I’ve always been fascinated with Thomas Wolfe’s concept about how man can’t retrace his/her steps through experience and growth – and the older we get, the truer this concept becomes. It’s like our spirit is kept prisoner in the depths of our past, and we are haunted by our own memories. However hard we try to relive those memories, we only fail in the effort.
Ever since we returned from our winter sojourn in sunny, warm, Florida (as he spits in disgust!), I’ve been trying to recapture my old pattern of daily functioning -without success. OK, now all the old mail is back up-to-date, all things put into limbo are back to normal functioning, all needed supplies and resources are restocked and waiting – so why am I finding it so damn hard to recapture my blogging spirit?
It’s not like I completely stopped blogging while on sojourn – I did the occasional post, maybe not as frequently as was my norm, but at least I kept the tools moving – now and then.
So, why the difficulty in restarting the engine? You tell me! All I know is that it’s a bitch.
And it’s not like I don’t have anything to write about – while down in Florida, I spent a good deal of time experimenting with making sourdough quick-breads – you know, those baked things that are leavened with baking powder and soda – usually. Actually, I concentrated on two items: sourdough bran muffins; and sourdough corn muffins – and in my estimation, the corn muffins are the winners. It is those I’ll share with you today – and maybe that’ll get me back on track.
A few thoughts on sourdough – most non-sourdough bakers have the idea that the major contribution of sourdough to a loaf of bread is a sour taste. I would beg to differ – if you have in your possession an aggressive, and well fed sourdough starter, in that condition, it will not be sour, but it will do a damn good job of raising your bread! Now, don’t feed your starter for three days, and let it sit out on your counter for the whole time, and yeah, now you’ve got sour! But you also have created an over-matured sourdough starter, and in this state it won’t do a good job of raising your bread – not until you start feeding it regularly again.
What makes sourdough sour is allowing it to “ferment”, which occurs with bread when the baker mixes the dough and then places it -usually in a fridge- to age, or ferment. It is during the fermentation stage that a sour taste may develop – but in my experience, you have to have a pretty long fermentation time for a sourdough loaf to pick up a really sour taste – usually a fermentation period of say only 8 hours will impart a flavor not particularly suggestive of “sour” (to me, anyway), but more subtle and rich – certainly not like someone dropped a tablespoon of vinegar in the dough, which I think Safeway does with its fake sourdough breads! And Safeway’s sourdough bread only reinforces the public opinion that sourdough MUST be sour to be good.
I’ve included the above thought about sourdough taste because I think these sourdough corn muffins are a great example of how sourdough adds a rich and subtle taste element to whatever you’re baking. And although I’m going to give you a specific recipe (because so many of us are slaves to recipes, aren’t we!), all you really need to do is to add a half cup or so of sourdough starter to whatever corn muffin recipe is your favorite, and change the process a little bit – and you will have an improved corn muffin!
OK, before I give you the recipe, a note about the process change – one of the rules of quick-breads is that you mix your dry ingredients in one bowl, and your wet ingredients in another – then, just before baking, you put them together and mix. Yup – and there’s a very good reason for this, modern baking powder is “double acting” – that is, it acts first immediately upon becoming wet (when you mix the wet and dry ingredients), and again later as it heats up in the oven – our big change here is that we will ignore the basic rule, so we can let the sourdough starter do its magic, but we will NOT add our baking powder until just before baking, so we don’t lose that double action.
OK – let’s get to it.
Sourdough Corn Muffins
- 1/2 cup of active sourdough starter
- 1 cup of white AP flour
- 1/2 cup of corn meal
- 1 cup buttermilk (or milk) – depending on the hydration of your starter, you may need to add a little more liquid here – or not! You can always correct on baking day.
Cover and leave at room temp to ferment for 8 hours or overnight – alternatively, if you wish, you may stick this in the fridge for 12-24 hours.
When ready to bake:
Heat oven to 350 degrees F.
Add the following to your fermented starter mix:
- 2 eggs, beaten well
- 1/2 cup of melted butter
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1 Tbs baking powder
Add sugar to taste – purists add none, but some who like sweet corn muffins may add up to 2/3rds of a cup – up to you!
Consistency should be like a pancake batter, not too thick.
I also sometimes add an 8.5 oz can of creamed corn to my muffins – makes a more dense muffin, but richer corn flavor.
Mix well and put in greased or lined muffin tin.
Bake @ 350F for about 18-22 minutes, or until the edges are nicely brown.
This recipe makes 12 large, or 18 small muffins.
Of course, we didn’t use sourdough here to assist in the rise of these muffins – the prime reason for using the sourdough was in the development of taste. I think it does that job well – I love the depth of flavor which this muffin has. But there is a by-product of using sourdough here, and that is the development of gluten in the muffin. When making strict quick rise muffins, gluten development is not sought after, and in fact is avoided, lest it make the muffin tough. But when one is giving a dough a fermentation period, it’s impossible to avoid the development of some gluten (gluten works by motion and time), and these babies have a wonderful chewy texture that I loved. You won’t find these muffins falling apart on you, they hold together nicely, and provide a unique texture absent in quick-breads. I like it a lot.
As long as I can remember to get it started the night before, this baby may become my standard corn muffin. And someday, I may try it without the baking powder or soda, decrease the hydration a little, and let the sourdough do the rising too.
Always something new to try, right?