Dad's Sourdough Breakfast

When I was a growing up, my dad would always cook a big breakfast on Sunday mornings. It was just about the only time he cooked, the others being during camping trips and in the summertime when he'd grill steaks out in the backyard (which was a lot like camp cookery, after all). Sometimes he made scratch biscuits for those Sunday morning breakfasts, and sometimes he made something called bannock, a food I've never encountered anywhere in real life, which is basically a giant biscuit. But dad's specialties where sourdough pancakes and waffles. As I grew up, I also learned to make these surpassingly delicious versions of traditional breakfast fare, and now you can, too.

The Night Before: Starter

Classic sourdough starter is kept going for months or years at a time, by adding more flour and water whenever some of the starter is used, but that's way too much trouble for a lazy chef like me. Fortunately, it is possible to make delicious sourdough starter overnight, with ordinary ingredients and no special equipment.

Here's all you do. Combine the following ingredients in a glass or ceramic bowl:

My dad always said it's best to avoid using metal even when you're mixing up the starter, so I always use a wooden spoon for that. Cover the bowl with a plate and set it somewhere cozy. I like putting mine on top of the refrigerator. Be careful, though. Make sure your bowl is nice and big. During the night this stuff is going to ooze and ferment and by morning it's going to stink and look disgusting and you'll swear you did something wrong (or that you fell for one of those internet practical jokes). But don't worry, it's supposed to do that. Stir it up good when you're ready to use it and it'll be fine. But to get to the point... make sure the bowl is large enough to allow for the starter to double in size while it's fermenting. Otherwise, in the morning you'll find it oozing out of the bowl and down the side of the fridge.

In The Morning: Batter

Like I said, in the morning you'll have a bowl full of smelly goo that looks like a failed science experiment. Stir it up and add the following ingredients:

The book Dad originally learned to cook this from (Wilderness Cookery, by Bradford Angier, © 1961) actually gave separate recipes for pancakes and waffles, with the same batch of ingredients but in slightly varying amounts. After years of testing, I've developed the Universal Batter Formula you see above, which works for both. The book also recommends pre-liquefying the baking soda in a teaspoon of warm water before adding it to the batter, but I stopped doing that a long time ago and it didn't seem to matter. One day, I asked my Dad about that step, and he said that he too had tried it both ways and could never see any difference.

When cooking the pancakes, be aware that proper sourdough pancakes have a light, almost crepe-like texture, so the batter should be a little thin. They cook rapidly, and small pancakes work better than large ones. Don't let the griddle get too hot - kept it under smoking temperature. Turn each pancake only once, when the hot cake starts showing small bubbles. The second side takes about half as long to cook.

I have no special advice for cooking sourdough waffles.

One batch of batter makes enough pancakes or waffles to serve 2-3, or perhaps even 4 if there's some bacon or eggs or something involved as well. And don't forget the orange juice.

Late That Night: Leftovers

Sourdough starter will keep in the fridge for months or more, but once you've made it into batter, you need to use it up pronto. It'll keep for a few days, though the results will never be quite as good as when the batter is fresh.

Lately, I've just been turning all the batter into waffles and refrigerating the leftovers. My new favorite snack is a nutella sandwich on leftover waffle bread. Goes great with milk. You can also microwave leftover pancakes and they're almost as good as when they were fresh.

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