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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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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Green Market Baking Book Review, Recipe, and Giveaway

The Green Market Baking Book : 100 Delicious Recipes for Naturally Sweet & Savory Treats by Laura C. Martin is premised on the idea that baking with fresh, seasonal ingredients, and without refined sugar, is better for both our bodies and our planet. If you like that idea, you’ll like this book.

The majority of the recipes are treats of the sweet variety (cakes, pies, cookies, puddings, muffins, etc.). All are made with one or more “natural sweeteners” such as honey, maple syrup, brown rice syrup, and barley malt syrup. The book includes a section on substituting these ingredients for refined sugar in your own recipes. Whether or not you believe (and I’m not sure I do) Martin’s assertion that these sweeteners are more healthful than sugar, you may still wish to “support the small producers of alternative sweeteners — the honeybee keepers, the maple syrup farmers, and so on.”

The recipes — some Martin’s own, but many contributed by bakers and chefs around the country — are grouped by season, and most, though not all, feature fresh produce. Some are designated as low-fat, gluten-free, or dairy-free, and many contain a good proportion of whole grain flours and/or heart-healthier fats such as olive oil.

For me, though, what any baking book that focuses primarily on desserts comes down to is not whether the recipes are healthful, because I’m not going to go looking to dessert to fill my nutritional dance card. What it comes down to is do the recipes work, and do they taste good? The answer here, as far as I can tell, is yes they do (mostly).

Continue reading for recipe and book giveaway…


I adapted the recipe for this lovely Greek Easter bread, Tsoureki, from Anissa Helou’s wonderful book, Savory Baking from the Mediterranean. Helou suggests that if you cannot find mahlep, the spice that traditionally scents these soft, rich loaves, you can leave it out. This would, however, be a most unhappy omission, and if you take my word and try it, you’ll know why.

Mahlep (variously know as mahlepi, mahleb, mahlab) is common in Greek and Middle Eastern baking. Made from the kernels of wild cherry pits, it tastes bitter on its own, but lends the bread a delightful, delicately sweet, nutty, cherry-almond fragrance. I found the spice in my neighborhood Middle Eastern market, but it’s readily available online.

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Bread Crumb Carrot Cake

The first time you make this cake, you will look at the batter and think, “This is so wrong.” I say “the first time” because — if you can get get past the thick, chunky, curdled, doesn’t look like-any-cake-I-ever-saw quality of the batter (for want of a better word), if you trust me that your oven will work a miracle and turn this highly questionable stuff into a delightfully moist and toothsome cake — my bet is that there will be a second time.

Part of the reason for the wacky batter is that the “flour” in this cake is not flour at all, but fine, dry crumbs made from my favorite sourdough bread. I have been experimenting with replacing flour with crumbs in different recipes, with mixed results. This is my favorite to date. While I would never go so far as to say that a butter-and-sugar-rich cake is healthy, if you’re going to eat dessert I don’t think it hurts to have the health benefits of sourdough — not to mention carrots, pineapple, and walnuts – on your side.

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Brioche Bread Pudding

My daughter M lives in a place without a proper kitchen, and while this is not nice for her, it is great for me because it means I get to see her when she gets the (increasingly frequent) urge to cook or bake.

Last weekend M wanted to make Christmas cookies for her friends. I proposed an additional challenge: make brioche pudding with one of my extra lemon-anise snowflakes that was a little past its prime. She came through with flying colors!

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