Sourdough bread hooked us about 10 years ago. When Darrold gets new flour, he wants to bake a loaf of bread immediately so he will shortcut with yeast. He doesn't have to tell me; one bite does. “That's not sourdough!”, I say more than a little emphatically. We have many customers who use bread machines that I recently purchased one and the yeast bread is pretty delicious. But, that's for another post coming soon. As will be our attempts at making machine sourdough.
When maintaining a sourdough starter, every time you feed it, the amount has to be doubled. If you don't bake at least once a week, it grows exponentially and can take over your house if you don't discard some of it. I have a difficult time throwing out good food, especially when the ingredients are expensive. Sourdough starter is the basis for really good bread. Many recipes say to throw out half of it every time you feed it. That's a lot of waste for me. Sourdough bread is a fermented grain product which aids in digestion. Yeast bread limits the absorption of the good minerals contained in the flour due to the presence of phytic acid or phytate. They bind to minerals thus reducing the body's ability to absorb them. The lactic acid found in sourdough bread lowers the pH and that helps to degrade phytates. Lactic acid also releases antioxidants, and increases folate levels. The bottom line is that long fermentation improves the flavor and digestibility. Sourdough is a bit of a misnomer and should really be called natural yeast because it draws in yeasts and good bacteria that are naturally in the air. It doesn't necessarily have to be sour.
So, what to do with all that leftover starter? I started wondering if it could be used in other types of baking. When I did an online search I found a lot of recipes for all sorts of things other than bread. Gathering information from many sources, I decided to dive in.
There are a couple of things that work for me. You can experiment to see what works for you. I discovered that when sourdough starter is used in recipes calling for a lot of sugar, it doesn't act as a leavening agent. You still have to use baking powder or baking soda. My end results look just like they always do but are more nutritious and this already more digestible flour is made even more digestible. Everything stays fresh longer.
Several recipes called for adding starter and putting them in the oven immediately. To me, that seemed like it was defeating the purpose because there was no time for the starter to work. I found that a minimum of 7 hours or overnight work well. I often mix up the recipe in the evening and bake in the morning. If the product has eggs, the dough should be covered and refrigerated. If not, it can sit on the counter with a light covering to prevent drying out.
How much starter to use presented another dilemma. I read everything from ¼ - 1 cup. I settled on ½ C because that seems to work well for most things. 1 cup often made the batter too runny.
How do I know the yeasts and good bacteria help digest the flour? The first recipe I tried was my grandmother's oatmeal chocolate chip cookie recipe that I've been making since I was eight years old. I mixed up everything but the chocolate chips the night before and put the dough in the fridge overnight so the added sourdough starter could do its work. When I got up the next morning I had to taste the dough, as I always do. Delicious but... hmmmm, something was missing. The pieces of oatmeal. The sourdough had completely digested the flakes. That told me that starter digests the flour, too.
Be brave. Experiment with your recipes. Join our Facebook group, Baking with Heritage Grains. Let us know how it works, what you like making with your discard starter, and any tips and tricks you find.