When most people think of sourdough, they picture a bread loaf with a crackling crisp crust and moist, tangy interior. But when you play with sourdough, you quickly discover bread is just one of many possible creations—and not necessarily the easiest.
My sourdough adventures began a couple of years ago, when I was gifted an old starter that had been lurking in a refrigerator. It didn’t have the rising power necessary for a loaf of bread; it required strength training. As I noted last week, the process of feeding a starter works like this: Pull out some starter, replace it with flour and water, and then let it work its magic, repeating the process until it readily ferments, bubbles, and grows. But I was loath to throw away weaker starter. Fortunately, a range of low-rise treats grab all the flavor with little effort.
1 cup all-purpose and/or wheat flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup milk or Cultured Buttermilk
1 large egg
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
butter for cooking
Stir down a jar of room-temperature or chilled, refrigerated sourdough starter; remove about 1 cup, placing it in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the flour, sugar, and milk. Cover and let rest overnight at room temperature to ferment so that it rises slightly and forms bubbles.
In the morning, beat together the egg and melted butter in a small bowl; add it to the sourdough mixture. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Heat a frying pan, greasing it generously with butter. Scoop the batter into the pan, 1/4 cup at a time, and form pancakes. Cook the pancakes until done, flipping halfway through. Serve immediately, or serve as a batch by placing the pancakes in a single layer on a rack in a 200°F oven as they are finished. Makes about 12 medium pancakes.
Tips & Tricks
- If you’re used to baking soda- or baking powder-based pancake batter, sourdough batter will be quite thick. If desired, you can thin it when you add the egg with 1/2 cup of yogurt or an additional 1/4 cup of milk.
- Although I recommend a kitchen scale for most sourdough projects, pancakes and waffles (see below) are quite forgiving. You can even get away with as little as 1/2 cup of starter for this recipe.
- If you wake up craving pancakes, you can start your batter in the morning. Simply add 1 cup of yogurt to the recipe, and then slowly add a little milk after all other ingredients until you reach your desired consistency.
- The egg will help with the consistency of the pancakes but isn’t necessary; just leave it out if eggs are not part of your diet or absent from your fridge.
- Don’t feel wed to maple syrup on your breakfast treats; the tang of sourdough goes beautifully with fruit flavors. I love to slather mine in a thick layer of Grandma Tiny’s Chunky Applesauce or a thinner one of Apricot–Raspberry–Mint Jam or other homemade preserves.
Twice as Tasty
Rumor has it that the original waffles, a street food in Belgium, were made with beer to give them a crispy exterior around a light, airy center. If that’s true, they were essentially fermented—the same effect you achieve when you start with sourdough.
Unfortunately, most Americans know waffles as commercially processed frozen patties that resemble cardboard or as chewy planks made from a powdered mix with more salt than most potato chips. Even those who grew up with homemade batter don’t make waffles today because they remember half-burned, half-undercooked slabs that either pulled apart as they stuck to both the top and the bottom of the waffle iron or oozed batter from its edges as the beast within grew.
It’s a shame, because waffles really are easy. You can use the same batter as for pancakes, and a few tips and tricks keep it cooking evenly within the waffle iron every time.
room-temperature butter for cooking
Prepare the batter as you would for Sourdough Pancakes: combine the Sourdough Starter, flour, sugar, and milk in a large bowl, cover it, and let it sit overnight. Add the remaining ingredients in the morning.
Plug in and preheat your waffle iron. Smear a paper towel generously with butter, and then rub it quickly yet carefully over the top and bottom halves of the hot waffle iron. Scoop 3/4 to 1 cup of batter into the waffle iron, using the larger amount if your iron creates deep, Belgian-style waffles. Quickly spread the thick sourdough batter with the broad side of a butter knife so that it covers most of the lower surface of the waffle iron, and then close the lid and let the batter cook completely. Once done, raise the lid, use the butter knife to carefully lift a corner of the waffle from the lower surface, and then pull the waffle free. Serve immediately, or place the waffles in a single layer on a rack in a 200°F oven until you’ve cooked the entire batch. Makes 4–6 waffles.
Tips & Tricks
- Sourdough waffles are prone to sticking, so don’t skimp on the butter when greasing the iron. I’m not a fan of oil sprays (they tend to coat the entire workspace), but if you’re hesitant to reach into the hot iron with a buttered paper towel, simply premelt your butter and distribute it with a pastry brush.
- As with pancakes, sourdough waffle batter is surprisingly dense, but I’ve had problems with the waffles separating if I thin the batter. Because sourdough batter expands more slowly than a baking soda-based batter, the upside is that you’re less likely to see it pour over the edges of your waffle iron. The downside is that you need the extra step of manually spreading it over the base of the waffle iron if you want it to fill out to the edges.
- Waffle irons come in various depths. If your machine makes thin waffles, start with less batter and then increase the amount as needed until it fills the surface but doesn’t overflow.
- Waffle irons also differ in features. Most modern models have a light or sound that indicates the waffle is done, although the amount of steam released can also be an indicator. Resist the urge to lift the lid before the signal; doing so can cause the waffle to split from top to bottom, particularly if you had a light hand with the butter.
- Once your waffles are done, you face the next challenge: cleaning. Forget wiping out each crevice or manhandling the machine, electrical cord and all, in the sink. Waffle irons are designed to steam, and you can use this feature to clean them. Simply unplug the iron after the last waffle, grab a pair of paper towels, and dampen them with water. Lay them on the base of the iron (they should cover most of it), close the lid, and stand back while you watch the steam rise. After about 20 seconds, the steam will lessen; open the waffle iron, remove the paper towels, and then dampen them again for a second steam cleaning.
- Years ago, one of my favorite beachside cafes in Southern California served “power waffles,” topped with granola, yogurt, and fresh berries. It’s been one of my favorite combinations ever since. But I’m sure the owners would be envious of my wintertime go-to topping: Roasted Raspberry Syrup—as will you if you didn’t put some up last season. Add it to your gardening and canning list for next year.