sour saga, savory sammiches!

May 13, 2010

I don’t even know where to begin with this story, there are so many ups and down.

Back in September one of the interns at our CSA (who is an amazing baker, but I never caught his name, so I’ll be referring to him as Baker Guy) gave me a piece of his sourdough starter and instructions on how to care for it and use it.  He’d been tending it for several years across multiple countries, and was delighted to share it.  The next week I had to admit to him that I had completely botched the instructions, and it had exploded all over the kitchen counter and hardened into a rock, all within the first 24 hours.  Baker Guy was amused.  He excused himself for a minute, and came back with another jar of starter.  His only request was that the next week I bring him a piece of whatever I baked.  Talk about pressure!  At this point in time I was still only at a 50% success rate with my yeast breads.

The following week I made an adequate loaf, and brought Baker Guy a slice.  He gave it a passing grade and told me to keep up the good work.  I was very worried, as the following week was our wedding (and by “our” I mean mrslovey and I, not Baker Guy) and then we’d be off on our honeymoon.  How the heck would I be able to keep this gift alive and well, so that I could keep baking with it once we returned???  I’m not sure how, but amazingly enough I did it.  The starter positively thrived, and each loaf was better than the last as I tweaked my recipe and gained more skill.  Together, we made it through the craziness of the holidays and my super-frantic year-end rush at work.  We made it through the doldrums of January and February, and the dreary gray of March.

And then, at the end of April, my starter just….stopped.  

I hadn’t had a chance to bake bread in a while, so the starter had been living in the fridge.  This slows down the rising and yeast-belching process, so that it doesn’t need to be fed as often.  I’m not sure exactly what happened – maybe I went too long between feedings?  Maybe I wasn’t removing enough behind in the division process?  When I took the starter out to the counter for a feeding, nothing happened.  Nothing.  I tried a couple of tricks that had worked for me in the past.  Nothing.  Couple more tricks that I read on the internets.  Nothing.  Wow, I’d actually killed it, killed it until it was dead from it.  Wanting to share my sorrow with the world, I posted the sad news on Facebook.

Two days later, a UPS truck pulls up to my door and hands me a package.  My friend B had read of my travails, and sent me a portion of his starter.  Always eloquent, he also shared the charming story of its provenance and travels, and its current care and feeding regimen.  And it smelled delightful.  So sour and yeasty it could almost be registered as an alcoholic beverage.  I couldn’t wait to play with it!

I carefully fed and monitored this new starter for a week, while trying to decide what my first recipe would be.  Sticking to the handheld theme, I had to come up with something other than a plain old loaf.  I went poking around online, and yet again ended up at King Arthur Flour.  They had a recipe for Sourdough English Muffins that looked pretty good, so I decided to go with that.  I wanted the full sourdough tang, so on Saturday I made the dough and stuck in the fridge overnight to slowly rise and increase its flavor.  Sunday would be creation day.

I will warn you, these were a bigger PITA than I had anticipated.  I could only cook 4 at a time, due to the size of my griddle and not wanting to crowd them.  Not having an electric griddle (I am totally borrowing one next time I want to make these), I had issues regulating my heat, and had to turn the stove top off several times to let it cool down between batches.  My biggest issue, though, was the amount of dough.  The recipe advises to roll and cut all of your muffins at once, let them rise for a bit, and then start cooking.  I did this, but because the cooking was such slow going, by the time I was halfway done the uncooked rounds were starting to deflate.  Out of an original 27 muffins rolled and cut, I probably ended up with maybe 12 survivors.  The others were either too flat, or overcooked, or just died before I could even get to them.  Next time I make these I’ll either leave half the dough in the fridge until I’m ready for it, or more likely I’ll just cut the recipe in half.  I mean really who needs TWENTY-SEVEN English muffins at once?  Twelve will be just fine, thank you.

I want to be clear, even though I had several logistical issues, I would still heartily recommend this recipe.  The muffins that made the cut had amazing flavor.  Maybe not quite as nooks-and-crannies-ish as store-bought, but so fresh tasting, with such a nice sourdough tone, that you didn’t care.  We had our first sample with classic fixin’s – toasted with butter and jam.  Then for dinner (and breakfast for several days) we had wonderful eggamuffin sammichs – homemade muffin, farm fresh eggs, Vermont cheddar cheese, and Prairie Fire Farm bacon (best bacon on the face of the planet, if you want my opinion).  Absolutely delicious.  And the fact that it’s not factory-farmed, mass-produced, or filled with chemicals makes it even better.

I’m not 100% sure what I’m going to say to Baker Guy next month when the CSA starts up again.  I know he’ll ask, he’s got an excellent memory.  I just hope that he’ll focus on the fact that I’m still playing with sourdough, even if it’s not his, and forgive me for my sins.

(And thanks, B.  Hope you don’t mind I shared with all (both) of my readers what a nice guy you are.)



  1. really…what IS a starter? i’m picturing some sort of slimy, anttenaed (sp?) living thing, that you’re keeping alive in your crisper. *shudder*

  2. Well, it is slimy, and living. Sometimes it lives on the counter, and sometimes it lives in the fridge, depending on when I think I’ll be using it next. Basically, it’s a yeast/flour/water mixture, kind of a loose, wet dough, that you ‘feed’ with flour on a regular basis so that the yeast don’t die. The yeast eat the flour, burp a lot, and create (some kind of) acid, which creates a sour taste. If you want a more detailed description, you’ll need to ask Alton Brown. 🙂

  3. I bet baker guy would love a bit of your new starter!

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