time to feed the (sourdough) starter

It’s been more than the recommended six weeks since I last fed my starter. (Remember Sourdough English Muffins?) Looking for some sourdough fun, I found a recipe for Sourdough Sticky Buns in the King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook.

It took very little time to bring the dough together. The process started with a “sponge” of starter, milk, oil, flour, and sugar. This mixture fermented overnight, rising only a little. Next step was stirring in more flour and a bit each of salt and baking soda. That’s it! The dough was soft and tender after only a few minutes of kneading.

The cookbook referred me to another page for filling recipes, but that would have been too much work for me. (I can be a very lazy cook.) I knew I wanted sticky buns full of butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon. A touch of sea salt sounded nice, too. Why go searching for another recipe? After mounding a few handfuls of brown sugar in a bowl and stirring in a teaspoon or so of ground cinnamon, I cut in 3ish tablespoons of softened butter. The filling mixture was a glossy and glorious mahogany brown.

An aside, but did you know you don’t have to pay $2 (and that’s on sale) for a 2-pound bag of brown sugar? If you mix 2 tablespoons molasses into 1 cup white granulated sugar, you have 1 cup brown sugar. I make this in large batches and store–it has a richer flavor than purchased brown sugar and is also more moist.

Back to the sticky buns: I rolled the dough into a rectangle about 1/2 inch thick. The marvelous brown sugar-cinnamon filling was smeared over the dough, which was then rolled up from the long end. I sealed the bottom seam, then cut the roll into 3/4-inch-thick (or so) slices.

brown sugar-cinnamon filling spread on sourdough sticky bun dough

all rolled up

To prepare the pan, I sprinkled the bottom with clumps of brown sugar, then followed with a dusting of sea salt. The dough slices went into the pan, not crowded but sides touching.

prepped pan

ready to rise

They rose for a while (all afternoon in the refrigerator while my kids and I escaped to the zoo, then about 30 minutes at room temperature when we returned home. Have said it before: You be the boss of your bread.) The recipe had the rolls baking at 400°F for 15 minutes, then 350°F for 20 minutes. I should have pulled them earlier as they were starting to dry out. Because I had my young-ens help me slice the dough, some slices were thinner than they should have been. No matter. The brown sugar melted into yummy caramel with a hit of sea salt and when the rolls were flipped onto a plate the bottom became the top. Because the rolls baked a touch too long, this “topping” was a slightly crusty and brittle. Not a bad thing when you’re talking brown sugar.

finished product

finished product with milk

After mixing up the dough last night, I dutifully fed my starter and dated the top of the jar so I know to feed it again in six weeks. Even if I stretch that six weeks into seven, I look forward to continuing with my adventures in sourdough.

Sourdough Sticky Buns

Directions for rising, shaping, and baking are found above. Fill as desired!

Sponge

  • 1 cup sourdough starter
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup white sugar

In large bowl, mix all sponge ingredients to stiff dough. Cover; let stand overnight.

Stir 1/2 cup flour and 1 teaspoon each salt and baking soda into sponge. Mix until blended, stirring in up to 1/2 cup additional flour to form smooth dough. On lightly floured surface, knead dough 2 to 3 minutes. Roll dough into approximately 18×12-inch rectangle. Proceed with filling, shaping, and baking as directed above. Makes about 18 buns.

sweet on sourdough

It was over 10 years ago that I edited a friend’s baking book, one chapter which was devoted to sourdough. Along with authoring the book, she taught a class on sourdough where she spun off (distributed) her starter. This is when it all started for me. I was impressed with what we’d baked in class (these muffins were one of our class projects), so wanted to keep her starter going.

It seemed a bit intimidating at first, having to “feed” it to keep alive. (Just pregnant with my oldest, I had yet to be responsible for feeding and growing anyone or anything beside myself.) Turns out “feeding” is nothing more than removing some of the old starter (which gives me a great excuse to bake) and stirring 1 cup each flour and milk, 1 tablespoon sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon salt into the original starter. The freshened-up starter sits, loosely covered, overnight and then returns to the refrigerator for another month or so. Starters should be fed every six weeks, though I’ve occasionally pushed it out to nine.

Starters can be created from scratch should you want your own sourdough adventures. You’ll find plenty of recipes online. Once you have your starter going, you can add the characteristic sourdough tang to pancakes, waffles, sandwich bread, quick breads, muffins, and any number of tasty baked goods. I’ve found sourdough cookie recipes (peanut butter was an especially good partner for the sourdough flavor), brownies, and my all-time favorite (besides the English muffins, of course)–an amazingly dark and delicious chocolate cake.

The English muffins were a baking epiphany for me. It was so easy to whip them up and their flavor and chew far surpassed anything you’d find in the store. That was ten years ago, and I’ve never bought a package of English muffins since.

Sourdough English Muffins

adapted only slightly from Lisa Golden Schroeder’s At Home with Bread (Cooking Club of America, 2002)

  • 1/2 cup sourdough starter
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 1/4 cups bread flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • Cornmeal

In large bowl, combine starter, milk and 2 cups bread flour; mix well. Cover loosely; let stand at room temperature 8 hours or overnight.

Stir whole wheat flour, salt, sugar and baking soda into batter; beat until stiff dough forms. Knead several minutes or until no longer sticky, adding up to 1/4 cup more bread flour if needed.

Roll dough to 1/2- to 3/4-inch thickness. Cut out 12 rounds with 3-inch cutter. Place on  cornmeal-dusted baking sheet. Cover; let rise 45 minutes or until puffy.

Heat griddle or large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Place dough rounds on griddle in batches. Cook 5 to 8 minutes per side or until puffed and browned. Cool on wire rack. Makes about 12 muffins.

they're rising...

"baking"...

cooling...

homemade sourdough English muffin with butter and jam!