One of the by-products of growing your own sourdough starter is discard. As any experienced bread baker will tell you, you’re going to end up with a lot of it. And when I say a lot, I mean a LOT of it. Since I don’t like throwing food away, I needed a plan for it, which is one of the top lessons I learned from growing a sourdough starter.
As it goes with just about anything, sourdough discard can be a problem or an opportunity. I like taking an optimistic approach to life, so I chose to treat my sourdough discard as an opportunity, an opportunity to practice my baking skills.
When I started my bread baking adventures a few months ago, growing my own starter was not on my radar. If anything, I was against it. It felt like so much work. The feeding, the maintaining. I didn’t want the responsibility. Even though one of my favorite books from last year made it sound like a lot of fun, I wasn’t convinced.
My curiosity got the best of me. After baking a number of loaves with commercial yeast, I wondered why people were infatuated with sourdough. Could sourdough loaves be that much better than what I was already baking?
I’m here to tell yes, they are. They may not be worlds apart, but there’s a noticeable difference.
When starting out, it can be intimidating. How a simple mixture of flour and water (see picture above right) turns into an active concoction of live yeast is a marvel of nature. It’s also quite the science experiment, which I’m about 2 months into.
Here are a few lessons I learned in the process of growing a sourdough starter. This isn’t going to be about how to make one, or how to care for it. There’s plenty of how-to articles already out there.
Consider this a post to inspire you to grow your own starter or to press on if you’re struggling.
For the last three years, I’ve significantly reduced my carbohydrate intake. More specifically, I’ve eaten a lot less wheat-based carbohydrates, which significantly reduced my bread consumption. My diet changed from eating 3-4 servings of bread per day to 3-4 servings every month or so. So instead of eating carbohydrates, I’ve consumed a lot more protein and natural fats such as nuts.
My motivation came from what I read in Wheat Belly, Grain Brain, Primal Body – Primal Mind, and It Starts with Food. My desire to get my weight below 160 pounds was also a significant factor. While I’ve adjusted to the diet and don’t necessarily miss bread, I decided it was time for a change. Variety is the spice of life, right?
I decided to take the bold move of adding bread back into my diet, but under one condition. It couldn’t be any bread. I wanted to bake it on my own so I could control the ingredients being used. I didn’t want to pollute my body with all the ingredients found in a store-bought loaf of bread that I either don’t know or can’t pronounce.
I enjoy tinkering and experimenting in the kitchen. Some of it is driven by my desire to maintain family recipes for apple pie and pierogies. Most if it is a desire to find ways to improve upon some of my favorite foods such as chocolate chips cookies, guacamole, and pasta. I also like to help Lisa cook a new dish for dinner every now and then, although it’s been a lot more ‘then’ than ‘now’ as of late.
When I tell people about my hobby, they tell me that I must like to cook. When I tell them I prefer baking, the typical response is, “aren’t they the same thing?”
While it might seem that way, they are two totally different things. Allow me to explain.
I’ve recently become captivated by the process of baking my own bread. My kitchen is well-equipped, but not necessarily for making bread. After watching a few instructional bread baking videos on YouTube, I realized that I was missing a very basic but important tool for handling bread dough – a bench scraper.
The bench scraper is a flat, wide, stainless steel blade with a handle on one of the wider sides. In the world of kitchen utensils, it’s a commodity. There’s really nothing special about it. There isn’t a whole lot of differentiation. Therefore, I expected price would be the primary factor in my purchase selection.
Off I ventured onto Amazon in search of a ‘kitchen bench scraper.’ Of course, I was inundated with dozens and dozens of results. And as you would expect for a commodity item, the prices were pretty similar. They were almost all grouped around $10, plus-or-minus a couple of bucks. So how to pick one?
There are lots of tools and techniques you can use to get more consistent results from your baking or cooking. One of the easiest is to use a kitchen scale.
In the past, kitchen scales were rarely used by amateur cooks and hobbyists. The main reasons were convenience and cost. Older kitchen scales were bulky, took up a lot of shelf and counter space, and did not always provide accurate measurements. For those that looked good and worked well, the cost was prohibitive.
Well, times have changed. Today’s kitchen scales are compact, easy to use, highly accurate, and economical. As with most everything else these days, they have been transformed by the digital age, and they are easy to get. A search on Amazon for ‘kitchen scale’ yields dozens of results, with most available for less than $20.
I don’t need another category on my blog, and I certainly shouldn’t be taking on any new projects right now. But, I can’t help myself. I’ve decided to start a new section on the blog called the Test Kitchen.
The Test Kitchen is where I plan to collect lessons learned exploring different recipes and cooking techniques. I’m also going to keep my favorite recipes that I regularly come back to for cooking all kinds of things, whether it is cookies, pies, bread, pasta, guacamole, and more.
I’m not going to commit to a regular posting schedule. I’m just going to post when I have something to say, when it’s convenient, and when it makes sense. It may be once a week, once a month, or a couple of times a year. Who knows.
In the meantime, I’m going to move my favorite recipes into the Test Kitchen, and I hope to add more soon. To give you a preview, I’ve become addicted to the King Arthur Baking site over the last month or two and have quite a few thoughts I hope to share around bake goods, especially bread which I never thought I would make!
A little over a year ago, I made the decision to curb my carb intake significantly. Yes, it was a choice. I was so influenced by the books Grain Brain and Wheat Belly that I decided it was best to cut out breads and grain-based products. It was tough for the first month or two. I like bread, and I missed it.
Fast forward a year later, and I’ve gotten over it. I don’t miss bread. I don’t miss grains either, with one exception. Pasta was one meal I just couldn’t give up. Spaghetti dinners are a staple around our house. With our homemade sauce, I just couldn’t let go. I had to find some way, any way, that I could rationalize and enjoy a good bowl of noodles drenched in marinara and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.
How did I rationalize my decision to eat pasta? We make it ourselves. Granted, it’s still eating wheat, but I choose the ingredients.
An internet search for guacamole will reveal many, many recipes. I haven’t tried them all, but I have tried quite a few of them. Here’s the one that has become my “go to” recipe, along with a few tips that I’ve learned while making it.
Growing up, I can still remember when “the call” would come. Grandma had decided to make pierogi and my grandpap would call the house to tell us it was ready. It would usually be early evening when the call would come, and even if we had already eaten dinner, my dad would rush me out the door. We would speed over to grandma’s house, cutting the normally 5-minute drive in half. Somehow, my dad’s older brother, my Uncle Barry, would already be there working his way through the first batch. He lived 10 minutes away from my grandma’s, so how he got there faster than us is a mystery that remains unsolved to this day. My gut tells me he had inside information about when pierogi were being made, but neither he nor my grandparents ever fessed up to it.
My grandma’s pierogi recipe was a hand-me-down from my great grandma (my grandpap’s mother). She was an immigrant from the old country, Ukraine to be exact. My grandmother took over the recipe and mastered it, with a couple of minor tweaks. My mom and dad took over the recipe from my grandma, continuing the family tradition. Store bought pierogi are good, but they don’t come close to matching the real thing.
Someday, I knew that I should take over the recipe to continue the family tradition. I had procrastinated for years, but watching the Michael Pollan documentary “Cooked” inspired me to action. My parents visited this past summer, and I decided it was time to learn the recipe. I set aside an afternoon to spend in the kitchen with them. It was time well spent.