Sourdough Banana Bread

I came up with this sourdough quick bread by heavily tweaking one of my favorite “regular” banana bread recipes. Why the adaptation? It could be that I believe that my changes — incorporating a hefty amount of sourdough starter, significantly reducing the amount of sweetener and fat, and replacing the butter with olive oil — transform what is essentially cake into something falling somewhere between turnip greens and quinoa on the healthy food scale. Or it could be that sourdough just makes everything better, and that’s reason enough.

The idea in adaptations like this is to substitute all or a portion of the flour in the original recipe with the flour in the sourdough starter. But one challenge in adapting pastry recipes is that the starter must be fairly liquid (around 100% or more hydration) in order to incorporate easily with the other ingredients without having to work it very much, which would produce gluten development that is generally undesirable in pastries. How can you bring all that water along without making the batter too wet?

If the original recipe calls for water as an ingredient, the amount can be reduced to account for the water in the starter. Otherwise, it’s a little tricker. If there are other liquids, such as milk or egg whites, you might substitute a powdered form of that ingredient, such as milk powder, and let the starter water stand in for the liquid component of the ingredient. Reducing the amount of sweetener can also help make a batter less “wet” (as well as, of course, less sweet, which I generally find to be a good thing).

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Miche With Whole Wheat Starter

Made any French bread lately? I’m not talking about a baguette, but about the original French bread — the huge, heavy, country sourdough round known as a miche. With its dense crumb, tangy flavor, and thick, dark, chewy crust, a miche is about as far from a baguette as you can get, and it was the staple bread in France long before the white-flour interloper arrived from Vienna in the mid-19th century.

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Sourdough Brownies

[Tuesday, August 2, 2011] LUCAS VALLEY: At 7 p.m. a man received a package containing a used pump from his mother-in-law, which was supposed to contain a picture frame. The man did not want to keep the pump.

I don’t know about you, but for me, this item from the Sheriff’s Calls column in the August 4, 2011 issue of The Point Reyes [California] Light leaves just too many questions unanswered. What kind of pump was it? Why did the son-in-law not want to keep it? Was the poor man able to get hold of another picture frame, and what was the fate of the one he was counting on receiving from his mother-in-law? Was this her first offense, or did she have a list as long as your arm of bait-and-switch priors? Did deputies arrest the woman, take care of disposing of the pump, or simply give advice?

And why did the mother-in-law not just send brownies? No one ever calls the sheriff about brownies.

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Roasted Garlic and Rosemary Sourdough

Like the timeless little black dress, a good basic sourdough recipe is the consummate staple: perfect all on its own, but a stunning platform for any embellishment that strikes your mood. This is Norwich Sourdough with rosemary and roasted garlic cloves… garlic bread without all the butter!

In general, “chunky” additions such as nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables are best added at the end of mixing to avoid interfering with the development of the gluten. Mix the dough to, or a little past, the desired level of gluten development, then mix in the additions just until they are evenly distributed.

The easy roasted garlic recipe was adapted from the always-inspiring Simply Recipes. I roasted mine until it was very soft, so the cloves largely disintegrated into the dough with mixing, giving the bread a strong overall garlic flavor. Roasting until barely fork-tender would allow them to maintain their identity. Either way, this is a garlic -lover’s bread, and the classic pairing of rosemary and garlic never disappoints.

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Soft Sandwich Sourdough


Crusty boules and batards are wonderful, but do you sometimes want a nice soft sandwich bread to replicate that timeless, comfortable and comforting PB & J of your childhood? This should do it, and it’s a lot better than Wonder Bread (because it’s made with dough — and sourdough! —  not batter).

As with most pan breads, removing the loaves from the pans once their structure is set, and letting them finish the bake standing directly on the stone, helps the side crusts brown. If you don’t have a stone, you can place them right on the oven rack if you don’t mind a few grooves on the bottom of the loaves, or on a baking sheet that has been preheated with the oven.

Size matters! If your loaf pans are not 8.5 x 4.5 inches, you will need to adjust the amount of dough proportionally, with respect to the volume of the pan, to avoid loaves that are too short or tall. If your pans are 9 x 5 inches, use about 880 grams of dough per loaf.

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Chewy Sourdough Granola Bars

And how was everyone’s long weekend? Here’s a brief account of mine:

Saturday morning: I feed and build up my sourdough starter for baking later in the day. I take off for points north, to my sometime-house, starter and dog in tow, for a peaceful and barbecue-free weekend.

Saturday afternoon: I check the weather report before heading out for a late walk: cloudy; chance of precipitation: 10%. 30 minutes from home, I observe that the chance of precipitation is actually 100%. I arrive, soggy and chilled, back home to a power outage. The starter sits on the counter, all happy and bubbly with anticipation. “Oh, go to hell,” I mutter, and toss it into the darkened refrigerator before peeling off my waterlogged clothes and crawling under a blanket.

Sunday: Sunshine and electricity are both restored to working order. I avoid forlorn and accusing glances from my now-flat starter by avoiding the refrigerator altogether.

Monday: Confrontation cannot be averted forever. I open the fridge. “Bake with me.” “You’re sounding pretty chipper for old and tired starter. But no. The weekend is almost over, we have to head back in a bit. There’s no time for baking.” “Bake with me!” “I said no.” “You are evil and the baking gods will rain upon you forever.” “Anyway, you’re too cold and weak right now to raise bread.” “Pancakes, then.” “We have no eggs. Too bad.” “We have a bunch of odds and ends of nuts and dried fruits.” “I don’t know what to do with those. I don’t have a recipe.” “Make something up.” At this point, it just seems easier to start throwing things randomly into a bowl than to keep arguing with the damn thing.

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