The Bun In The Oven
Having sourdough starter in the house is like having a baby - it needs constant attention or there will be accidents. I received this generous gift from my blog pal, Jim Sartain of Sartain's Sauce fame, but it has been a mixed blessing.
For one thing, you have to feed it. If you don't add more flour and water more or less daily, it dies. You can refrigerate it and that slows down the need to feed frequently, but the possibility of it being shoved to the back and forgotten is very real, at least in my house.
For another thing, it grows. You start with a cute little container of starter but adding flour and water daily adds quickly to the bulk. Before you know it, you have breadzilla on your hands, foaming and bubbling away on the counter, chuckling to itself and plotting like HAL. You keep moving it to a larger and larger container unless you bake daily. For a gal strictly raised on "Waste not, want not," just throwing the extra away seems sinful. I have offered some to all my neighbors but it's like zucchini season - they run and hide now when they see me coming.*
In desperation, I decided to make hamburger buns for our simple burger dinner, knowing that I could freeze part of the yield for another day. On a visit to Chilebrown's house to meet, fondle, and fall in love with his beautiful new baby, a soft and sweet puppy, I asked him for a recipe for sourdough buns. He didn't have one but his advice was Nikean - "Just try it." he said. "The worst that can happen is you have to throw away some." Good point - an honest failure is a good excuse to use up some of the ever-growing starter.
I went online. What else does anyone do when they have a baking question? I found several sites that offered recipes, but none seemed just right, so I kinda-sorta made up my own. I mixed and rose, punched down and shaped, and rose again before baking. Because I forgot to use an egg wash to brighten and brown the tops, my finished product was a little plain jane but it's the texture and the taste that really matter, right?
The recipe made substantial buns, not light but not leaden either, using a combination of white and wheat flours. The taste was quite complementary to the burgers and the fresh, yeasty smell in the house was a bonus. All in all, they were a nice success. If that seems like damning with faint praise, I will admit I was aiming for somewhat lighter buns - I may have added too much flour or not given them sufficient time to rise. Anyway, they soaked up our hamburger juices in satisfactory style and I will use the ones I froze rather than offer them to the NHL as hockey pucks.
But, as in making the decision to have a baby, accepting sourdough starter is a commitment not to be undertaken lightly.
Sourdough Hamburger Buns
1 cup sourdough starter (let me know if you need some!)
1 cup milk
1/8 cup honey
1 large egg
3-4 cups whole wheat flour, divided in two
1 teaspoon salt
2-3 Tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
I dumped all but two cups of the flour into my Kitchenaid mixer with the dough hook attached and started it on low speed, adding more flour when the dough came together too sticky. I added all the extra flour little by little and, in retrospect, it might have been better to settle for a slightly stickier dough in order to get lighter buns, or to let them rise longer. Makes 8 buns.
*Since writing this, Chilebrown relieved me of half of my growing starter. He is currently my hero.