(this is an essay I wrote in 1985. The original text is in black, my modern (2006-2007) notes are in blue)
sourdough pancakes - a recipe and the full story
In my teens, I moved into the home of an aunt and uncle. These were very
good people and made very good food. When they asked if I liked
sourdough pancakes, I admitted that I'd never even heard of such a
thing. Trying to imagine what sourdough pancakes were made of, I
first thought of lemons. Lemons in pancakes didn't make a lot of
sense, so my mind wandered again. This time stopping at “sour
cream” or “sour milk”. That sounded like a possible
gourmet stunt, and I couldn't come up with what else it could be. I
began to think to myself what I would need to do to get out of eating
them should I find them unpleasant.
cakes hit my plate. I smothered them with butter and syrup in an
effort to hide the unknown. One small bite. What flavor. I ate nine
pancakes about six inches wide that morning. I could've eaten more,
but we ran out of batter.
can reuse a sourdough starter about every two or three days, so we
ate these cakes every other morning. We would often bicker within ten
degrees, what the temperature setting of the griddle should be. “When
to flip” was a good breakfast discussion topic. I was
frequently ridiculed for serving cakes with the “last cooked
side up”, also referred to as “upside-down”.
later, when I moved out on my own, I realized how economical these
were to make. One batch could be considered a full meal for the
average size person (I'm usually stuffed at one and a half).
Including all of the toppings used, it costs about twenty-eight cents
per batch. Cakes without toppings run about seventeen cents a batch.
The stuff is so cheap, it seems like a waste to fire up the griddle
for just one person. So I started inviting people over to help eat
these cheap cakes. Since other folks would often bring toppings, the
only expense to me is seventeen cents per person. The company
attracted is more than worth it.
That was the math then. I haven't done the math now. Plus, now I use only organic ingredients and real maple syrup. I think this could be one of those "ignorance is bliss" sort of things! :)
many times I've been asked for the recipe and I'm more than glad to
give it out:
are two items prepared in advance. One is the yeast-based sourdough
starter, which must be babied for ever and ever. The other is “The
White Powder” which you add to as needed.
starter is the soul of these cakes. It's also the hardest ingredient
to make or find. Although the best thing to do is get a “branch”
form someone else's starter, it's possible to make your own from
Starter Warning!: Clean all dribbles immediately! This stuff can
double as cement. If you let it dry before wiping it up, it'll take
you about thirty times longer to get it off with a chisel. Do not let
starter come in contact with the lid that it is stored in or you may
have to go to the shop for your drill to save what's trapped inside.
starting your starter, I recommend a large crock with a loose-fitting
lid. A crock that is about fifty percent bigger than you would
actually use is good. That way you have less chance of slopping
starter over the side and on the lip where it may form a permanent
seal. A loose lid is important so that the active yeast inside can
breathe. If you can get one that has a lid that sits on top instead
of rests a little ways inside is a plus. That way, if the lid does
become fixed to crock, you have better chances of recovery. I lost
one crock that had an embedded lid when some starter got on the lip.
I pried and pried for about ten minutes until the crock broke leaving
the lid attached to the lip. I now own a crock with a lid that rests
on top of the crock. When starter gets on the lip and dries, a
kitchen knife with a serrated edge will saw through in less than a
Rather than a crock, I use a glass container with a glass lid these days. It helps to be able to see,
through the glass, how the starter is doing.
not really certain what to do to start your own starter. (I know more now - see below...) I've heard
that some folks just mixed some yeast, warm water, and flour and had
some going. Others have told me tales of soaking old potatoes (what
will those gourmet bozos think of next!).
Yeast, warm water and flour does the trick - sort of. Mix three cups of flour, five cups of water and one packet of yeast. I did this and had a perfectly good starter for a couple of weeks. Then a bland, kinda soupy starter for a month or two. Then it became pretty much useless.
I came up with all sorts of lame ideas about why the starter wasn't working. I tried adding more yeast. I tried putting a little sugar in starter to get it on track again. I restarted the starters this way about four times. Then I became obsessed with understanding why this new starter was soooooo lame! ... after hours of internet research, I understand that there is far more to sourdough starter than yeast.
The starter from when I was a kid had been going for decades. But that was "real" sourdough starter. It had not just yeast, but the right kind of yeast. Plus the right kind of bacteria - and maybe a whole lot of other micro-beasties.
a branch is very simple. Find someone that has a current starter.
Take a cup or two home and place it in its new home. Add flour and
water to it as though you've just prepared cakes. Wait a couple of
days and go for it!
Looky thar! I found a great on-line supplier of sourdough starter and other sourdough gear! I have exchanged dozens of e-mails with Linda at sourdoughbreads.com - she's a peach! Ten bucks for some starter - including the shipping. She'll even provide free "technical support". Life is smooth.
suggest that you keep your starter stored in the refrigerator. Some
people leave them out at room temperature so that their cakes have a
more “fermented” character. A few days of sitting out and
your cakes will smell and taste like you poured a beer into the
good healthy starter will have a thin (about a quarter inch) layer of
yellowish water floating on the top just before being used. Depending
on how thick or thin you like the batter, you may stir this in or
pour it off.
White Powder” (sometimes referred to as “The Magic White
Powder”) contains: One part salt, one part baking soda, three
parts baking powder and five parts white sugar. Store this in an
airtight container. (airtight container? who is this bozo! :)
"white powder tight" is fine. I currently use a quart canning jar)
When I make a bottle of this stuff, one part is
equal to one quarter cup which generates about two and a half cups.
MAIN EVENT: For a single batch. (to feed five people, I use five times more of everything) In a large bowl (I use a batter bowl.
It looks like an oversized, short, fat pitcher. Basically, a bowl
with a handle and a spout for pouring) mix one tablespoon of
vegetable oil, one egg, and one tablespoon of “The White
Powder”. Make certain that the powder is evenly mixed and
broken up, otherwise somebody may get a small “clump” in
their cake which is VERY bitter. Add one cup of starter and beat
vigorously for no more than thirty seconds.
your griddles! The batter will take about three minutes to rise
before it should be used.
I want to change this part. Start heating your griddles just before adding the starter. Do not wait for the batter
Speaking of griddles ... I now use only cast iron griddles. I used to use the non-stick stuff, but then learned how icky that stuff was. Cast iron griddles for the stove top are now really easy to find.
Sourdough experts will use the yeast in the starter for the rising. This recipe does not do that. It depends on the
baking soda and baking powder. You do get some rise, but the batter is kept too thin to use that rise. This style of
pancake is more about the flavor and less about using the yeast for rising.
This is also a good time to point out that for your first time you might not know what is a good griddle temperature. Medium is good.
A lot of people want to start with "high" - but that is probably going to make for a lot of problems.
this time you should rejuvenate your starter. (Now, I usually rejuvinate while the pancakes are cooking) Add about a cup of
flour and a cup of water to the starter. I know it doesn't make a lot
of sense to take one something out and two somethings in, but for
some reason one cup of flour and one cup of water make about one cup
of white mud. As time goes on, you may need to adjust these
quantities to keep from having starter that's too thick or too thin.
It shouldn't be soupy and it shouldn't be pasty. Something in
between. I tend to use just a little more water than flour.
I usually keep a little more water in the starter than I used to. Then I just pour more water off later. This has to do
with a few times the yeast had a big party and things got sort of sticky-foamy and overflow. I think the extra water
keeps this from happening.
with one small pancake to see if the griddle temperature is ok.
You only flip a pancake once. Always. Just once. So make it count. Do
it right. Etc. Patiently wait by your cooking cakes until the bubbles
in the middle pop and stay open. Then, and only then, flip. (too many
people get excited and flip right away, thinking that if they flip
too soon, they can flip again. No, No, NO.) The flip is an art. Some
people can make big cakes in round skillets and flip them without a
flipper. Some can squeeze six cakes into the space normally occupied
by four and never have any cakes touch. If you have “mating”
or “escaping” cakes, don't worry. It'll pass. For darker
cakes, turn the heat up.
second side should take about one third less time to cook than the
first. It should also be about the same color (peeking is allowed).
I have refined my technique for cooking the second side. Look at the edges - if they are brown, the pancake is
ready to come off the griddle.
One of life's finer moments.
tell ya 'bout syrup... Very warm. Not room temperature. Not too hot
to handle. Just a comfortably, edibly, enjoyably warm.. Perhaps a
little cooler than hot coffee. My aunt and uncle would always reserve
a bit of space on the griddle for the syrup container to sit on. It
had a little piece of wire that would rest between it and the
griddle. Perhaps to keep it from becoming too hot. In these high-tech
days, I toss it into the microwave and “nuke” it for a
minute or so.
easy to make your own syrup. Plain, cheap maple syrup can be made
with two parts sugar to one part water and a little mapeline (an
artificial maple extract like vanilla) to taste. Some people
substitute half of the sugar with brown sugar or corn syrup. Some
people will add a little molasses or vanilla. Heat the ingredients
but don't boil them (boiling will make the sugars crystallize later,
like rock candy). Keep stirring until all the sugar has been
dissolved. This may take as long as fifteen minutes, but usually only
These days I use only organic maple syrup from a tree. The GI is waaaaaay lower and it is much better for you.
I think it tastes better too!
or margarine should be somewhere between cool and room temp. A
problem that you might find if you don't allow your butter to warm a
bit, is that cold butter attracts the moisture in the air given off
by the steaming-hot cakes. Thus, sweating butter. Not fun. Cold
butter is usually pretty stiff, too. Trying to spread stiff butter on
soft cakes often ends up with butter lumps on mangled cakes. Again,
not fun. Think cool and creamy. Sometimes I'll mash and whip the
butter in a small bowl first.
My son prefers to nuke it to a near liquid state.
Etiquette: Ever notice how some people manage to get syrup all over
their hands every time they eat pancakes? Some even get syrup on
their elbows and into their armpits (even adults!). Two simple rules can save a
person from such tragedy: keep the utensil handles out of the syrup
and always eat with the fork handle higher than the fork stabber.
(Pancakeaphobia: fear of syrup in your armpits. Perhaps this is what
started the trend of women shaving their pits?)
that the recipe is in pretty good circulation, I hear of some
experiments from some of the more adventuresome. The results pretty
much say “stay with the original recipe”. Use white flour
and white sugar are the biggest notes. You can stir things into the
batter if you like, but not into the starter.
I once had a wheat free starter going. I used mostly oat flour. I tried some rice flour, oat flour, buckwheat flour, spelt flour,
and maybe a few others. I had to add some guar gum to make it work. I also tried some whole wheat for a while. All of these made okay pancakes.
Nothing is as tasty as the original recipe for the starter.
For vegan friends, I have made egg-less pancakes. I think they are okay. They really like them. I just use an egg substitute I found at the store.
to use the starter more often than once every two weeks. Some people
have said that it dies shortly after that, others have said that
it'll never die no matter how long you go without using it. I tend to
agree with the former. If you don't use the starter for two weeks,
take some out and rejuvenate it. Pancakes from two-week-old starter
can have a lot of “character”.
you're into multiple-course meals, some sort of fruit or fruit juice
and pork compliment the cakes very well. Berry preserves make the
Home made berry preserves make the best toppings! Eggs, sausage or bacon --- all great when a little syrup slips their way!
make great leftovers. I usually make more than could possibly be
consumed so that I can have some sort of snack later. If you leave
them out at ten AM on a weekend, they'll be gone by noon. It's so
easy to pick one up and munch. It's like very soft, almost sweet
bread. You can heat them back up in the microwave or toaster oven if
you like. They'll keep in the freezer for several weeks if you want
to go that route.
I still make lots and lots of leftovers.
get a branch, make a few batches. Enjoy a simple, inexpensive, easy
meal with some good friends.
A reader sent in this interesting tidbit:
In addition to storing the sourdough in the fridge, a small amount may be mixed into a thick ball, and stored in a small plastic bag of flour. The storage life is as long as that of the flour. To re-activate, the ball of sourdough only needs to be placed in a container of flour and water (a little sugar helps to speed things up) and given a few days.
This was the way sourdough was transported in days long past, when travelers had no means for refrigerating the 'dough, but wanted to be able to whip up some pancakes in camp.
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