The August-September selection of the Cook the Books club is the novel Sourdough by Robin Sloan1. Intriguing title, I thought immediately, but did not know what to expect: I rarely read reviews before I read a book (sometimes do so after turning over the last page2). Being familiar with the San Francisco Bay Area contributed to the story's appeal, but even if you don't know the island of Alameda or the San Francisco Ferry Building, you will enjoy the twists and turns of Lois Clary's adventures in robot-aided bread baking.
The atmosphere is sci-fi, so don't expect your sourdough starter to behave the same way as that of the title. My adventures in sourdough-baking started some years ago with an evening class taught by Rhonda Wiedenbeck now of Beck's Bakery3. I got home that night with 2 tablespoons of Rhonda's sourdough starter (pasta madre), which I have fed, used, refrigerated, frozen (in between uses). I have a relaxed relationship with it. For regular feeding, I use the simple formula I learned in the class: I stir well 2 tablespoons of sourdough starter + 1/4 cup of water + 1/3 cup of King Arthur Flour all-purpose flour, cover the (recycled yogurt) container and place it on top of the refrigerator.
I have baked various types of sourdough bread4 (pane al lievito naturale) and this time what got me scouting for recipes was the idea of using the starter in between feedings that would otherwise be wasted. I found inspiration on the King Arthur Flour website which has a recipe for Sourdough Crackers5, made particularly appealing for the inclusion of whole-wheat flour (farina integrale). I halved the quantities and adjusted the ingredients to my taste, particularly with the addition of cheese to the dough.
- 4 ounces / 113 g sourdough starter (see Note below on starter feeding)
- 2 ounces / 56 g whole-wheat flour (I use 1 ounce / 28 g Chiddam Blanc de Mars from Capay Mills6 and 1 ounce / 28 g hard red wheat from Beck's Bakery3 both stone-ground)
- 1 tablespoon / 1/2 ounce unsalted butter at room temperature
- 1 tablespoon / 15 ml extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1/2-1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh herbs of your choice, optional but nice (I use rosemary)
- 1 ounce / 28 g sharp cheese of your choice, freshly grated
- olive oil for brushing
- coarse sea salt for sprinkling on the surface
Note: For regular feeding, I stir well 2 tablespoons of sourdough starter + 1/4 cup of water + 1/3 cup of King Arthur Flour all-purpose flour, cover the (recycled yogurt) container and place it on top of the refrigerator. I repeat this morning and evening during the days in which the starter is not in the refrigerator. When I make the crackers, I take the amount of starter needed and use the rest in the preceding formula.
In a bowl, weigh the sourdough starter, whole-wheat flours, butter and olive oil, and stir to make a dough. Sprinkle sea salt and herbs (if using) and let stand for 5-10 minutes. Stir salt and herbs into the mix, transfer on your working surface and knead until you have a smooth, slightly tacky dough. (To make this step easier, I lightly oil my kneading board and wet my hands.)
Shape the dough into a thick rectangle, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes to a couple of hours.
When ready to shape and bake the crackers, preheat the oven to 350 F / 177 C.
Lightly flour the surface of the dough and roll it into a long rectangle (top left photo below). Distribute the grated cheese over one half of the rectangle (middle left photo) then fold the other half over the cheese (bottom left photo).
Lightly flour a piece of parchment paper and transfer the folded dough onto it. Roll the dough to a thickness of about 1/16 inch / 1.5 mm. Transfer the dough and parchment paper together onto a baking sheet. Lightly brush the surface of the dough with olive oil and sprinkle a bit of salt on top. Cut the dough into squares (a pizza cutter wheel works well for this task). Don't worry if the cut doesn't go all the way through: a deep score is good enough (top right photo below). Prick the surface with the tines of a fork.
Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake the crackers for 20 to 25 minutes, until they brown around the edges, or a bit more (the thinner pieces will brown almost fully, bottom right photo above). After 12 minutes, turn the baking sheet front to back to help the crackers bake more evenly.
Take the baking sheet out the oven and transfer the crackers to a cooling rack. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to a week (in my case they never last that long, because I also like to share them).
I love these crackers: beyond their delightful crunch, the notes of rosemary (rosmarino) and cheese make them great on their own or with a layer of prosciutto, fresh chèvre or your spread of choice.
1 The book's page on the author's website
2 The NPR review, the Guardian review the Washington Post review
3 Beck's Bakery
4 My bread collection
5 Recipe for Sourdough Crackers on the King Arthur Flour website
6 Capay Mills
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the cracker integrali al formaggio audio file [mp3].
[Depending on your set-up, the audio file will be played within the browser or by your mp3 player application. Please, contact me if you encounter any problems.]
This is also my contribution to the 34th edition of Novel Food, the literary/culinary event that Lisa of Champaign Taste and I started 11 years ago and that I continue to host.
FTC disclosure: I have received the linen free of charge from the manufacturer (la FABBRICA del LINO). I have not and will not receive any monetary compensation for presenting it on my blog. The experience shared and the opinions expressed in this post are entirely my own.