I am admitting here and now that I do fail in the kitchen. It happens. I grudgingly admit it. Two things usually result from my kitchen failures: 1) food I have to eat because it’s just not good enough to share with/force on anyone else and I really hate wasting food and 2) experimentation/reinvention with the result of the failure. I like 2) much better than 1) because repurposing usually results is something more palatable (and sharable) and hopefully doesn’t waste anything. Occasionally the extent of the failure is so extreme that not even my resistance to wasting food can over come it: I just can’t eat it, so my options are experiment or toss. And this is what recently happened.
So, I had wanted to make sourdough pancakes since my last successful experience culturing wild yeast. Following a Joy of Cooking recipe I’d successfully used in the past, I mixed up a batch of pancake batter and left it to get funky. And maybe I was a little overzealous in my attempt to make extra-sour sourdough pancakes, or maybe I was heavy-handed with an ingredient or two. Whatever it was, when I added the eggs and fried up a few cakes the next morning, the results was less that desirable. Much, much less. Especially by my kitchen standards. Flavor-wise, they weren’t bad, just ok and decently sour, but the texture, ugh. The texture! The cakes were gummy and mushy and no matter how much flour or leavening agent I added to the batter to try and save it, I just couldn’t get the texture right. I couldn’t bring myself to throw away the batter so I stuck it in the fridge with the idea of attempting to salvage it into better pancakes at a later date and time.
Leading up to my pancake failure, I was reminded (as I frequently am) by Bearface this time, of my desire to “get into” bread baking. He shared a link for sourdough rye bread with me, and I watched the videos for the rye bread and looked through the website and other recipes. I was really impressed by how straightforward the recipes were. I’ve always wanted to try making a true sourdough starter and then making bread from it, but I was intimidated by the time and labor required. “You mean I’d have to feed my started regularly? No, I just don’t think I have the time for that.” The only reason my cats get fed regularly is they aggressively, aggressively remind me when I don’t feel them. How would I remember to feed my starter when all it did was sit quietly in the fridge? And then with the bread kneading and proofing and kneading and proofing. It seemed like a lot. Given the extents I’ve gone to in other cooking adventures, bread baking definitely wasn’t too much but it was a lot. Something I’d try eventually… some day… when I had time.
While my failed sourdough pancake batter sat in the fridge and sourdough bread was on my mind, I had an idea. I used yeast to start my pancake batter. Pancake batter is mostly flour. Sour dough starters are made from yeast and flour. The Mojo Monster had fortuitously just come home with a ceramic dutch oven that would work perfectly as a bread baking vessel since I lack a baking stone or any such bread baking supplies. Maybe I could use my failed pancake batter as a sourdough starter! It had the right consistency and everything! It just might work! I took the most basic white sourdough recipe from the Breadtopia website, substituted all-purpose flour for the whole wheat because that’s what I had on hand, threw the ingredients together per the very simple mixing instructions, and hoped for the best. And my first loaf of bread from a homemade sour dough starter turned out lovely.
The dough rose nicely during both the first and second proofs, proving the yeasties I’d cultured in my pancake batter were up to the task. And the crust. Oh, the crust! It was amazing. When I took the bread out of the dutch oven after it had finished baking, I could hear the crust crackling. And as I learned from Colette in Ratatouille, you tell good bread from the sound of the crust. There was a spot in the center of the loaf that was slightly uncooked and the bread could have used more gluten to enhance the texture, but neither of those facts took away from the success of using failed pancake batter as sourdough starter. I attribute the low gluten to not mixing the wet batter enough before the first proof and to the ratio of bread to all-purpose flour that I used.
I was ready to get ambitious with my starter and attempt the sourdough rye bread recipe Bearface shared with me but unlike the white sour dough bread, I did not have all the ingredients on hand. I think I didn’t even have half the ingredients. Learning of this, Bearface was quick to show up at my door with 5 lbs of fancy Co-op rye flour and an eager bear face. I got the specialty spices needed and again, threw the ingredients together per the recipe (with extra mixing to increase gluten formation), and waited with high hopes.
I didn’t get the oven spring the first loaf had because I think the second proof was too long. The crust wasn’t as spectacular as the first loaf, maybe because of bake time or temperature or moisture content, I’m not really sure. But it was still really good bread. Another sourdough starter success.
I’ve since made several more loaves of both the white sourdough and rye sourdough. I’ve found resting the dough after kneading the ingredients together and then a fair amount kneading a second time is the key to adequate gluten formation, and short second proof times result in nice oven spring. My sourdough starter had matured quite a bit now in the month since I first tried to make pancakes, and the last loaf I made had great flavor and some spectacular air pockets.
I’ve modified the original rye recipe from Breadtopia slightly to suit my own tastes. The spices were a little two overpowering for me so I reduced the spices but added a bit of star anise because I’ve got it on hand and I think it compliments the other spices nicely. So here’s how I make sourdough rye bread with failed pancake batter:
1 3/4 cup rye flour
1 3/4 cup bread flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp whole fennel seed
3/4 tsp whole caraway rye seed
3/4 tsp whole anise seed
1/2 of a dried star anise pod (optional)
2 tbsp molasses
1/3 cup failed pancake batter/sourdough starter
1 3/4 cup water
zest of 1 orange
1. Grind the fennel, caraway, anise, and star anise in a spice grinder, flour mill, or coffee grinder, etc.
2. Combine all ingredients in a stand mixer with dough hook attachment. Mix until combined. I have to alternately mix by hand with a spatula and mix with the dough hook until all the dry ingredients are wetted because the dough is quite wet and doesn’t get worked by the dough hook until after its mostly come together. For more sour flavor, rise for a longer time and a cooler temperature with initally a wetter dough. Breadtopia says to whisk together wet ingredients and mix together dry ingredients then combine the two, but I have not had a problem evenly incorporating everything together at the same time in the mixer.
3. Let the dough rest in the mixer for at least 15 minutes (I’ve waited up to 30 while buzzing around the kitchen working on other recipes) and then knead the dough again. I let the mixer run for about 5 minutes, stopping a few times to run a spatula around the edges to mix everything evenly.
4. Grease a large clean bowl by wiping olive oil around the bowl with a paper towel and transfer the dough to the bowl. Let rise overnight or at least 12 hours at room temperature.
5. Turn the risen dough out onto a well floured surface. And I mean well floured, its sticky stuff! Gentle pat the dough down into a square. I follow the instructions from the Breadtopia video and fold the dough into thirds (right edge folded onto the middle, the left edge folded on top of the right edge), rotate 90 degrees, and fold into thirds again. I really recommend watching the Breadtopia video for this part. After folding, shape the bread into a round loaf, tucking the fold seams underneath the round. Let sit for a few minutes for the seams to stick together a bit (though they won’t entirely fuse), then flip the loaf upside down into a bowl lined with a floured cloth for the second proof.
6. Let the dough rise for about an hour or shorter. Before baking, preheat the oven and a ceramic vessel or baking stone to 500 degrees. After the second proof, turn the dough into the hot vessel and cover with the lid or onto the baking stone and bake for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, reduce the heat to 450 degrees, remove the vessel lid if using one, and bake for another 15-20 minutes. I usually let my bread bake the full 2o minutes because I love ,LOVE crust.
7. Remove the bread from the oven and from baking vessel or stone and let cool. Slice that sucker open, share with everyone you love, and enjoy!