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Archive for May, 2017

I was gifted a sourdough starter right before Passover. My family was visiting Pirch to look at kitchen designs —  we’re renovating the Lower East Side apartment where my mom grew up — and I struck up a conversation with Chef Tracy Justynski over a fig-studded loaf of bread and gluten free chocolate chip cookies fresh from the oven. I’m not sure what prompted my chutzpah, but I asked her if she had any sourdough starter to share.

She did.

Tracy told me that her starter is over two years old, and she drove it cross-country from San Diego, leaving a trail of blobs with friends along the way. She disappeared into the prep kitchen, and came out with a plastic quart container filled with a cup or so of a flour water mix inoculated with Southern California yeast. Inscribed on the top, in Sharpie: “Starter – feed me flour + water every 2 weeks.”

I slipped it in my bag and would have skipped home if I weren’t a decade of blocks away. I kept the starter in the fridge, keeping it alive with a one-to-one (by weight) ratio of flour to water (approximately 1 cup flour to 1/2 cup water) every other weekend.

Finally I attempted to bake bread using an adaptation of Chad Robertson’s (of Tartine) recipe. It was a five-day process: three days to wake up the starter; one day to mess up the first attempt; two days to get it right. Well, sort of right. The bottoms were burnt. The crumb was spongey. The taste lacked oomph. But at least it sang.

I fed the starter and returned it to the fridge for another weekend project. In the interim, I had amassed a quart worth of starter discard. See, before your feed your starter, you pour out about half (if you don’t, the starter will take over your kitchen). I can’t bear to throw out the discard — especially since I suspect I’ll eventually name mine. So I collected it and searched for recipes. I mostly found English muffins and pancakes, but I tracked down one for blueberry muffins that seemed simple. Also, it used up a lot of excess starter.

My first attempt yielded blueberry-less muffins that were tough. Yesterday I made a second batch, this time with cut up strawberries, a bit more liquid, a lower oven temperature, and a longer bake. Success.

In light of the disaster of a healthcare bill that recently passed the House, I can’t help but find meaning in valuing what some may discard, in cherishing what gets left behind.

Sourdough discard muffins – strawberry version

Adapted from King Arthur. This is a very simple recipe to use up discarded sourdough starter that you just can’t bear to throw away. The sourdough flavor isn’t particularly pronounced. This is essentially a quick bread, and you need to mix the wet ingredients into the dry very quickly (like pancake batter) and then immediately spoon it into the muffin pans. This allows you to capture the rising action of the baking soda. You can substitute 1½ cups of any other berry or fruit (the original version has blueberries and cinnamon). You can make these in mini muffin tins – bake for 20 minutes – which will yield about 3 dozen.

Makes 1 dozen muffins

– 1 C all-purpose flour, plus more to toss with the berries

– 1 C yellow cornmeal, fine

– ¾ t salt

– 1 t baking soda

– 1 C sourdough starter, fed or unfed

–  1/3 C milk

– 1 large egg

– ¼ C melted butter of vegetable oil, plus more to grease the pans

– 1/2 C maple syrup (or honey)

– 1 t vanilla extract

– ½ t rose water (optional)

– ½ lb strawberries, cut into small pieces (about 1½ cups)

– Demerara or coarse sugar, for sprinkling tops

Prep. Preheat oven to 375° F. Grease the wells of a muffin pan (or use cupcake liners).

Stir. Combine the flour, cornmeal, salt, and baking soda in a large bowl and set aside.

Whisk. In a second bowl, beat together the starter, milk, egg, oil, maple syrup, vanilla, and rose water (if using).

Toss. Coat the cut strawberries in a few tablespoons of flour.

Blend. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and blend together quickly, about 30 seconds or so, until just combined. There may be a few lumps – that’s OK. Gently stir in the berries.

Fill. Fill the greased muffin cups to the top, and sprinkle the tops with Demerara sugar. Try not to get too much sugar on the pan itself or it will caramelize and make it difficult to remove the muffins.

Bake. Bake the muffins for 30 – 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Cool. Allow the muffins to cool in the pan for 5 minute and then remove to continue cooling on a rack.

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