How to Use a Sourdough Starter

How to Use a Sourdough Starter

It doesn’t take much to pass on some wild yeast to a friend. There is in fact nothing easier than creating your own sourdough starter. The weekly or sometimes bi-weekly feedings can be too much effort for many bakers. The occasional loaf of bread simply isn’t enough incentive to keep a sourdough starter alive. However, the truth is, if you’ve made muffins, pancakes, pie crust, babka, doughnuts, brioche, or any baked good you’ve been missing out on an opportunity to enhance those baked goods with sourdough. Suddenly a simple quick bread can be transported into something tangier, sweeter, and more complex than ever.

When most people hear the words sourdough their minds immediately go to those lovely crusty loaves we’re so familiar with. You’d be surprised, sourdough can be added to almost anything. With its naturally tangy flavor, sourdough really does enhance anything it’s put into. The fact that it’s also a leavener is just an added bonus.

Get the Timing Right

When sourdough is first fed it has a mild sweet flavor, making it ideal for sweeter ventures like pie crust or banana bread. As the starter matures (ferments for an additional 6-8 hours) it develops a sharper, more acidic flavor. These flavors fit well with heartier dishes like pizza crust or bagels.

Timing your sourdough correctly is half the battle when figuring out the best ways to incorporate it into your baked goods. After some slight trial and error you’ll be able to hit the sweet spot when it comes to your sourdough.

How Much is Enough

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In traditional bread-baking, the sourdough starter generally comprises anywhere from a sixth to a quarter of your total recipe. When using sourdough in non-bread items it really comes down to your end goal. Are you adding starter simply for flavor? Or for its ability to make the dough rise? How do you know how much to add? We recommend testing the waters with nothing more than a spoonful of the starter. Taste the results and build from there.

Keep in mind, as you add things to a recipe you must take away others. A good rule of thumb is to replace a portion of the recipe’s called for flour and water.

For example, if you want to add 100 grams of sourdough, remove 50 grams of flour and 50 grams of water from the original recipe. What you’re really aiming for is maintaining the consistency of a given recipe. If you’ve made muffins several times, you know how thick or thin the batter usually is, aim to replicate that. If the starter makes things too wet, add a little extra flour until the desired texture is achieved.

Waste Not Want Not

Anyone who has ever had a sourdough starter of their own knows that there is a certain amount of waste involved in the care and keeping of it. Each time you feed your starter, a certain portion of it must be removed and is often discarded. We encourage you to use this discarded portion by adding it to whatever you’re making at the moment. It works especially well in pancakes which don’t require a lot of leavening. The sourdough makes them sharp and more interesting. Sourdough pancakes can be a great item to add to your breakfast or brunch offerings. If you feed your sourdough once a week, consider making Sunday your feeding day then using that discard in your Sunday brunch pancakes or waffles. It adds interest to the more pedestrian menus and it’s a great way to get that sourdough to really work hard for you.

With these tips in mind get that sourdough started or snag some from a friend who already has one! If nothing else you can order a dehydrated sourdough starter online then begin adding it to everything, your baked goods and your customers will thank us!

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Hannah Abaffy

Hannah Abaffy

Pastry Chef & Recipe Development

Hannah Abaffy is a pastry chef and an active member of the culinary community. From working in kitchens to developing recipes, and creating menus for restaurants, she has been involved with food in one capacity or another for the past decade. After starting a food history blog, Hannah has been continuously writing and learning about the ever-changing realm of cuisine, its history, and its future. Since then her appetite to learn about and share all things that touch upon the world of food can only be described as voracious.

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