Submitted by Jared K. Vawter, Bakersfield, California
Sourdough is not an ingredient; it is a relationship. If you care for and nurture your sourdough, it will return to you all the love and devotion a one-celled organism can give.
Thirty years ago, I bought a jar of sourdough starter at St. Andrew’s Abbey fall festival in Valyermo, California. When I got home, I read the instructions for the care and feeding of sourdough that came with the jar. It said it was best to use the starter once a week, but if it couldn’t be used, to feed it with whole milk and flour. It seemed I had taken on a large responsibility.
After several weeks baking loaves of bread, I expanded my ambitions and began to scour cookbooks for sourdough recipes. That is what we did before the internet. In an old Whitten family cookbook, from my wife’s paternal grandparents, I found a recipe for sourdough biscuits that looked fairly easy to make. The recipe had instructions like “Bake in a hot oven until done,” so some experimentation was required.
On almost every Saturday morning for 30 years, my family has eaten either sourdough biscuits made from that same starter, or sourdough pancakes when we needed a change. Over the years, I tweaked and tried this and that with the recipe until I came up with a biscuit that had a slight crunch of the crust and insides as moist and tender as a newborn’s tears. And I would like to invite you into my kitchen and show you how to bake some of the best biscuits you ever had.
I hope this recipe will add enjoyment to your family times around the table, where families are made. And please don’t forget to give lots of love to your sourdough.
Makes 8 to 10 biscuits
- 2 cups flour
- 4 tablespoons cold butter
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 cup sourdough starter
- 1/3 cup milk (do not use non-fat) plus 1 tablespoon vinegar, or 1/3 cup buttermilk
Measure the flour into a large bowl. Cut in the butter. I use a pastry cutter, but you can use a fork, spoon, knife, or your fingers to incorporate the butter into the flour, building the layers of fat and flour that will create the biscuity texture. Cut in the butter until the pieces are the size of very small gravel. I squeeze the larger pieces together with my fingers.
Sprinkle in the sugar and salt. When you put in the baking powder and soda, sift them through a sieve to remove the lumps. Nobody wants to bite into a lump of baking soda. With a large spoon, mix the dry ingredients together well.
Now add the 1 cup starter. At this point, I mix the milk and vinegar together and let it sit while I feed the rest of the starter with milk and flour and put it back into the refrigerator. This should give the milk and vinegar enough time to curdle into buttermilk. I like the tang of the vinegar and the increased leavening when mixed with the soda, but regular buttermilk is good also; it gives the biscuits a mellower flavor.
Pour the milk mixture or buttermilk into the flour mixture and stir together wet and dry until a crumbly ball forms. Knead the dough in the bowl, working the flour into the dough ball until it is all incorporated. Do not add any more flour unless it is needed to make the dough less sticky. The less flour you use, the better, as it takes away from the flavor of the sourdough. As the gluten forms from the kneading, the dough becomes less sticky. The dough ball should be firm and smooth.
Lightly oil a baking sheet. Use vegetable oil and not cooking spray. The oil cooks a crispy biscuit bottom.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough until it is 1/2- to 3/4-inch high; the taller, the better. Cut out biscuits with a cutter or water glass, giving it a slight twist. Place the biscuits on the oiled baking sheet, keeping them separated. Roll up what’s left of the dough and cut out more biscuits until all the dough is used. Brush the tops with butter.
You can set the biscuits in a warm place to rise until you are ready to bake them (they get a little fluffier), or you can put them straight into a pre-heated 425-degree-oven for 14 minutes.
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