Don’t just use a sourdough starter for bread - make amazing pancakes, noodles and more, says Sophie Morris

Say what you like about 2020, it’s been a bumper year for baking. If you experimented with making sourdough bread in spring, now might be the time to take things further, using your starter to create lively tasting crumpets, brownies, pizza, pancakes and noodles.

And for those who have yet to dabble in the world of sourdough, a starter is a culture of flour and water that ferments naturally with the wild yeast in the flour and air. The resulting fizzy sludge is a raising agent we can use in baking and full of live bacteria which are great for your gut. A starter requires regular attention, tending and feeding (with more flour) if you want it to flourish, but as it grows you also need to discard some before it takes over your kitchen, hence the “waste” that you can use in other baking.

“Bread is actually a lot harder than other things you can make with a sourdough starter,” says Pam Yung, head chef at London Bridge’s Flor, a wine bar, bakery and restaurant that pivoted to become a sourdough-pizza pop-up during the first lockdown.

“With cookies, for example, you just add in a certain amount of your starter and let them sit for longer - it’s pretty straightforward.”

At the restaurant she uses starter in a Moroccan baghrir pancake, a fluffy, perforated semolina pancake that looks a bit like a giant pikelet, served with caramelised apples and fresh cheese. Her waffles take on a complex flavour thanks to the addition of an overnight levain.

“It’s fun for people to realise that it is flexible and gives added nutritional and health benefits to anything you add it to,” Yung says. “Which is exactly what we all need this winter.”

If it’s comfort you’re seeking, you’ll find plenty of it at The Muff Kitchen, an online sourdough school founded by baker Martha de Lacey. Until March, de Lacey ran supper clubs and in-person sourdough and fermenting classes. During 2020 she has recreated her community online, growing her membership to 850 with subscribers as far afield as Dubai and Australia. As well as showing how to use a starter in different bakes, de Lacey makes use of the waste starter, which she calls trash. “People get anxious about all the flour thrown away,” she explains. “But you can use it. When I do classes I give them waffles, crumpets, biscuits, brownies and flapjacks made from the trash.”

Starters are alive and their qualities change with age, therefore choose your recipe based on how much fizz you have. “As a starter continues to ferment it continues spitting out acid,” says de Lacey. “The longer it ferments, the weaker the gluten is. Once it’s all fermented there’s no fresh flour left.” This makes it good for a brownie which you want to be fudgy and textured but not chewy like bread. De Lacey says that when she makes crackers or shortcrust pastry with a fully fermented starter, they taste full of cheese.

Learning how to work your starter into sweet recipes can take some practise. Muff Kitchen members were asked to make a carrot cake with sourdough, but with the challenge of working the recipe out themselves. This meant thinking about the consistency, tasting as they went along and tempering the sugar volume depending on the strength of their starter.

Stuck on savoury? Chris Leach, chef and co-founder of Manteca, is known for his pasta and has recently been making ramen noodles. He also suggests expanding your bread repertoire. “If you’ve mastered a basic loaf, it might be a good time to think about matching the bread you make to the meal you want to eat,” he says. This might mean focaccia for scarpetta (mopping up the sauce) with pasta, naan with curry or flatbreads for a BBQ. For Christmas baking, he recommends attempting some festive breads such as stollen, pandoro and pain d’épices.

“If you’re feeling really brave and have the time and patience, try making panettone,” he says, which proves for several days and ends up hung upside down for extra stretch.

If all this sounds trickier than keeping a houseplant, or even another human, alive, you’ve hit on the secret to sourdough’s success. It demands thought, affection, consistent attention and a whole lot of food, all things we’re aching to share with missed loved ones through 2020.

BAGHRIR PANCAKE
Pamela Yung, head chef of Flor
Serves five to six large 6” pancakes
180g levain (ripe) 200g semolina (fine)

50g buckwheat flour 50g white plain flour 35g sugar 1.5tsp salt 1tsp baking soda 3g fresh yeast 560g water, tepid Ghee, or clarified butter

Mix everything well until no lumps remain. Let it prove about two to three hours, or until it is very bubbly and has risen a bit.

Heat a pan on medium heat until quite hot (the butter will sizzle a bit). Put a few tablespoons of butter in the pan. Using a large ladle, drop a round of batter into the hot butter. It should be around 1cm in thickness.

Once the edge colours a bit, lower the heat immediately to low and let it slowly cook until fully cooked (no wet spots). Do not flip the pancake, as it should have one crisp side and one fluffy side.

Remove from pan and add desired toppings.

SOURDOUGH BROWNIES
Chris Leach, chef and co-founder of Manteca
3 eggs 320g muscovado sugar 225g 70 per cent dark chocolate 90g butter 7.5 baking powder 6g salt 100g sourdough discard Pre-heat your oven to 150°C.

Whisk eggs and sugar to stiff sabayon in a stand mixer or with an electric whisk for about 15 minutes.

Melt chocolate and butter together separately.

Pour the chocolate and butter into the egg and sugar mix.

Fold in baking powder and sourdough.

Bake at 150°C for 20 mins. Leave to cool.

TRASH CRUMPETS By Martha de Lacey (below)
Makes approx. 12 crumpets
360g soughdough trash/levain (ideally plain white flour and not too old) 210g plain flour 210g water 4g baking soda/bicarb 3g baking powder 7g salt

Mix everything really, really, really well and leave to rest for 20 mins. Give it another mix.

Heat non-stick crumpet rings in a flat frying pan, drizzle them all over with light olive oil and heat up to medium. As long as there is oil in the pan and the rings are hot, you don’t need to grease them specifically.

Spoon 2tbsp of the batter into each ring (or however much brings it halfway up the ring) and cook on a medium heat until the top is completely set and dry with lots of lovely holes. Use a fork to encourage the holes only if you can see it won’t fill up with batter when you do - this is an art, be patient. This can and should take about eight minutes.

Flip crumpet when it is completely dry and cook other side for a minute or so. Rest on a wire rack from a minute or so, butter and eat hot.