Thursday, January 15, 2015

Historical Sourdough Part 1 -- Waffles and Popovers

Last March I was given a batch of 200+ year old sourdough starter named "Melissa."

The story behind it was that an ancestor of the woman who gave it had created the starter and one of her descendants, Melissa, inherited it.  Melissa brought it with her as she walked from the East Coast of America to the West Coast with a covered wagon.  Her descendants have been using it since.

Not only is using sourdough starter an historical cooking treat, but the starter itself is historical!

My daughter was home and we decided to play with the starter in different ways.  Not all of the recipes themselves were historical but they were very tasty.

I have to admit that I had neglected Melissa for a few months while she resided in the back of my refrigerator.  I was too busy to bake with her and didn't even think to feed her, so when I opened her container I found a grayish, tart-smelling liquid on top of the thicker batter.  It was not appealing and I thought I had ruined her.  However I recalled some reading that suggested to pour off the foul liquid and most of the batter, feed her well, and leave her on the counter to bubble.  She was sluggish at first.  For each of three days I let her bubble, poured off about half of the contents, fed her roughly equal parts of flour and warm water, and then let her bubble some more.  Her odor was getting more appealing.

Then I recalled the advice to use water in which a potato had been boiled.  I let it cool until it was comfortably warm and then mixed it in with more flour.  Wow!  Melissa started bubbling throughout and was no longer separating into the liquid and batter layers.  She smelled of the right kind of sour, making me willing to cook with her.

So my daughter and I started having some fun in the kitchen.  Our first recipe was for sourdough waffles, which I did not think to take pictures of or otherwise document.  (I chalk it up to the excitement of having my daughter home.)  I can give a link to the recipe, though.  Here it is:  King Arthur Flour Sourdough Waffle Recipe.  We had them for breakfast and stacked them with ham, Swiss cheese, a scrambled egg, and mayonnaise.  An open faced breakfast sandwich!  Yum.

Next we tried sourdough popovers.  The link to the recipe is here:  King Arthur Flour Sourdough Popovers Recipe.  You can see my daughter is a fan of the King Arthur Flour recipe collection.  She says they are all good and never had one fail.  This recipe I documented:

Sourdough Popovers

1 cup milk
3 large eggs
1/2 cup sourdough starter, fed or unfed
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

Only five ingredients!
1) In the microwave or in a small saucepan, warm the milk until it feels just slightly warm to the touch.

2) Combine the milk with the eggs, sourdough starter and salt, then mix in the flour.  Don't overmix; a few small lumps are OK.  The batter should be thinner than a pancake batter, about the consistency of heavy cream.

A few small lumps exist


3) Heat a muffin or popover pan in the oven while it's preheating to 450 degrees F.

4) Carefully remove the hot pan from the oven, and spray it thoroughly with non-stick pan spray, or brush it generously with oil or melted butter.  Quickly pour the batter into the cups, filling them almost to the top.  If you're using a muffin tin, fill cups all the way to the top.  Space the popovers around so there are empty cups among the full ones; this leaves more room for expansion.

Four fifths full?
5) Bake the popovers for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven heat to 375 degrees F and bake for an additional 15 to 20 minutes, until popovers are golden brown.

They smell good, too.
6) Remove the popovers from the oven and serve immediately.

Yield:  6 popovers.

Well, five popovers anyway.

Our Notes

This was easy to mix and took very little time.

We used a non-stick pan spray on a popover pan; I happened to have a spray that was designed for the high temperatures of grilling.

We used a ladle to put the batter in the cups but this was awkward and we spilled a little.  I would recommend trying something with a pouring spout, like a large, glass measuring cup.

We filled the cups nearly full but only got five popovers out of it.  I think we should have filled them each about 2/3 full to get six.

The Verdict

Success!  They were a beautiful golden brown and they slid out of the pan easily.

Their flavor was egg-y and a little sour from the sourdough starter.  They were chewy, with a good crust and full of holes, as they should be.  They had a good "pop."  Our guest taster is a fan of Yorkshire pudding and said these were very, very good.

We ate them hot with butter.  My daughter had one the next day, slightly warmed in the microwave oven, and thought it had fewer large air pockets.  That was the smallest one where the cup was only half full of batter.

Tomorrow I'll post the other adventure in sourdough baking.


We made them several times again over the next few weeks.  We mixed the batter in a large, glass measuring cup and it poured into the pans with a minimum of mess and drips.  It was also easier to get to six popovers, too.  It just took a bit of practice to judge the right quantity to put in the cups. Each and every batch popped well and was very tasty.

Batter fits nicely
Six achieved!

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