Category Archives: sourdough starter

Sourdough-risen Buns for Patties or Tubes

I assume fried onions would work about as well as fried shallots, but I've never tried because when you have fried shallots on hand, why would you ever buy fried onions?

Grill, Baby, Grill

Here’s to summer. To putting meat and meat-analogs on metal grates over fire until they have dark, charred lines and taste like smoke and sunburn. To cold lager beer and fresh berries and the smell of tomato vines. To small talk with neighbors over fences and sprinklers and not-small talk with friends over meals cooked and eaten outside. Get it while you can.

Twisting less crucial for tubes, I think. Still fun, though.

You can use just about any bread recipe for buns—just shape the dough into balls or logs and bake them for slightly less time than you would a whole loaf. But in case you’re looking for some additional tips or inspiration, here’s how I like to do it:

Buttery, Half-Whole Wheat, Twisty, and Topped with Shallots

I use a recipe pretty similar to the one I use for challah or dinner rolls, meaning it has a fairly high fat content and some egg in the dough, both of which make the rolls soft and rich (although not quite as buttery and decadent as brioche). I use about 1/2 whole wheat and 1/2 white flour so they have some wholesomeness and chew but still come out light and fluffy. I use milk or whey instead of water if I have either on hand—again for more softness and richness.

I'm not super precious about the shaping--you could probably make them much prettier if you were so inclined.For shaping, I divide the dough into balls the size of lemons and then divide each portion in half, roll those pieces into thin ropes and twist them together. For patties, I make the twist into a circle with one end tucked into the center on the bottom and one tucked into the center on the top. This is not just for aesthetics—it prevents the rolls from being overly thick in the middle. Because there are few things more disappointing in the burgers & brats realm than getting a bite that’s so bready you don’t taste the meat (or whatever else your patty/tube is composed of).

I brush them with an egg wash before baking so they get just a little glossy and brown and to help the toppings stick. My very favorite topping is crispy fried shallots, but sesame seeds or poppy seeds are pretty good, too.

Suggested Uses

Honestly, I prefer most burgers and sausages without a bun. A black bean burger topped with guacamole and tomato slices and a sunny side-up egg is probably one of my favorite meals, but I’d rather eat it with a knife and fork than sandwiched between two pieces of bread, no matter how good the bread is. However, if I had any room left in my belly after that, I might eat one of these for dessert—sliced in half, toasted lightly on the grill, brushed with some butter or mayonnaise or whatever else you got out for the corn on the cob and a sprinkle of salt. And they’re also a great vehicle for saucy braised meats like pulled pork or sloppy joes and summery sandwich fillings like egg salad or grilled veggies and cheese with pesto.

If they touch while baking, you can easily pull them apart. No big deal.

Recipe: Sourdough-risen Buns (makes about 20 buns)

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups refreshed sourdough starter (1:1 flour: water)*
  • 1 cup milk, whey, or water 
  • 1/4 cup neutral-flavored oil or melted butter
  • 1 egg + 1 egg yolk in dough; 1 egg for brushing
  • 1/2 cup sugar (or other sweetener)
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 5-6 cups flour (any combination of white, whole wheat, or multigrain; if using a low-gluten flour like rye add 2 T. vital wheat gluten per cup)
  • optional: sesame seeds, poppy seeds, fried shallots (or onions or garlic), grated hard cheeses, chopped sundried tomatoes, etc.

*If you want to substitute packaged yeast for the sourdough starter, increase the liquid to 2 1/2 cups and increase flour to 6 1/2-7 cups. Heat the liquid to 110-120F and whisk in 2 packages (4 1/2 teaspoons) active dry yeast and 2 Tablespoons of the sugar. Let sit 10-15 minutes before combining with the remaining ingredients.

Method:

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the starter, liquid, oil or butter, and egg.

2. Add the sugar, salt, and half of the flour and stir until the mixture begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl and form a dough. Gradually add as much of the remaining flour as needed until the dough becomes too stiff to stir.

dry ingredients added to the wet just starting to knead--a little scrappy and sticky

3. Dust a clean surface with flour and scrape the dough onto it. Begin to knead, adding flour as necessary to prevent the dough from sticking to you. You want to add just enough flour to make the dough workable. If desired, cover the dough with the mixing bowl set upside down and let it rest for 15 minutes to let the flour absorb more of the moisture—that should make it less sticky and easier to knead.

4. Knead for 10-15 minutes, or until you feel like stopping. You don’t the kind of gluten networks that will form a baker’s windowpane for this kind of bread, but kneading it that long or longer wouldn’t hurt anything. The less you knead, the more uneven the crumb will be (you might see a variety of large and small air bubbles in the rolls); the more you knead, the more even it will be.

5. Coat the mixing bowl lightly with oil, place the dough inside and turn so the whole surface is oiled. Cover and let rise 4+ hours or until doubled in size (1-2 hours for active dry or instant yeast). If you want a more pronounced sourdough flavor, let it rise for 8+ hours and/or after rising, put it in a zip-top bag and let it sit in the refrigerator for 24-72 hours before shaping and baking.

kneaded, oiled, ready to rise after an overnight rise--the sugar in the dough makes the yeast go a little crazy but there's no such thing as "over-risen" for the first rise. let it go as long as you want.

6. Punch the risen dough down in the middle and let rest 15 minutes. For regular-sized buns, pinch off balls about the size of a medium lemon or divide into 20 equal pieces (should be about 3.2 oz/90 g each). For smaller, slider-sized buns, pinch off balls about the size of a golf ball or divide into 36 pieces (around 1.75 oz/50 g).

For regular burger buns: shape each piece into a smooth ball,flatten until about 3/4 inches thick.

For hot-dog buns: rolls into a rope about 3/4 inch thick and 8” long. Slash once down the center or 2-3 times diagonally before baking, if desired

For twisty buns: divide each portion into 2 or 3 equal pieces, shape each piece into a rope about 8” long and twist or braid them and pinch the ends together. For kaiser rolls, make the twist into a circle and pinch the ends underneath.

Let rise again until doubled or almost the desired finished size, 2+ hours (30 min-1 hr if using active dry or instant yeast)

egg washed, topped, ready for the oven

7. Preheat the oven to 375F 30 minutes before baking. Whisk an egg with about 1 Tablespoon of water or milk and brush the tops of the buns. Just before baking, brush with the egg wash again and sprinkle with toppings.

8. Bake 15 to 20 minutes or until tops are beginning to brown and the internal temperature is between 190-200F.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day: Soda Bread with Sourdough Starter and Seeds (or not)

Loaf in the foreground was refrigerated overnight, loaf in the background was baked immediately

Soda vs. Sourdough

Sourdough soda bread is kind of a contradiction. Soda bread was created in the mid-19th century after chemical leaveners became commercially available in Ireland. Ireland’s climate is best suited to “soft” or low-gluten wheat, which is not so great for producing networks of protein that trap the gas produced by yeast. What it is great for is tender, flaky or crumbly “quick” breads. Traditional Irish soda bread is a kind of like a loaf-sized biscuit or scone, except not so flaky, because there’s not as much fat in the dough. It does have the same tender, cake-like crumb and the distinctive flavor of baking soda and buttermilk. Some people also like to add caraway seeds, currants or raisins, although apparently that’s not an “everyday” bread for the purists.

As far as I'm concerned, "slather" means thick enough to see teeth marksAt its best, soda bread is moist, dense, and a little crumbly—an ideal accompaniment for any kind of soup or stew or a thick slice of aged cheddar. It’s also great slathered with good salted butter. I wanted to get some Kerry Gold, but my grocery store doesn’t seem to carry it so I went with Lurpak instead. Both Kerry Gold and Lurpak get high marks for being made from grass-fed cows and thus higher in omega-3s and for possibly being more delicious than regular butter. I’m honestly surprised how much better the Lurpak tastes to me, but will probably still do a blind taste test sometime to see if that’s just expectation bias. They both get low marks for being expensive and flown across the ocean. Screw you, polar bears! Actually, I’d like to see a life-cycle analysis on pastured butter from Michigan (heated barns?) vs. pastured butter from Ireland.

Anyhow, the whole essence of soda bread is basically antithetical to yeast leavening, because the former depends on not having gluten networks, which would make the texture chewy and bready, and the former depends on gluten networks to trap the gas the yeast produce. However, I’m trying to prevent Ezekiel from becoming another casualty of my push to finish the dissertation (along with my social life and regular blog posting and personal hygiene…). So I decided to try using starter as just another ingredient, instead of the primary leavener—basically just substituting sourdough starter for some of the flour and water. There is probably some way to make sourdough-leavened soda bread. According to The Food Timeline, Irish people did make something similar to soda bread using sourdough or beer barm before the manufacture of sodium bicarbonate. But I couldn’t find a recipe that seemed to fit the bill online in less than ten minutes.

Seduced by Seeds

I did, however, find a few gorgeous pictures of a “Six-seeded Soda Bread” from the cookbook River Cottage Everyday by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, proud owner of the world’s most British-sounding name. And I also came across this strange sourdough quick bread involving chemical leaveners and an egg.

Nigella seeds are also known as kalonji seeds or black cumin and used primarily in South Asian and Middle Eastern cooking.I decided to kind of combine the two, with some substitutions based on what I had on hand: I used 1 T. flax meal instead of flax seeds and nigella seeds instead of poppy seeds. I’ve been accumulating bacon grease faster than I can use it, so I decided to use that instead of vegetable oil. I also decided to use regular buttermilk instead of buttermilk powder and water. And then I decided to experiment with the rising time to see what the difference would be between baking it straight away (while the baking soda action is optimal) and letting it sit in the refrigerator overnight.

The Verdict

Thumbs up: Sourdough Starter and Overnight Refrigeration

Thumbs down: Whole Grain Flours and Fennel Seed

The dough was wetter initally, so spread more horizontally

I had to bake this one longer, either because the inside was still cool from refrigeration or because it stayed so much rounder it just took longer for the center to be done, or both.

 Left: baked immediately, Right: refrigerated overnight

The sourdough starter didn’t cause any problems—the bread wasn’t tough at all, and the flavor of the loaf I refrigerated overnight was great, aside from the overwhelming fennel. It also rose beautifully in the oven, despite Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s claim that you “need to get it into the oven while the baking soda is still doing its stuff.” (Never underestimate the power of Irish soda bread to rise, you limey bastard!) The refrigeration also enabled the flour to absorb more of the moisture, so it held the shape of the loaf better and turned out much prettier. Another view:

Refrigerated loaf is about 1/3 taller

However, the multigrain flour was a terrible idea, and in retrospect I should have known better. Remember how I said it’s basically a loaf-sized biscuit? In my experience, whole wheat biscuits suck. And to make matters worse, I got all ambitious about the whole-grained-ness and instead of using half all-purpose or white bread flour, I used half “white whole wheat” which is still milled using the whole grain, it’s just a made from a kind of wheat that lacks some of the phenolic compounds in normal wheat; King Arthur’s calls it an “albino wheat.” It turned out way too crumbly and disappointingly virtuous-tasting, which is basically how I feel about everything I’ve made that was inspired by 101 Cookbooks. She takes lovely pictures and seems to have a remarkable fidelity to her particular, soy-centric idea of “health,” but man, we just have different culinary aesthetics. In the future, I’ll stick to white flour for my biscuits and soda bread. Live and learn.

Also, even though I halved the amount of fennel seed in the River Cottage recipe, it was still overpowering. Quoth Brian: “There’s no such thing as ‘a little’ fennel.” Unless you love it, leave it out. The other seeds were okay, but I think they just made an already-crumbly bread crumblier without adding much in the way of flavor. They’re kind of pretty, but ultimately I just don’t think they belong in this kind of bread.

So below, I’ve written out both the recipe I used and the recipe I’ll use next year, retaining the starter and and overnight rise, but ditching the virtue-flour and fennel seed. Since it’s not sourdough-leavened, the starter doesn’t need to be active, meaning you don’t could just as easily get the same effect by substituting some flour and water or more buttermilk.

For all those who celebrate this Thursday, Irish or not, Beannachtaí na Féile Páraic oraibh! (Blessings of St. Patrick’s Day Upon Ye!). Drink a Guinness for me.

Recipe: Seeded Soda Bread with Sourdough Starter (adapted from eHow and 101 Cookbooks)

Ingredients (for 1 loaf):

  • 1 cup sourdough starter (100% hydration, does not need to be refreshed)*
  • 1 egg
  • 2 T. liquid fat (I used melted rendered bacon grease, substitute olive or canola oil or melted butter as desired)
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk (or 1/2 cup regular milk soured with 1 t. vinegar or lemon juice)
  • 1 cup whole wheat or multigrain flour (I used the Westwind Whole Grain Bread Flour)
  • 1 cup “white” whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats (regular or quick-cooking)
  • 1 T. flax meal
  • 1/2 t. baking soda
  • 3 t. baking powder
  • 1 T. sugar (optional)
  • 1 t. kosher salt
  • 2 1/2 T each: sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, and nigella seeds
  • 1/2 t. fennel seeds (or caraway seeds, if desired)

Recipe: Regular Soda Bread with Sourdough Starter

Ingredients (for 1 loaf)

  • 1 cup sourdough starter (100% hydration, does not need to be refreshed)*
  • 1 egg
  • 2 T. liquid fat
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats (regular or quick-cooking)
  • 1/2 t. baking soda
  • 3 t. baking powder
  • 1 T. sugar (optional)
  • 1 t. kosher salt
  • optional additions: 1/2 cup raisins or dried currants, 1 t. caraway seeds

*If you don’t have an active starter, you can substitute 2/3 cup water and 2/3 cup flour. No yeast is necessary as the baking powder & soda do the rising in this recipe.

Method:

1. If baking immediately, preheat oven to 400 F.

2. Whisk together the starter (or just the 2/3 cup water), egg, liquid fat, and buttermilk until well combined.

3. If using the seeds, combine them and put about 1 T. aside in a small bowl for sprinkling on top of the loaf.

4. In a large bowl, stir the dry ingredients together (including the 2/3 cup flour if omitting the starter and the remainder of the seeds, if using). Then, make a small well in the center of the mixture and pour in the wet ingredients. Stir just until it begins to form a sticky dough. Add a little more buttermilk if it’s too dry and crumbly to form a ball. Add a little flour if it’s so sticky you can’t shape it.

the bacon grease formed little droplets, but mixed into the dough just fine dry ingredients whisked together. check out my amazing array of whisks! it's kind of embarassing how many I have.

Just whisked together until it forms a dough

5. If not baking immediately, cover the bowl and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. Remove from refrigerator an hour before baking to allow to return to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 400F 15-20 minutes before baking.

6. Scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently once or twice, just until the texture is even. Lightly flour a baking sheet and place the ball on the sheet.

7. Cut a deep “x” in the top (cuts should go at least 1/3 of the way through the loaf, or deeper if desired—101 Cookbooks says 2/3 of the way through).

The first loaf, not refrigerated the second loaf, refrigerated--see how it held a higher shape instead of spreading out laterally

8. Brush the top with buttermilk (or regular milk, or melted butter or lard, or a beaten egg) and sprinkle with the remaining seeds, if using.

9. Bake 35-40 minutes, or until the top and bottom are brown and the internal temperature is at least 190F (a metal skewer inserted into the center should come out clean).

Let cool 10-15 minutes before cutting.