It all began when I posted this photo on Instagram. Kind people wanted the recipe. Only to make these, you need a specific sourdough. So I’ve spent the last 5 days testing a starter recipe. Now I’m pleased to introduce you to: Hermione – our sweet sourdough starter.
I did not say my sweet sourdough starter because that would miss the point of having a starter. The point of having a starter is to share it. So, this will be our starter.
This post will share what a starter is, a brief history of sourdough and how SWEET sourdoughs came to being – as near as I can tell. Then, I’ll walk you through starting your own Hermione as well as her care and feeding.
Five days from now, when your starter is ready, I’ll post the recipe for one of my favourite Hermione Sweet Sourdough recipes – these cinnamon rolls. The next 10 posts will be dedicated to recipes from Hermione. Read on to find out how she got her name and stay tuned for those recipes.
Sourdough is a yeasty starter for leavening hotcakes, waffles, muffins, bread and even cake. This recipe is NOT for an ambient or wild yeast sourdough starter. It is for a Sweet Sourdough Starter which, near as I can tell, was propagated in the late 60s and early 70s.
A Little Sourdough History
Commercial yeast was not available until the late 1800s. Previous to that time, all bread was either unleavened or made with a preferment of wild yeast and bacteria sourdough starter.
Preferments are a mix of flour, water and a leavening agent (like yeast) combined in advance to hydrate the flour and start fermentation. Dough is easier to knead and bread is tastier when you use a preferment.
Since yeast was invented, preferments are divided into ones using commercial yeast and those using wild yeasts and bacteria. When using commercial yeasts, you mix them up to a day ahead and use them up entirely. Preferments with wild yeasts and bacteria are maintained and increased for bread when needed. They are used over and over again. People call them by a variety of names: Levain, sponge, mother, biga, poolish, starter, sourdough starter.
Sourdough and Canada
In Canada, old-timers from the Yukon were called “Sourdoughs”. Whether they came for the gold rush, fur trapping or homesteading, bread making at home was a necessity.
Food supplies came in only twice a year by ship and were transferred to small boats, barges, river steamers, dog sleds or backpacks to reach their destination. Many locales received their supplies only when the steamer could navigate the rivers or lakes during the few months of summer thaw. Orders placed the year before required careful selection with close attention to “keeping” qualities as the en-route timing proved uncertain.
Regular, manufactured, yeast is deactivated in a short time and would deteriorate entirely en-route to the North. Especially, if unusual ice formation and heavy winds at sea delayed the ships’ entry into rivers or ports of call. Ordinary yeast organisms, sensitive to the cold, often refused to grow.
Because settlers could not depend on commercial yeast, their sourdough bread starter, made from ambient “wild” yeast and bacteria, was their staff of life and a precious possession. The combination of wild or adapted yeast in the sourdough starter proved as tough as its old-timer namesakes. Some northerners still claim to use starters which originated before the turn of the 19th century.
Evolution to a Sweet Sourdough Starter
I’m not sure when this Sweet Sourdough Starter evolved. It starts with the help of commercial yeast but does not need it from then on.
It is much more low maintenance than most sourdoughs. You only feed it after you use it and you can even FREEZE IT if you are not going to use it in more than a two week period.
This recipe is a merger of what my Mom’s been doing for 50 years and what I found in the St. Andrew’s, New Brunswick United Baptist Church Cookbook (circa 1960s with recipes from Joyce Bangs and Nan Barker). Plus, some research from the internet.
It looks like, in the 70s, there was a version of this starter affectionately known as “Herman.” That got me thinking of Hermione Granger, that beloved character from Harry Potter. Why?
Remember how Hermione could pull whatever she and Harry and Ron needed out of her little beaded bag that she’d placed the “Undetectable Extension Charm” on? Well, if you charm this starter by feeding it after each use, it will act just like that.
You’ll be able to pull a great variety of wonderful recipes from your starter, just like Hermione did from her beaded bag. So let’s get started on making your very own magical Hermione Sweet Sourdough Starter.
Sweet Sourdough Starter tips:
- Keep the starter in a glass or pottery container for best results.
- Never use a metal container and never leave a metal spoon in the starter.
- The starter should have a clean sour milk odour.
- The liquid will separate from the batter when it stands several days but this doesn’t matter.
- If you feed it after each use, the starter stays well.
- If it turns mouldy or develops an off-odour, throw it away and start over.
To make your Hermione Sweet Sourdough Starter:
Time: 3 days then you feed it on day 4 and use it on day 5
Yield: 1 ½ to 2 cups of starter depending on how thick it becomes. The thickness varies because of room conditions, the age of the starter and other variables.
- 2 cups flour
- 3 Tablespoons sugar
- 1 package dry granular yeast (2¼ teaspoons)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups warm water
- Mix the flour, sugar, yeast, and salt in a large bowl (about 8 cup capacity) and gradually stir in the water. Whisk until smooth.
- Cover with a tea towel and set in a warm (80 to 85℉) draft-free place. Tip: I placed mine in my oven with just the oven light on and it worked great.
- Stir the starter 2 to 3 times a day for about 3 days or until the starter is bubbly and produces a yeasty aroma.
- Transfer the starter to a larger bowl, large jar or plastic container. Cover partially (tilt the lid) and refrigerate.
- Feed it on day 4 and use it on day 5. Feed it again then and tuck it away until next use.
NOTE: Feed the starter only after you use it. If it’s been or will be longer than 14 days between uses, freeze it until you would like to use it again.
To Feed Hermione:
Time: 5 minutes
- 1 cup flour
- 1 cup milk
- ½ cup sugar
- Whisk the flour, milk and sugar in a large bowl until there are no lumps. Then, stir the feed into the sourdough and store it in the refrigerator until the next use.
Caring for Hermione:
- Always feed Hermione after each use.
- Wait at least 24 hours before using again.
- Always keep at least 1 cup of the sourdough from the previous batch.
- If you are not going to use Hermione within 2 weeks, freeze her.
- When you’d like to use her again, let her stand at room temperature for several hours. You want the dough to be completely thawed and a bit bubbly before using again.
- Give your friend one cup of your starter.
- Feed your starter.
- Tell your friend to feed her once and leave her for 24 hours minimum. After the 24 hours or up to 2 weeks, they can then use up to 1 cup, feed the sourdough again and carry on.
- Make sure to give them all the guidelines listed above.
Ready to make your starter now? Good, cause the countdown is on for my sharing of the first of many good things you can pull from your equivalent of Hermione’s beaded bag! RECIPE #1 will be those Hermione Sweet Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls.
I hope you’ll collect all the recipes. In upcoming posts you can also look forward to Hermione Sourdough Chocolate Cake, Pancakes and Waffles, Biscuits, Strudel, Bread, Orange Date Muffins, Apple Coffee Cake, Banana Bread, and Date Loaf. Let’s get rolling.