Sourdough Starter Is Magic
Many plant-based and vegan bakers are missing out on this trick. A uniquely alive, bubbly sourdough starter adds a spongey texture to food that is so often lacking in egg-free recipes. I’ve been plant-based for awhile and also a sourdough enthusiast, but I only recently made this vital connection.
Last Saturday I added a cup of it to a pretty standard vegan pancake recipe, made some minor tweaks to get the appropriate consistency and voila, the most wonderful pancakes I’ve ever eaten (including in my previous life as an animal product eater). Seriously, they were deliscious; perfect rounds of light, bouncy cake that had the elusive balance of understated, sweet tanginess.
I began my sourdough journey about a year ago after being gifted Nancy Silverton’s bread book. I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a staggering number of steps and tools listed, but at the time I had a lot of daylight hours to fill, so I embarked! Sourdough starter is created through a fairly straightforward fermentation process.
It wasn’t until a recent move to sea level (and the birth of an entirely new batch of starter) that I finally achieved a perfect boule. I’d been living above seven thousand feet in an arrid climate, which made it impossible (for me) to reach my sourdough ambitions.
Now my crusts are crisp, blistered and sienna in color, the insides have a holey crumb that is the perfect amount of sponge.
I slice open every loaf now, excited to see the outcome of this three-day project. It’s fun, it’s satisfying and every time is a little different because the dough is alive.
This is what makes it so wonderful for vegan baking. Unlike dried rapid-rise yeast, sourdough starter adds sponge not puff. The good kind of sponge, not the tough kind. The flavor has a slight tangy quality, like buttermilk, which is a desired taste in many recipes.
You can make flatbreads like Naan and pizza crust, but those are obvious. Muffins, cakes, donuts,banana bread, are where you can begin experimenting. I love how inventive plant-based people are in the kitchen and also how for centuries some of the most deliscious foods have been concocted from just flour and water. Speaking of, these are the only two ingredients needed to make sourdough starter.
I recommend unbleached flour and bottled water (at least at the beginning).
Once your starter is established there’s more wiggle room. Nancy’s recipe calls for organic grapes wrapped in cheesecloth, but I’ve had best luck sticking simple. My starter grows and lives in an 800ml Ball jar with the lid unscrewed for breathing. I begin with equal parts flour and water, stir and wait. She/he/they hangs out on the counter and waits to get bubbly. You want to keep stirring daily and once you get to day three begin adding little bits of flour and water to begin the feeding process.
I recommend doing your own research, find a source you trust online that gives you parameters you’re comfortable with. My description is mainly there to demystify the whole process. Once it’s established you are free to store it in the fridge if you won’t be using it, are heading out of town or simply want a break from nurturing your starter.
Also, sourdough starter is just fun. Having a living friend on your kitchen counter adds a level of mad scientist to your life. It also demands respect. People are endlessly impressed when you mention a homemade wild sourdough starter you happen to have at home. Wait until they try your new sourdough infused vegan blueberry muffin recipe. Prepare for accolades.