of success!:

Now, every day since, I have to feed my new baby by adding more flour, more water, and stirring:

...Every 24 hours....flour, water, stir:

Now I'm ready to cook! This last weekend I decided my husband would finally get his sourdough pancakes (it *was* his birthday, after all) and I had also been dying to make CaliforniaGrammy's (from her blog: Life is Good!) sourdough cinnamon rolls!

The thing I've learned about sourdough recipes, though, is that you can't just make them in one shot. Once you have an active starter, it takes time to build it up to the quantity called for in a specific recipe. Sourdough pancakes, for example, call for an entire cup of starter. Sourdough cinnamon rolls, call for 1/2 cup. So, one needs to plan their time accordingly. Both recipes, then, also require "prep work" the night before you're going to make them.

Here's the "night before" sourdough pancake batter (a combination of starter, flour and water). It needed to "set" overnight:

The next morning, I added some milk, eggs, brown sugar, oil, salt and baking soda and - voila! Sourdough pancakes hot on the griddle:

Don't they look wonderful?:

I'm pretty certain that Jim loves me just a little bit more now:

Here is what the sourdough cinnamon roll batter looked like the night before I made them - this, too, needed to "set" until the next morning:

In the morning, I added the remaining ingredients, rolled out the dough, brushed with butter:

...Sprinkled on some brown sugar, rolled up the dough, sliced it up, dipped the pieces in butter and put into a baking dish to rise for an hour:

Here they are baking in the oven:

A powdered sugar glaze makes these rolls complete:

Yummy sourdough cinnamon rolls - a definite success!:

This week I think I'll try baking some sourdough bread and rolls. If anyone out there has any sourdough recipes you think I just HAVE to try, please, by all means, send them my way! After that, I may put my baby (starter) into the fridge, so it slows down a bit and I don't have to keep feeding it quite so frequently!


Thank you, Angie, for sharing your starter - this has been an incredible amount of fun and a very interesting process, too.

And thank you, California Grammy, for sending me your yummy sourdough cinnamon roll recipe!!


  1. Wow, those look yummy! What a fun project!

  2. Good lordy those cinnamon rolls looked heavenly.
    That Angie is the nicest!

    my word verification is popead??

  3. That's great, thanks for the details and photo's. My Mama was from San Francisco so....

  4. This looks great Danni! My cousin, your secret admirerer will be after me now to do something with this starter kit thingy...Yikes!!!
    Roxy is such a lovely lady!

  5. Yay! I'm so glad it worked for you Danni, and that Jim finally got those pancakes. :)

  6. Mmmm, that looks yummy. I have to confess that I just had to throw my sourdough starter out. I'll have to start over. I neglected it and it was not pretty.

    K, so, are you sure those pictures with the post it's in them are at your house? Cause I've not been to your house yet and that looks really familiar to me. Hmmm, someone else I know does that. LOL

  7. Yummy! I have a starter pack I bought at the natural food store a while back but have yet to experiment. You have inspired me. I bet Jim is happy, MM would be too!

  8. So if it wasn't totally rude and we weren't an entire country apart I'd be dropping hints all over the place to be invited over for sour dough goodies. And if that didn't work, I'd just "unexpectedly" show up at your house with something yummy to share and say I was just in the area and... Now aren't you glad we're 3,000 miles apart! ;)

    Very cute Roxy!

  9. "According to an online sourdough reactivation site" - is there ANYTHING that can't be found on the internet? That just cracks me do your sticky notes to yourself.

  10. Those rolls look dangerously good! I have wanted a sourdough starter but I'm not sure I bake often enough to keep it healthy. Of course, having to use and feed it would be an incentive to bake more. Hmmm.

  11. Wow. Wow. Wow. Mr Jim, you have a very nice wife and she loves you very much.

    Thats so cool that the starter worked out for you. Good thing you let it go that xtra day...and, Im sure the fact that you made and then checked everything at 10:01 exactly. Im sure that had a lot to do with it.

  12. I'm about to hop in the car and start driving in your general direction. I'm on the east coast, so expect me in about a week.

    Have cinnamon rolls ready.

  13. Boy, eveything sure looks good, you neglected to say how they tasted though! Did Roxy get to try them too? Did you write down how many pancakes were made and what each one weighed?
    Am I too curious?

  14. Everything turned out perfectly! I can almost taste them, they looked so yummy. Ken just baked some sourdough bread from his own starter he created last summer while we were in Oregon. Gonna have it with our stew tonight. He had a lot of patience I don't think I would have had to "capture" his own yeast from the air. But he did it and it is delicious. I'm glad you finally got hooked. Just keep it in the fridge and you don't have to feed it until the "hooch" catches up with you.

  15. Oh what fun, that we were both baking bread today! And I wasn't even expecting to! I must say (playfully of course), you should learn to dry your sourdough starter. And then, send some to your blogger me, for instance! ;-)

  16. Aww jeeze! I am soooo hungry now. Those pancakes and cinnamon rolls looked delicious. I'm not sure I have the patience you do to make them though. I just want to eat them!

  17. Hey! No fair! Showing all those yummy goodies and no recipes to go with them. Yum!!

    My salad, which was delicious only moments ago, has suddenly lost its appeal...

  18. Love the sourdough goodies, I'll have to try some of that. What I really find exciting is the warm oatmeal for the chickens. We are prettymuch buried in snow now and the girls get cold and bored. We have 43 hens and are doing cabbage tetherball 2-3 times a week from the coop rafter, but I didn't know they would eat warm food. They will love this!! It was -11 last night and this will be a treat. You can see their pics at Ours aren't nearly as festively colored as yours. Thanks again for the tips. Alex

  19. OH, my, those pancakes look so good!

  20. Sourdough is geographically unique... you can start it with a commercial starter but what really happens is the natural yeasts in the air build your starter to a flavor unique to your geographical setting.

    Really, starter is not needed... all you need to do is draw the wild yeasts out of the air... mix flour and water and add a piece of fruit or veggie to it, as they are covered with wild yeasts. (grapes are especially good, also potato, onion) The resulting starter will also take on a unique flavor based on whatever friut/veggie you use. Or, if you don't use a piece of fruit/veggie the yeasts will still form... they just take a little longer via air alone.

    Anyway, I could go on but I thought you'd like to know that even though you are using a special starter, ultimately your sourdough will taste very different from its original source, unless the person you got it from lives next door to you! :-) Your end result looks yummy!

  21. Uh YUM!!
    I must have missed my invite to breakfast. :)
    Happy belated b-day to your DH.

  22. Wow. Look at you go! Those cinnamon rolls look really great!!!

  23. WOW!! The pancakes and cinnamon rolls look DELICIOUS!! Happy Birthday to your birthdays is in July...LOL!!

  24. Hi nw nature nut - yes, I've had a ball. And everything was delicious!

    Hey sugarcreekstuff - Angie is a sweetie, isn't she? And of course, you KNOW what I saw when you typed that verification word, right? ;-)

    Hi joanna - With a mama from San Fran, you must be highly skilled in the sourdough making, right? I'm still a bit baffled by the whole thing, but I will continue to experiment until I understand it better :-)

    Hi eve - A secret admirer, how fun. :-) But wait, how secret is she, now that you've "outted" her? lol

    Hi farm mom - So far, so good, right? And we haven't killed anyone yet. lol!!!

    Hi mim - I've heard that people can get really tired of sourdough starter and its "neediness" pretty quickly. Regarding my post-its...really? You know someone else that does that? Because I started it first, you know. So, she must be copying me. (again) :-)

    Hi chiot's run - they were soooo good!

    Hey country girl - I have to figure out a way to make the sourdough flavor even *more* intense. Jim was a little disappointed that the overall flavor wasn't more powerful.

    Hi seasonseatings - Rude? You? Never! Nice to see you again, btw. You must be travelling fast on the road back to good health. (yay!!)

    Hi 7MSN - The web is an amazing place. Very easy to get lost and distracted in it, I've found. lol

    Hi fullfreezer! Thanks for your comment. Apparently, there are ways for people like us - who don't bake constantly - to keep this starter stuff alive. If you refrigerate it, you can keep it a lot longer with a lot less attention. I've heard there's a way to freeze it, too, so be sure to look into that.

    Hi frugal mom - My life is all about precision. Exact time, very similar to exact weight, is crucial to my wellbeing. :-)

  25. Hi tara - aww, I'm glad these looked good enough to you to consider driving 3000 miles for them. :-)

    Hey greywolf - Yes, they were yummy and delicious and I would definitely make both again. Jim wishes I could enhance the sourdough flavor even more - but I haven't figured out a way to do that yet. He likes that strong sourdough flavor! Roxy did not try either of these. She's more of a meat and cheese gal.

    Hi californiagrammy - yeah, that whole yeast-in-the-air-capturing thing confuses me just a bit. I think I need to do some more reading on this.
    Now, by "hooch", do you mean that weird greenish-black liquid that supposedly starts to sit on top of the starter when you leave it in the refrigerator? blech!

    Hi claire! Allow me to (playfully) respond, that i will consider learning to dry this stuff - it seems like a good thing to know how to do, right? But I wouldn't hold my breath for it, if I were you...these projects seem to take me FOREVER to do! lol

    Hi farmer jen - I know - after the length of time it took me to do all this, I look at storebought cinnamon rolls now and wonder how they pump those babies out so quickly! :-)

    Hi carolynn - now, I've found that the secret to a good salad is to put lots of meat and cheese and olives and a hearty dressing on them. Mmmmmm!!! :-)

    Hi alex! Oh, I hope you'll post some pictures of your chickens enjoying their oatmeal on your blog. Be sure not to stand too close while they're devouring it, though, because they tend to stick their heads in, get coated in the stuff, and then shake their heads, sending sticky gooey oatmeal EVERYWHERE. If you're within shooting range, you'll get coated with it, too! lol (Stay warm!!)

    Hi SabrinaT - Thank you! They were yummy!!

    Hey Anonymous - I appreciate the sourdough lesson - though, I have to say, this doesn't make much sense to me. A piece of fruit? Won't that take on an odd flavor? Won't it mold? Have you done it this way before? What did you make with the "flavored" starter then? I have so many questions!

    Hi ceecee - Dangit - your invitation must've gotten lost in the mail. Will you accept a verbal one? :-)

    Hey Judy - I know, right? You're my inspiration! :-)

    Hello Tracey - a July birthday girl, huh? What's not to like about that? December and January birthdays are rough! Now, would you like sourdough pancakes, cinnamon rolls, or....lemon meringue pie (something else my husband got for his birthday, because he LOVES it) - lol

  26. Danni,
    As far as the "hooch" goes— you just mix it back in by giving it a stir, or if there seems to be too much just pour a little out (without hurting it at all) depending on how thick you want your starter to remain.

  27. I'd have never thought that as a cop's wife I'd be jonesin' for a bag of white powder. But I am!!! These look delicious, especially the pancakes. (Which is miss from my childhood. That and sourdough biscuits)

  28. YUM!!! Can you see me drooling from there???

  29. Gahhh! I want sourdough pancakes and cinnamon rolls now. My mother makes the most wonderful things with her starter. I had some years ago but let it go after a while. But I don't need to eat this stuff right now...gotta get those holiday pounds to disappear. But yum!

  30. Now you've done it. I'm hungry. Those pancakes and cinnamon rolls look divine. My mother used to make all her bread with a sour dough starter that had been in the area (Colorado mountains) for over a hundred years. I thought that was kind of cool. I never used a sourdough starter though. My kids always hated sourdough. Too bad.

  31. Reading about the geographic qualities of sour dough, it became clear why I can never get good sourdough bread in Florida! Having always had SFO sourdough has spoiled me! Those rolls look *marvellous*!

  32. Hi Farmgirl, it's "anonymous" with the grape/onion info here again. The idea of adding a fruit or veggie is only to innoculate your starter with yeasts... wild yeasts are found in large numbers on the skins of fruits and veggies. It gets your starter going faster... once it's going, you pull the piece of fruit or veggie out. Grapes are popular for this use because they carry a huge amount of wild yeasts for whatever reason. You can google it and find tons of different recipes, some way too complex (IMO) and having the same end result.

    The resulting flavors are quite subtle and only add to the intensity of the sourdough.

    And regarding intensity of sourdough... time is the answer, so the flavors can develop. Food for the yeasts is the answer. Keeping your yeasts happy and productive so you get a nice loaf with good oven spring and flavor.

    Here's a basic article with several methods of making starters... including a version of the grape method.

    Hope this helps!


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