Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Always Bee Cooking #6: Seared Sourdough Pikelets

 (Quick note: I'm still working on longer critical pieces on the pedagogy & politics of cooking media. The going is harder than expected, so instead of defaulting on it again I'm going to use December's Always Bee Cooking to talk about a recipe I've been developing.)

The Story

At the top of this month I got a care package from one of the loveliest people I know. It included two major things. First is the chef's knife pictured below. It's 1) incredible 2) the only piece of cookware I own other than a mortar & pestle (also a gift) and 3) engraved with the name of this series, which is overwhelming.

The other major thing was a cutting of sourdough starter named Reginald. I was convinced Reginald hadn't made it; at some point in transit the jar he was in broke and he leaked out. 90% was pooled up in a corner of a cardboard box. I've never really saved anything's life before, though, so I figured now might be a good time to start.

Per instructions, I put him in a covered container and fed him warm water and flour once every twelve hours. By the time of the third or fourth feeding I started seeing some genuine signs of life. A week and change later (having missed only one or two feedings), I'm still not seeing as much of a rise as I think you're supposed to, but he's getting closer.

If you're unfamiliar with sourdough starter (as I was only a couple weeks ago) here's how you feed it: you take out one part of the starter (say 1/2 cup) then add to that part one part flour (1 cup; it's by weight, not volume) and one part warm water (1/2 cup), stir to fully incorporate, and store. The rest is the Discard.

Two parts about this freaked me out. One is that I have to have flour on hand at all times (I am confident I can figure this out). The other is the implied action. I'm the kind of person who dries celery leaves in the oven to add to spice rubs. Throwing away two (or more) cups of starter a day seems intolerable. I don't particularly recommend being this kind of person.

Those two anxieties lead me to repeatedly turn to King Arthur Flour's recipe for Sourdough Crumpets. With it I don't have to discard and I don't have to use extra flour. I've kept the ingredients and proportions more or less the same, but after a good number of variations I've locked in a technique that I quite like.

The quick version is you cook them like a thick steak: a sear sets them and creates flavor and texture, then a quick bake cooks them through. The texture is almost closer to a crusty bread or English Muffin, with a crisp snap on the outside that gives way to a fluffy, doughy consistency. And the flavor, at least with Reginald, is kind of extraordinary. Tangy, buttery, and just a little bit sweet and salty. Even when you don't use butter anywhere.

My latest discovery? This recipe works, if not quite as well, with leftover Discard. I put the Discard in a bowl in the fridge (covered with plastic wrap) for three feedings, then on the fourth made this. The results weren't as robust as using fresh discard, but they were still quite good.

The Recipe

Seared Sourdough Pikelets

  • 1 cup Sourdough Discard (roughly; I just use whatever was produced)
  • 1/2 tsp Baking Soda
  • 1 tsp Sugar
  • 1/2 tsp Salt (I'll go up to a heaping 1/2 tsp, depending on my mood; there's definitely a line you can cross though)
  • Butter/Neutral Oil
Yield: 3 hefty lil cakes in about 15-20 minutes; recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour's 

Preheat oven to 350F. Put a pan on the stove over medium. Add baking soda, sugar and salt to Discard and stir to incorporate. You now have Discard Mixture.

Add a very thin slice of butter (or a splash of oil) to the pan. If using butter, it should melt rapidly but not immediately blacken and begin to smoke - in my pan I have to cook on medium-low, because it gets really hot really fast. Dollop in enough of the Discard Mixture to stand about 1/2-inch tall.

Let cook until one or two bubbles appear on the interior, anywhere from :15 to 1:00. Flip carefully. Remember that you are not trying to cook the interior, just sear the outside. Repeat for the other side with roughly the same amount of time.

Remove to a baking sheet. Re-up on butter or oil when the pan is dry. In the same fashion, cook until you are out of Discard Mixture. From a single feeding I usually get three or four pikelets.

Once they're all done and the oven is preheated, place the sheet in the center of the oven and start a timer for five minutes. If the formerly-uncooked dough in the center looks fully set once the timer goes off, test the biggest one with a knife in the center. If it comes out clean, they're done. If not let them bake for another 2-3 minutes, then check again.

I personally tend to eat them with my hands. They carry a little jam or even a simple syrup (reduced just a minute or two past cocktail consistency) well. They also freeze well and are ideal for popping in a toaster.

Further Notes

I'm trying out this new section! This time, I'd like to suggest some possible toppings that I think might work with the recipe (with the note that I have tried none of them!):

  • Whipped Cream & Mint Chiffonade: ribbons of mint with a dollop of sweet whip cream would present beautifully and, I suspect, add a nice heady quality.
  • Butter: It's already there, and teasing it out would be nice. I might go for a heaping half teaspoon of salt on this one, especially if you're using unsalted butter.
  • Blueberries & Chorizo: I can imagine a version of this where drop some blueberries into each dollop as you're searing, then top it with some cooked, crumbly chorizo. The longer I think about it the more I'm convinced this would either be sublime or truly wretched.

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