Friday, April 15, 2011

A Sourdough Kind of Weekend

Well, a happy weekend to you, too, dear readers. As what will surely be a lovely spring weekend steadily approaches, I thought it only appropriate to share with you my recent adventures in sourdough baking: cinnamon rolls! What else says Saturday morning like a homemade cinna-bun? Am I right?

This story begins 4 months ago at Christmas when my Dad gave me a jar of his 30 year-old sourdough starter. Well, technically, I guess this story starts 30 years ago when my Dad decided he was interested enough in bread baking to buy a yeast packet and a book on the subject and...miraculously, the yeast still survives! And we have evidence that we can eat! Truth be told, my Dad is a little obsessed with the stuff. We grew up eating sourdough waffles and sourdough fruitcake...anything deemed "bready" was made with sourdough. I have fond memories of getting to stay up late when we were kids so that we could eat the bread right when it came out of the oven, sometime around midnight (my Dad clearly had some time management issues). We'd tear off pieces with our hands and smother it with butter, which would melt immediately into the loaf. And now, I have my very own batch! Pretty cool that I can actually now make the same bread we ate as children, right?

Sourdough, if you are not familiar with it, is fascinating. It is a live yeast that sits in your fridge, all frothy and weird, just waiting for you to pull it out onto a warm kitchen counter, mix in a little flour and water, and turn it into a batter.
Grody sourdough starter when it comes out of the fridge.
Yummy sourdough once it's been stirred!

So, my Dad gave me this book--Adventures in San Francisco--with the jar of starter, and he assured me that it would tell me everything I need to know about baking sourdough breads. When I opened to the first page and saw the photo of this awesome lady--a true San Francisco bread-baking vet with those bad-ass cat glasses--I knew I was in good hands.
I decided to make the cinnamon rolls, despite my Dad's warnings that it was "the toughest recipe in the book." I am an ambitious baker! So on a Friday night, I scooped out some of the jar slime, put it in a tupperware, added some flour and water and let it sit overnight. In the morning, it had doubled in size and was all smooth and creamy, ready for some baking!
True to my typical weekend form, I slept "a little" late on Saturday. And then I realized that the recipe requires TWO risings before being baked, and then we had to run some errands. So...we wound up eating the cinnamon rolls around 7pm...ah yes, I have inherited my Dad's time management baking problems. But yum yum yum were they delicious! The wonderful thing about sourdough is that you get this great toothsome texture. It's not all wimpy and doughy--it makes the kind of bread that you have to tear a bit with your teeth, and the sourness comes through just a touch, which is a great pairing with the sugar of the rolls and the spiciness of the cinnamon. The rolls are at their finest right out of the oven, so don't delay! Call your friends and neighbors and insist that they come over to get a piece of your hot baked buns. (It helps if you say it just like that, too.)
The weekend I made the rolls, my friend Sam told me that she also has some ancient sourdough starter in her fridge, handed down from her family, so I typed up this recipe and passed it along to her. And now I'll paste it here for you. If you want the book shown above--Adventures in San Francisco--you can still find used copies on Amazon. It's loooong out of print, but boy is it a goodie. And if you don't happen to have 30 year-old sourdough starter in your fridge, you can start your own! Here's one place you can buy it online for cheap, but there's tons of starters out there, so no excuses, people.

Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls

So first, you need to take your starter out of the fridge and stir it up real good. Then, in a plastic or ceramic bowl (don't use metal tools or bowls), mix 1 cup of the starter, 1 1/2 cups white flour, and 1 cup warm water. Cover it with plastic and let it do it's thing for 12 hours in a warm, draft-free place. It should be all bubbly and "alive" looking when it's ready.

At the end of the proofing period, stir the batter, put 1 cup back in your starter container in the fridge, and the rest is for your cinnamon rolls (about 1 1/2 cups). Put the batter in a large bowl and add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, 3/4 cup of room-temp milk, 2 tablespoons sugar, 1 tablespoon melted butter, and 1 teaspoon salt. Mix well. Then add 2 cups of flour, 1/2 cup at a time until it's too stiff to stir with a spoon. Turn the dough out onto a floured board and knead in another 1/3 cup of flour. It should be smooth, elastic, and soft.

Put the dough in a greased bowl, cover with a towel, and let rest for two hours in a warm spot (sunny windowsill? Radiator?) When the dough has doubled, punch it down and roll it out on a board so it's about 1/2" thick in a rectangle shape. Brush the dough with melted butter, mix up 1/4 cup sugar and a tablespoon cinnamon, then sprinkle that over the butter. Roll up the rectangle and cut into 1" slices. Put them swirly-side up in a greased pan (the sides should all be touching). Cover and let rise for 45 minutes. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 25 - 30 minutes. Let cool for a few, then drizzle with icing (powdered sugar with a little milk and vanilla) while it's still warm. Then eat it!


  1. Wow, this totally makes me want to get out my ancient starter (the same one was yours, I'm sure -- and I think it's actually older than me, or that's what Dad told me) and make some bread again. I don't think I ever tried the rolls!

  2. Erin: VIRTUAL BAKE-OFF! Based on my vast experience watching cooking shows, I'm very good at judging food without actually having eaten it. Let's do this thing!

  3. HELL YEAH. I'm totally in.

    Winner gets all the glory. ALL OF IT.