One of my latest kitchen experiments has been baking with a sourdough starter. I have been baking all our breads, pizza doughs, pastries, cookies, cakes, etc from scratch now for over 2 years. One of the many ways in which I vote for better food with my money daily. Not only is baking from scratch cheaper than buying, but most recipes whether bread, cake, or pretzels, three of the recipes I am going to share with you today, have under 10, and more often, under 5 ingredients, no preservatives, corn syrup, or weird chemicals. I challenge you to find that at your grocery store!
I had also heard that many people with gluten sensitivity (not Celiac) did better eating baked goods made from true fermented sourdough than baked goods leavened more commonly with yeast. I waited until our big move to experiment with sourdough, as once you have a starter, you have to feed and maintain it to keep it healthy and alive. So now, besides 2 dogs, a cat, 10 chickens, kefir – both dairy and water, kombucha, and yogurt, I have added sourdough culture to my feeding schedule! I can’t say with certainty if it is the sourdough or the spelt flour I have switched to that allows me to enjoy breads and the like without feeling like I have a hangover the next day. I still eat all of these things sparingly, although my dear husband, who is a major carb addict, seems to be enjoying his daily bread without any side affects. It took eating this kind of bread, for him to realize that he was having a bit of a problem with the other kinds.
Anyway, sourdough is extremely versatile, and not all sourdough starters are created equal. You can try to capture your own, or you can purchase one. I decided to start by purchasing one from Cultures for Health. Several weeks later, I got another one from Erik a friend who sells hand roasted coffee at our local farmers market. He traded me sourdough starter from Ischia, Italy and kombucha for some Viili culture. I think I got the better deal.
I started experimenting by baking bread from the book Baking with Sourdough by Sara Pitzer, from Storey Publishing and then tweaked it a bit, to make it more to our liking. After I figured that out, I started playing around with various herbed breads, which is how I came up with the Za’atar Spice Bread Ring.
After I had that under my belt, or better yet, in my stomach, I wanted to try something I had never heard of – Sourdough Chocolate Cake, from the same book, which I also tweaked. This cake was really fantastic and probably one of the best chocolate cakes I have ever had. We are not big cake eaters in this house, so I can affirm that it froze well, and also lasted in the fridge for about 2 weeks. I am sure you could have a lot of fun with this recipe, including making various kinds of icing. Roberto liked spreading nutella on his, and I enjoyed mine plain or sometimes with a schmear of almond butter.
Most recently I tried making Sourdough Pretzels, all the same ingredients (except honey in place of sugar) but tweaked the method a little bit to allow all the flour to ferment. The pretzels turned out being more like pretzel shaped bread, than actual pretzels. I got a lot of helpful suggestions on facebook like adding sparkling water or lemon juice for better rising. So I think I will have to try again. Although Roberto likes them, since he can grab one, kind of like a roll to have with meals, without needing to slice anything.
I have continued on experimenting with making sourdough spelt pizza dough, buckwheat pancakes and crepes, as well as muffins. The pizza dough, pancakes and crepes have become staples in our house (look for these recipes soon), while the muffins still need some work. But the wonderful thing is, each week I have to feed my starter, which means at least once a week I should bake something and so I am trying to keep creative. I have been yeast baking free for almost 3 months! I definitely encourage you
to try your hand at it too. If you would like to try and catch your own starter, my blogging buddy Michelle over at Big Black Dog has a great post about it!
I am going to share THREE recipes with you today. For one, I want to show you just how diverse sourdough is – it is not just for bread! And also because my mom is coming to visit for a few weeks, and my posting rate may be a bit slower these next few weeks – so I wanted to keep you busy while I on vacation!
Za’atar Spiced Bread Ring
½ cup starter
6 cups whole wheat white flour
2 TBS olive oil
1 TBS honey
2 cups warm water
1 TBS salt
2 -3 cups sprouted whole wheat flour
Za’atar spice, sesame seeds, salt and fresh thyme for topping (If you don’t have Za’atar spice you can combine thyme and sumac).
Combine first 5 ingredients in a large bowl, cover loosely and let stand on kitchen counter for 12 to 24 hours. Usually I prepare this after dinner and then let it sit until the next morning.
When you are ready to make the bread, add the salt and stir. Then gradually work in the sprouted flour, creating a dough you can handle easily. If you do not have sprouted flour, you can use regular, but there are many benefits to sprouted flour, especially for those who have trouble digesting grains.
Form the dough into a ball, place back into the bowl and cover with a cloth for about 15-20 minutes. Knead until smooth and elastic, place back into the bowl, and cover until it has doubled in size – usually ½ an hour. But it could take longer depending in the temperature. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400F. One the bread had doubled, take out 2 lemon sized chunks, roll into ropes and then intertwine and attach two ends together, making a ring. Do this again and again until you have used all the dough. Should make 3 rings. Using a pastry brush, brush the loaves with water. Then sprinkle with the topping. Bake for about 20-25 minutes. When bread is finished, it should sound hollow when you tap it.
Sourdough Chocolate Cake
½ cup sourdough starter
1 ½ cups whole wheat white flour
¾ cup date sugar
¾ cup fair trade cocoa powder
1 tsp each – aluminum free baking powder and baking soda
1 cup whole milk
½ cup coconut oil
¾ cup cold coffee
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp cinnamon
Mix starter and flour in a bowl, and let stand over night. The next day preheat the oven to 350F. Then add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl, in the order given, beating well after each addition.
Grease two 9 inch round or square cake pans. Pour in the batter – it will be thin. Bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool for about 10 minutes, and then remove from the pans. Allow to cool completely before icing the cake, or serve warm with whipped cream or ice cream! Lovely!
¾ cup sourdough starter
5 cups whole wheat white flour
½ cup water
2 TBS butter
3 TBS honey
1 cup hot water
2 tsp salt
1- 2 cups sprouted whole wheat flour
1 egg yolk
2 TBS heavy cream
Combine first 6 ingredients, cover with a towel and allow to stand for 12- 24 hours. When ready to make the pretzels, melt butter, honey and salt together in a small pan on your cooktop, stirring constantly until melted. When cool, add to the mixture. Then add the 1-2 cups of sprouted flour, until the dough is stiff. Then turn it out onto a floured surface and knead until you have a very stiff dough. Add more sprouted flour if necessary. Place the dough in a greased bowl, turn once in the bowl to grease the dough and then cover with a damp cloth. Place bowl in a warm place and allow it to rise for about 2 hours.
Shape dough into long ropes and then twist into pretzel shapes. I made “mini” pretzels, and used golf ball sized pieces of dough for each pretzel. Lay the pretzels on a cookie sheet and brush them with a mixture of egg yolk and heavy cream. Preheat oven to 425F, then cover with the damp cloth for about half an hour. Brush with the egg/cream mixture again, sprinkle with salt and bake for 15 minutes. Cool pretzels before serving.