Are you a proud parent of a sourdough starter? Congratulations on keeping your fermented baby alive. It certainly feels like a small victory to realize your starter (mine is named Frampton) is flourishing.
If it is, you are probably used to the routine: You feed your starter once or twice a week (or maybe even once every two weeks, I don’t judge). You also might cringe every time you, well, discard the discard: Wasting food feels terrible during normal times, and these aren’t even normal times. Flour and yeast can be difficult to come by, so using up everything, and throwing out as little as possible, is more important than ever.
Well, I’ve got good news: Your discard is practically begging to be used in various baked goods – and it’s easier than you might think.
Martin Philip, a baker at King Arthur Flour and author of “Breaking Bread: A Baker’s Journey Home in 75 Recipes” (Harper Wave, 2017), explained it like this: “The question should be, what shouldn’t you put discard in as opposed to what you should put discard in?”
Zachary Golper, owner of Brooklyn-based artisanal bakery Bien Cuit and author of “Bien Cuit: The Art of Bread,” said discard can serve two purposes: as a flavoring or a commercial yeast replacement. “If the discard has no time to ferment, it’s a flavor component,” he said.
In this piece, we’re focusing on using discard as flavoring because it is so simple.
Used this way, unfed discard provides near-instant gratification. Because you’re not letting your discard’s yeasts reactivate and are using it right away, you are essentially capitalizing on those sour notes to provide lovely, complex tang to your baked goods, Philip said.
Numerous recipes can help you use your discard as flavor – crackers, biscuits, banana bread (or any quickbread) – but I want to highlight two less-obvious favorites that are perfect for sourdough newcomers: crumpets and popovers.
Adding leavener to discard: Crumpets look similar to English muffins: thick, perforated pancakes cooked in ring molds on a griddle. Crumpets, however, are made with loose batter, while the muffins are punched out from thicker dough. For crumpets, the discard, baking soda, salt and sugar are mixed and then immediately cooked on a griddle. That’s it.
The baking soda acts as a leavener when combined with the acidic starter. If you don’t have molds, you can make free-form crumpets, but they will not get the same rise. Though they will resemble pancakes, they will still taste delicious. Like English muffins, crumpets are ideally suited to butter, jam and a cup of tea; they also can be frozen and reheated in the toaster.
Using eggs as a leavener: If making popovers intimidates you, let me put your mind at ease: They take 10 minutes, a muffin tin, a bowl and a whisk. Unlike crumpets, popovers don’t require a chemical leavener such as baking soda, but eggs give them the power to rise, puff and form a gloriously festive dome, much like the marriage of a souffle and a muffin. Fresh out of the oven, they’re billowy and fancy and make you look like you went to pastry school.
The popovers here are made with Gruyere and a generous grating of black pepper, elevating them into something truly special. The savory notes in Gruyere are an ideal partner to the sour flavors of discard. You can, however, make them plain – they will still be delicious.
Adapting recipes using sourdough discard: For more experienced bakers looking to adapt recipes, such as quickbreads, to sourdough discard use, Philip cautions that discard will “behave more like a liquid than flour,” so you’ll need to do the math to figure out how much liquid and flour to subtract from the recipe and replace with discard.
Here’s an example: If you take 1 cup of starter that you’ve created through equal parts flour and water, it will weigh in the neighborhood of 250 grams. Breaking the ingredients out, by weight – because your hydration levels should always be weight-based – you will have 125 grams (1 cup) of flour and roughly 125 grams ( 1/2 cup) of water. (Do not do your math by volume because a cup of flour is about half as light as a cup of water.) To use it in, say, a banana bread recipe that uses 456 grams water and 213 grams flour, start by reducing that to 285 grams water and 107 grams flour. Keep an eye on the bread: It might bake for a little longer or shorter, and place a rimmed baking sheet under the loaf pan as your batter might expand more than usual.
This isn’t an exact science because every discard will behave slightly differently depending on hydration levels, flour used, frequency of feedings, ambient temperature and humidity of your home and so on.
So you have to use your senses, too. The math, Philip adds, “Will get you to the right county, and to the right town and maybe even to the right neighborhood. But then you should say, what does this batter feel like to me? And once you’re off-roading, with some knowledge and a scale – and a little bit of science – you’re in good shape.”
For playing around with other recipes using discard, Philip recommends going to a source, such as King Arthur’s website, that has tried-and-true recipes tested many times over. His advice, “Start with a recipe that’s solid.”
Once you have more experience, you can then start experimenting.
Along with a delicious baked good will come the gratification, especially in these unprecedented times, of using every last bit of something.
“It’s important as an aspect of honoring high-quality ingredients that we don’t throw it away,” Philip said. “Farmers worked hard at growing these grains. Food is a privilege, and let’s treat it with honor and respect. Make an extra loaf and give it away. Make your discard something that can contribute to the well-being and happiness of someone.”
Adapted from King Arthur Flour.
1 cup (250 grams) sourdough starter discard (unfed)
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Scant 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Neutral oil and melted butter, for greasing the pan
In a medium bowl, stir together the discard with sugar and salt until combined. Sift in the baking soda and whisk it in thoroughly; the batter will rise and bubble.
Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium-low heat until you can feel the heat when you hold your hand a few inches above the skillet’s surface. Lightly grease the skillet with oil and butter.
Brush a 3- to 3 1/2-inch cookie cutter with a little oil. Using a 1/4-cup measuring cup, scoop the batter into the center of the cookie cutter.
Cook until the top of the batter is set and full of small holes, 5 to 10 minutes. Look for the top of the crumpets to resemble the surface of the moon – full of craters and dimples. Adjust the heat as needed to achieve a mostly cooked, porous surface on top without burning the bottom (you can peek using a spatula to lift the molds). Using an offset or fish spatula, or tongs, flip the crumpet and remove the cookie cutter ring. To do so, gently “cut” around the perimeter of the crumpet using a butter knife.
Cook on the other side until golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Serve warm.
Yield: 4 to 5 servings
Storage: The crumpets can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days or tightly wrapped and frozen for up to 2 months.
Sourdough Gruyere Popovers
From Olga Massov.
1 cup (240 milliliters) whole or reduced-fat milk
1/4 cup (60 milliliters) heavy cream (optional)
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup (125 grams) sourdough starter discard (unfed)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (50 grams) shredded Gruyere cheese (may be substituted with another melting cheese or a hard cheese such as Parmesan)
Neutral oil, unsalted butter or cooking spray, for greasing
Position a baking rack in the middle of the oven and place a muffin pan on the rack. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, warm the milk and cream until just slightly warm to the touch.
In a large bowl, whisk together the warm milk-cream mixture with the eggs and butter; then add the starter, salt and pepper. Whisk in the flour and the cheese. (Do not overmix; a few small lumps are fine.) The batter will be the consistency of heavy cream and look slightly curdled.
Carefully remove the hot pan from the oven and spray it thoroughly with nonstick pan spray, or brush it generously with oil or melted butter. Quickly pour the batter into the cups, filling them almost to the top. Popovers will nearly double in size and might topple a bit, so to prevent popovers from touching one another, fill every other cup with the batter to give them room to rise.
Bake for 15 minutes, then decrease the oven temperature to 375 degrees and bake for an additional 15 to 20 minutes or until the popovers are golden brown. Using tongs, carefully lift the popovers out of the muffin tin and serve.
Yield: 6 to 7 servings
Storage: Popovers can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.
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