Moving past the sourdough starter

Give yourself some time as this loaf will take a lot longer to prove than bread made with commercial yeast

Butter up: The surface of pikelets is covered with little holes.
Butter up: The surface of pikelets is covered with little holes.

So how’s the new sourdough starter going? Does it already feel like part of the family? Can’t remember a time before you were the proud owner of a sourdough starter? Do you have a name for it yet? Or are you feeling a bit tied down to the feeding schedule and have a mountain of excess starter lying around that you don’t know what to do with? Well, this week is where all the hard work pays off.

If you’re on track with the new sourdough starter we made last time, you should have been discarding roughly half of your starter every day (maybe more than once a day if you have a hot kitchen and the starter is wildly exuberant) and “feeding” the remaining starter with fresh flour and water. The starter should be visibly active, with bubbles on the surface, and smell sweetly fermented. You are now ready to make your first sourdough loaf. Give yourself some time as it will take a lot longer to prove than bread made with commercial yeast. I usually start mine in the evening so that I can leave it for its first proving overnight. I then do the second proving and baking in the morning.

If, like me, you only really want to bake an actual loaf of bread about once or twice a week, you’ll find yourself discarding a lot of mixture when you feed your starter. You might also feel bad about the waste. Well, despair no longer, the good news is that there are hundreds of ways of using your excess starter: parathas, pita, waffles, blinis, cornbread, soda bread, pizza bases, crackers, English muffins, even stollen and doughnuts.

So far I’ve only made crumpets and their close relation pikelets, both of which make a speedy but sensational breakfast. I’ve made crumpets from scratch before and they’re pretty time-consuming but by using your discarded starter mixture, the hard work is already done. Pikelets are even quicker—the difference between the two is that crumpets are cooked in a ring and are thicker; pikelets are more free-form and flatter. Just add bicarbonate of soda, and you have an almost instant breakfast. You’re welcome.

Sourdough Loaf

Makes 1 loaf


200g sourdough starter

One and half tsp fine salt

300g strong white-bread flour (if not available, use maida)

100g wholewheat flour

200-225ml warm water


Put the starter, salt and flours in a large bowl with 200ml of the warm water. Mix well, then turn out on to a lightly floured work surface and knead well for about 10 minutes. If the dough feels tight and hard, add a little more water. If it’s too wet, add a little flour but keep it as wet as you can manage—remember the bread baker’s adage, “the wetter the better”. When the dough is smooth and very stretchy, form it into a ball and put it in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave until the dough has almost doubled in size. This step is called proving and how long it takes will depend on your kitchen, but it will take a lot longer than dough with commercial yeast.

When the dough has proved, turn it out on to the work surface again, give it a quick knead, then leave it to prove again. You can do this in a proper baker’s proving basket (if you have one) or you can simulate a proving basket by putting a clean piece of cloth in a bowl and dusting it liberally with flour. Put your ball of dough in the bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave to prove again. When it has almost doubled again, it is ready to bake.

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius, then turn the dough carefully on to a baking sheet and bake until the loaf is a deep golden brown and sounds a little hollow when tapped.

Leave to cool on a wire rack.

Sourdough Pikelets

Makes about 8-12


250ml discarded starter (you can store the discarded starter in the fridge until you have enough to use)

1 tsp sugar

Half tsp salt

Half tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)


Put the starter, sugar and salt into a bowl and give it a good whisk. Heat a frying pan over medium heat and melt a little butter or ghee. Then sprinkle the bicarbonate of soda into the starter mixture and give it another good stir. It will now froth up (this is what will make the characteristic crumpet holes). Immediately put spoonfuls of the mixture into the pan. If you have crumpet rings, grease them, place them in the pan and pour some of the mixture into the rings. The surface of the pikelets/crumpets will soon be covered with little holes. When the bottom of the pikelet/crumpet is cooked, flip it and cook the other side. Eat immediately with butter and jam.

This is the second and the last in her series on sourdough.

The Way We Eat Now is a fortnightly column on new ways of cooking seasonal fruits, vegetables and grains. Pamela Timms tweets at @eatanddust and posts on Instagram as Eatanddust.

Write to Pamela at

More From Livemint