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Old Fashioned Sourdough Pancakes and sourdough starter

Written on January 20, 2006

Old Fashioned Sourdough Pancakes, Sourdough Pancake Recipe:

During the Klondike gold rush of 1898, it was said that a real “Alaskan Sourdough” would just as soon spend a year in the hills without his rifle, as to tough it through without his bubbling sourdough pot. Since food was scare, food provisions were more valuable than gold. In extreme cold, miners would put the dough ball under their clothes, next to their skin, or tuck it into their bedroll with them at night, anything to keep it alive.

I made sourdough pancakes last weekend — not the various yeast-assisted recipes you see but real pioneer style flapjacks — and they were amazing. Light, a little chewy, with a very wholesome flavor, and so easy to make.

But first things first. You need sourdough starter. I have been meaning to post my experiments with this, but have been doing too much with it to write about it.

So this is actually two postings. Didn’t start out that way.

If you start this on a weekend and all goes well, you could be using it by the next weekend. But whatever happens, it will last as long as you feel like keeping it going.

There are approximately a bajillion methods to make sourdough starter. I’ve used a couple and I expect all of them work reasonably well. If you make your own, keep it simple: no sugar, no domesticated yeast. So that leaves flour as your main variable. Some recipes call for milk or potatoes/potato water. I’m inclined to keep it simple until I understand the processes involved. I used an organic rye flour since rye flour is very easily digested by yeasts, both wild and cultivated.

In a clean — sterile, as in rinse-with-boiling-water-and-heat-in-the-microwave-or-oven-sterile — jar (I use a 32 ounce peanut butter jar, of which I have several: the wide mouth helps with the measuring and stirring), put 1 cup (6 oz) organic rye flour and 1/2 cup water. Mix as smoothly as you can, cover loosely, and leave in a warm place but not in direct sun.

Within 2 days, you should see a change in the appearance of the unappealing gray blob as it rises a bit. Remove half of the mixture and add 1/2 cup unbleached white flour and 1/2 cup room temperature water. Stir til smooth, cover loosely, as before. You should catch an aroma that may vary from fruity to tangy, but never pungent or unpleasant.

This recipe calls for a more gradual approach to white-flour feeding, but I didn’t go that route. I continued with every other day feedings of 1/2 flour to 1/4 cup water until I had a starter that could expand to double or triple its volume in a few hours.

Once you have that, you can make anything you like, but for a substantial and easy breakfast, try putting 1 cup of starter, 1 cup of flour, and 1 cup of water in a bowl, and mix til smooth. Leave overnight, covered or in a safe place like an unlit oven.

The following day, measure out 2 cups of the resulting mixture (return the rest to your sourdough crock), and add 2 tbsp of sugar, 1 tsp salt, 1 beaten egg, and 4 tbsp butter or oil.

When mixed and your griddle is hot enough to bounce water droplets across it, add 1 tsp baking soda to 1 tbsp water (enough to make a thin paste) and add that to the mixture, stir it in for a minute, and start dropping batter on the griddle.

They cook very quickly so don’t let your attention wander. Makes a dozen 4-6 inchers. Serve hot. Butter and maple syrup (please — not ‘pancake syrup’) or a good quality fruit preserve are the thing for these.

Rumor has it this adapts to waffles as well.

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