Having a Sourdough Starter is kind of like having another child. You can name it. You have to watch it, feed it, and give it water. It makes lots of gas. But unlike a child, the Starter doesn’t sit at the top of the stairs screaming at you because you let Daddy tuck it in tonight. Oh patient Starter.
We’ve tossed around a few names for our Starter, but none have stuck, and we actually don’t remember if it’s 4 years old or 5. It was a gift to me from a close friend, who got it from a close friend of hers, who brought it back from Italy. Technically it’s been growing on American flour for as long as I’ve known it, so it’s not really Italian anymore, but it’s fun to think it is. Perhaps I’ll call it Vito. Or maybe Quintus Lazarus Speltus, because I have brought it back from the dead and the depths of the freezer at least five times. And because, naturally, the Starter is a Classicist like me.
I’ve been meaning to post a sourdough recipe for a long time. I’ve had pictures waiting since before we moved, so you’ll see the steps for two different versions of these “muffies” as we call them: one mostly whole wheat, and the other mostly white.
We live on these muffies. The kids typically eat two a day because I’ve given up baking loaves for the time being (it was too annoying to slice them–I, who did all the hard work making the bread, would make the slices as thin as possible to stretch out the amount of time until I’d have to make bread again. Dr. Awesome, who thinks bread is a food group, cuts slices so thick the entire loaf is gone in little over a day.) Muffies are easier to ration. I almost always get 22 in a batch, and that lasts us four days.
We eat these hot off the griddle the day they are made. We have them split and toasted for breakfast with butter or jam or cream cheese and smoked salmon. I make an “Egg McMuffie” with arugula and guacamole that’s to die for. Sally takes a muffie-and-cheese or a muffie PBJ most days of the school week. Yes, that’s a lotta carbs. But it’s also a lotta love.
Sourdough English Muffies
Recipe adapted from sourdoughhome.com many years ago; that site is awesome for learning all about sourdough.
Makes 20 to 24 depending on the size of your cutter.
Necessary: a Sourdough Starter. Go on and make one yourself! It’s cheap and easy! Come back in a week when it’s ready. THEN you’ll need a rolling pin, a griddle, a decent spatula, and a willingness to get dough on your fingers.
Handy-dandy: Cornmeal or wax paper for proofing the muffies before they cook.
Ingredients to make the Muffie Sponge:
2 cups liquid: all water, all milk, or equal parts.
1 cup hungry/unfed sourdough starter
2 T honey
4 cups unbleached flour: white and white whole wheat in your preferred ratios.
AT LEAST 8 HOURS LATER…
To turn the Muffie Sponge into Muffie Dough:
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp salt
1 cup unbleached flour, any kind
extra white flour for rolling out, possibly up to 1 cup.
cornmeal for dusting proofing tray/wax paper
unsalted butter for the griddle
Method to the Madness
- Here is a nice, hungry-looking starter, which has outgrown his glass jar and moved on up to a 1 quart yogurt container. Look closely to see the watery layer over the top (upon which floats the fine bubbles). That’s hooch, the alcohol hungry starters make. Stir it in before you measure your cup.
- After you’ve taken a cup from your hungry starter, you’ll need to replenish it with equal parts flour and water. I maintain old Quintus here on white whole wheat flour from Trader Joe’s. Here’s Q after a feed. The hooch is stirred down, and you know he’s healthy, because he burps.
- Make your sponge by mixing the sponge ingredients in a non-metal bowl and leave out, covered, on the counter for 8 to 24 hours. I usually do this just before bed and make the rest of the dough about 12 hours later, but I have also made the sponge in the morning to finish at night. Sometimes I have made the sponge at night and not had time to get to it until the next night. Sourdough is chill like that. Here’s the flour with the starter poured on top, waiting for its milk-and-honey.
- By the way, sometimes you will read that you must warm the milk or water to make the sponge, but I find it doesn’t make a difference. Sometimes I warm the liquid a little, so the honey is easier to stir in. Note my aged 16 oz. Pyrex measuring cup. It’s so old the numbers have worn off. But I remember where they were.
- Cover the sponge and set it on the counter as mentioned. Pictured are two different batches, one mostly whole wheat (on top, looks crustier) and the other mostly white. The sponges next morning will have risen and look like . . . wait for it . . . SPONGES. Get it?
- Sprinkle the baking soda and salt evenly over the top of the sponge.
- Pour over one cup of flour. You want this even so it is faster and easier to mix in evenly.
- Take off your rings.
- Mix in the flour, etc., by hand. Sure you could use a spoon, but you’ll never learn anything about sourdough if you’re dainty with it. I use a stretch-and-fold motion, moving around the perimeter of the bowl, scraping the side clean with my hand and folding the sticky dough from my hand back on to the top of the dough as I go. The first four photos from the top left show the start; the last two on the bottom right show the result.
- As you turn the bowl all of the flour will incorporate. The dough will be sticky. Don’t try to knead it forever. After about 5 minutes, give it a 15 minute break while you go chase a kiddo or read a magazine or something.
- Sprinkle the counter liberally with flour. I use a 1/3 cup scoop. Turn out the sticky dough onto the flour– coat it with the flour, and suddenly it will turn almost civilized on you. Some doughs may spread too much and you’ll want to knead in another 1/3 to 1 cup flour, but some may hold shape after the turn out. (The shaggy dough pictured needed about a minute more kneading.) When you can form a neat but still soft and slightly spreading ball, it’s ready to roll.
- Flour your rolling pin and roll the dough from the center to about 1/2 inch thick. It’s more fun with a helper.
- Use a biscuit cutter or an upturned cup in whatever size you like. The muffies tend to grow thicker but not wider as they cook.
- Place the cut muffies on wax paper or a baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal or flour to proof. Longer is better; aim for an hour, but I’ve cooked them after 20 minutes and they’ve still been fine. The longer proofing time improves the flavor; white flour muffies may visibly rise during this time, but whole-wheat ones may not. These are whole wheat muffies before the proof.
- When the muffies have proofed, preheat your griddle. I use a double-burner griddle set over medium heat. I preheat for 3 minutes, butter it, and add the muffies.
- Cook for 3 to 4 minutes on the first side. Flip and slightly squash down with your spatula, to emulate that English muffin look.
- Cook for another 3 to 4 minutes. Note: After the first batch, I have to turn the heat down on my griddle, or they start to brown too quickly. Butter the griddle again between batches.
- Cool on a rack. You can eat these straight like biscuits or fork split them: use a salad fork to pierce into the very middle of the muffie all the way around like you’re making a perforated line. By the time your tine lines meet, your muffie will fall apart and shout “Butter me, jam it!”