A Klondike-Style Sourdough Pancake Recipe

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PHOTO: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
The key to successful sourdough cookery is to acquire and maintain a healthy starter sponge—the living, growing yeast culture.

From the Alaskan goldfields comes this Klondike-style sourdough pancake recipe, a hearty main course for a perfect Christmas morning breakfast.

Sourdough bread is thought to have originated about six
thousand years ago, when some early baker discovered that
wild yeast spores, floating in the air and landing in a
flour and water mixture, caused fermentation that made the
dough rise. Throughout history, conserving a small amount
of starter (flour, water, and live yeast) for making raised
baked goods was common practice, and it’s known that
Columbus carried a sourdough pot on his voyages to the New
World. California gold rushers were dubbed sourdoughs
because of their attachment to their pots, but it was the
prospectors in the Alaskan Klondike who were truly
dedicated to the fermented mix. Wild yeast is dormant in
cold weather, and without their precious pots, the miners
would have had only hardtack to supplement their meat and
fish diets throughout the long Yukon winters. Since
sourdough was the basis for breads, biscuits, cakes,
flapjacks, and other goodies, the prospectors guarded their
starter pots with the same protectiveness as they did any
gold they might find.

The key to successful sourdough cookery is to acquire and
maintain a healthy starter sponge–the living, growing
yeast culture. You can purchase sourdough starter from
mail-order supply houses, but the fastest, most satisfying,
and most economical way to obtain it is to grow your
own.

Sourdough Starter Recipe

To make sourdough starter from scratch, place two cups of
tepid water in a plastic, glass, or earthenware bowl (metal
causes a chemical reaction that can kill the yeast), mix in
one yeast cake or a package of active dry yeast, then blend
in two cups of unsifted all purpose flour. Cover the bowl
with plastic wrap or a damp cloth and allow the blend to
ferment overnight in a warm place, 85 degrees Fahrenheit to 95 degrees Fahrenheit,
stirring at least once with a non-metallic spoon. The next
morning the culture will be frothy from the carbon dioxide
produced by the yeast, and the flour and water you added
will have been consumed.

The starter will now be ready to bake with, but to store it
for future use, refrigerate it in a covered nonmetallic
container. Stir it occasionally (once a day isn’t too
often), and if you won’t be using it for a long while, feed
it once a week or so by removing and discarding about half
the sponge, then stirring in a cup of flour and a cup of
warm water. Let the starter ripen overnight as you did in
the beginning, and with each “replenishing,” the starter
will grow a little healthier and a little sweeter.

If you should happen to leave your refrigerated sponge
unattended for a long period of time–say, several
months–it’s likely to turn into a sour-smelling,
slimy goop with a brownish syrup floating on top. No
problem: To make up a fresh batch, simply pour off any
unsavory parts, measure the creamy slurry that remains, and
mix in equal amounts of flour and water (for example, a cup
of starter would take one cup of flour and one cup of
water). Even if you have as little as a tablespoon of
usable starter, you can add a tablespoon each of flour and
water, let that stand overnight, and gradually build up to
the quantity required.

The rule of thumb when using a portion of the starter in a
recipe is to replace that portion with equal amounts of
both flour and water. Therefore, the night before you want
to prepare a sourdough pancake breakfast, use the following
procedure. Remove the starter from the refrigerator and
measure the amount needed into a nonmetallic bowl. The
recipe below calls for one cup of starter, so to this
amount add one cup each of flour and tepid water. To
replace the cup of starter, add another cup each of flour
and water to the original container. Cover the containers
loosely, and let both sponges ferment overnight in a warm
place. The next morning, return the original starter to the
refrigerator; the second batch of sponge will now equal
about two cups and will be ready to be made into light,
delicious pancakes.

The recipe that follows makes about 20 medium-sized
flapjacks.

Klondike-Style Sourdough Pancake Recipe

2 cups of sourdough sponge (prepared the night before from
1 cup of starter, 1 cup of flour, and 1 cup of tepid water
as described above)
2 eggs
1 tablespoon of sugar (or 1 tablespoon of honey)
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1-1/2 teaspoons of tepid water.

Separate the eggs, placing the yolks in one bowl and the
whites in another. Beat the whites until they’re fluffy,
then fold in the sugar or honey. Beat the yolks lightly and
add the salt. Now stir the sourdough sponge into the egg
yolks, then gently fold in the beaten egg whites. Finally,
mix the baking soda with the water and blend this into the
batter by hand.

Drop the batter by large spoonfuls onto a well-greased,
preheated (medium-hot) griddle–or use a seasoned
cast-iron frying pan. Cook the pancakes until they are
golden brown on both sides, flipping them only once, when
the tops are full of bubbles.

Personalizing the Basic Sourdough Pancake Recipe

These sourdough pancakes are so light and luscious that
they disappear in a hurry. To serve additional people, I
usually add an extra egg per person and increase the other
ingredients accordingly. If the batter is too thick, I add
a bit more water or milk. And if a test cake tastes strong
or sour, I just sweeten the batter by adding a pinch more
baking soda.

You might also want to try serving blueberry sourdough
pancakes. Simply make the basic recipe, and right before
cooking, gently fold about a cup of fresh or frozen
blueberries into the batter.

As you can see, for all the mystery that surrounds it,
cooking with sourdough is really a piece of (pan) cake. And
once you get the foregoing recipe fine-tuned to your
family’s tastes, I’m sure you’ll agree that the
real treasure to come out of the Alaskan gold rush
wasn’t the yellow metal the hardy (and hungry) miners dug
from the earth, but rather, the delicious, durable pancake
and baking mix they popularized.

EDITOR’S NOTE: For a wealth of sourdough lore (including methods for
brewing starter by trapping wild yeast), as well as recipes
for sourdough bread, biscuits, cakes, muffins, and
variations on the pancake recipe described above, see the
articles “Sourdough!” and “More Sourdough!” in MOTHER NO.
11, and “Foraging for Wild Yeast” in MOTHER NO. 65. For
information on ordering these and other back issues, turn
to page 132.

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