Guest Post: On Sourdough English Muffins and Life
As part of Doughvember, which is our month-long celebration of sourdough baking, I asked Sharon from NickelMoon to write a guest post. She has had a profound connection to sourdough through the years and her story is resonant to many, even if the particulars are unique. She writes from her soul and I’m happy she is a part of our food community. Here’s what she has to say:
Years ago, in another lifetime, within the safe cocoon of marriage, I baked bread almost every day. I had a sourdough starter on my sink top, and I made bread and pancakes and rolls for my “family”. It took some advance planning to use that starter, but that was my role: wife, planner, mother, cook, bread maker. I had time. Baking bread then was a soothing task that I could do without much thought, my mind could wander and be alone at a time when I was rarely left to my own devices.
Later, after the cocoon was ripped away, and the time it took to bake bread became a luxury I could hardly afford, the starter died. I occasionally baked bread, but not taking the time to use a sourdough starter was metaphor for something that was missing from other parts of my life.
Years rolled into decades and while work was one of my replacement drugs, I always was interested in accumulating knowledge. Books, Libraries and then the internet fed this “wholesome” addiction. I stockpiled information like some people save plastic bags. I used it all.
In the middle 90’s, during a 5 year hiatus from working, I learned more: how to cook Thai food, how to lay a block wall, fix the plumbing, make soap, and much more but I never went back to sourdough baking. It required something I wasn’t ready to give, I guess.
I never prepared for retirement. Those commercials about investing and preparing weren’t aimed at me. I was a child of the 60’s and didn’t own my own home until I was almost 50. I could manage money like crazy, but retirement? That was for someone else…..
Then something changed. I wish I could nail what it was, but I can’t. I can say when it started: April 2008. Seeds got planted, ideas grew. An alignment of events caused me to re-think EVERYTHING. And I knew it was right when I woke up one morning in December of 2009 and thought about a sourdough starter. Really.
I stopped working in April of 2010. I spent some time in Italy on what I termed the Saving Myself Tour. I mentioned sourdough to my virtual circle on Twitter. A Twitter friend (Jackie Church, @LDGourmet) had mailed me some of her starter during that time away, when I came home, it was waiting for me. I fed her, and waited.
I was not disappointed. My first starter in well, longer than some people reading this have been alive.
She grew. I was fascinated, and pulled out a dusty bread book. I did hours of research on the internet. I built a proofing box. Scrapped it, and built another.
I baked. I gave away bread until the neighbors screamed “uncle”. I started keeping notes & taking pictures in October 2010. Had some successes and many failures.
My brother came for a visit for Thanksgiving and he got hooked. He took a portion of my starter home and hasn’t looked back. He grinds his own flour, and has found he can make a delicious loaf with 100% whole wheat. No mean feat. He and I trade notes on our successes and failures. We have baked crackers and dog treats. English muffins, sweet rolls and bagels. We compete as only siblings do.
Sourdough is complex in its simplicity: flour & water, and WOW! A whole world of taste opens up. The possibilities are endless. Almost every culture has a version of fermented bread dough. Bread, rolls, bagels, muffins. Anything baked with yeast can be made with sourdough, and some things that are not normally made with yeast. It takes time and patience, a willingness to fail and start again. It needs attention.
Like real life. I am glad that I found my starter again.
Sourdough English Muffins
8-10 hours before-Start the sponge
1 c. starter (lively, and active)
2 c flour (use unbleached all purpose or bread flour)
1 cup warm water or other liquid*
Mix all ingredients thoroughly, cover and set in a warm place for 8-10 hours. No more than 10 or the sponge could be less lively then desired.
To make 4 muffins
1 cup sponge
1 cup flour
1 teas. Baking powder
1 teas. salt
1 teas. Sugar
¼ c warm water, if necessary
Measure out sponge into clean bowl. Mix dry ingredients together, then gradually add to sponge to from very sticky dough. Use extra warm water if dough is too stiff.
Rest dough for about 10 minutes.
Preheat griddle to about 350, and sprinkle with cornmeal when hot. Scoop about ¼ of the mixture and put on the hot griddle, you can spread slightly with a small knife.
Cook for about 5 minutes on each side.
Cool for at least 10 minutes before fork splitting.
I tested this recipe 9 times, with only 3 variations: the type of liquid, and baking soda vs. baking powder. I used buttermilk in three of the tests. Because of the acid content in buttermilk I used baking soda in those tests. I used milk, and or milk& water in 3 tests, and used baking powder in those. I used plain water in 1 test, and used baking powder in that.
Truthfully there was not much difference in flavor or texture until I came up to 1 teas of soda or baking powder in the recipe. The last batch made this morning was made with just water. (see pictures)
With a lively and active starter, the flavor is tangy and rich without additional fats or egg, in my opinion.