The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

A Meditation on Sourdough Pancakes

Kneads_Love's picture

A Meditation on Sourdough Pancakes

My sourdough starter became viable about 4 days ago. Since then I have been keeping it at 100% hydration (1:2:2) on a 12-hour feeding cycle, with the discard stored in a mason jar in the fridge.

Today was pancake day...

Like many folks, my personality is comprised of a series of contradictions. I have an artist’s (or perhaps a cook’s) appreciation of the unpredictable. I enjoy throwing things together until they taste good. However, this is tempered by a scientist’s (or a baker’s) desire for precision. And an enjoyment of clear, precise, well-articulated direction. I like to understand the why’s of something in the beginning, so that I can go ahead and do what I want in the end.

I may spend hours researching various recipes for the same dish -- trying to figure out why one calls for an extra egg and the other for butter instead of oil. Sometimes the difference is a matter of taste. Other times texture or cooking times may be affected.

After I understand it, I try to develop my personal version.

Pancakes are no exception.

Like most quick-bread batters I have splattered my way through, Pancakes require flour, salt, liquid, a leavening agent, fat, and eggs.

The flour and salt are self-explanatory, but the liquid can be water or some kind of milk (cow, soy, almond,  butter, etc.) The leavener can be sourdough starter (i.e. wild yeast), baker’s yeast (less common in pancakes), or “kitchen chemical” (i.e. Baking Powder, or Baking Soda. If using Soda, remember that an external acid is needed for activation. Great article on Soda v Powder...

Eggs are often added for flavor, texture, richness, nutritional value, and of course, to hold it together. Fat can be butter or oil, which, as I understand it, helps with the texture and chew.

It seems to me that a pancake batter works best when it is at 200% hydration - in my mind, that is what makes it a “batter” as opposed to a “dough”. Some may posit that the eggs and liquid fats are also required for batter. I am not sure. Plenty of doughs have eggs and vegan batters clearly don’t. So, I am going to say it is a matter of hydration.

Anyhoo, batters are often given in cups as opposed to weight or baker’s %’s. But once I realized that I was going for a 200% hydration, it made working up a recipe much easier.  

200% Hydration Sourdough Pancakes

3 oz 100% Hydration Sourdough starter (room temp)*
3 oz milk (I used Vanilla Almond)*
1.5 oz Flour (All Purpose)*
2 Tbs Brown Sugar
2 Tbs Canola Oil (plus more for pan)
½ tsp Vanilla
¼ tsp salt
1 egg
½ tsp Baking Powder
½ tsp Baking Soda

* you can also use ⅓ cup


1. Dissolve starter in milk.
2. Incorporate flour & sugar.
3. Let the batter sit for 30 minutes or so. It might get a little bubbly. It might not. Don’t sweat it. Its a pancake. (See my note below.)
4. Beat eggs in a separate bowl until frothy - set aside
5. Mix salt, oil, vanilla into the batter
6. Heat and oil (or butter or Pam) your pan (griddle) -- I used a capfull
7. Dissolve Baking Powder and Baking Soda into the batter
8. Lightly add eggs (folding in to keep the frothiness)

Pan should be on medium-high heat.

Add “pancake sized” dollops of batter, heat for 2 - 3 minutes, flip. Heat for 2 - 3 minutes. Remove. Eat with butter &/or Maple Syrup

Some notes about pancakes in general and this recipe in specific...

1. Lots of pancake recipes call for an overnight fermentation process. I am sure that giving the yeast a chance to wake up and get the batter all bubbly results in a lighter, fluffier pancake. And I like light and fluffy. Really. I do. But its a pancake. You know, that thing that you are going to eat for breakfast... doused with maple syrup and butter. If your boss or the father of the girl you are getting ready to propose to is coming for breakfast, ferment overnight. If this is just a nice thing to do for yourself or a loved-one on a Sunday or on the spur of the moment before work one day, I think this recipe is just fine.

2. Having the starter at room temp makes it easier to work with.

3. Brown Sugar contains molasses which is acidic and will provide the needed acid substrate to activate the Baking Soda. It’s also sweet and provides caramel or butterscotch notes to the final product, which I like. You can skip the sugar (or substitute white sugar or splenda, etc)  by switching to buttermilk which will react with the Baking Soda (as, I hear, will applesauce, cocoa powder, etc.)

4. For maximum lift, don’t add Baking Powder and Baking Soda until the very end, right when you are going to start pouring into the hot pan. Otherwise, your batter may rise and fall before you cook it. I use both Baking Soda and Baking Powder because it provides the fluffy lift I want without the overnight fermentation.

5. If you are adding fruit or chocolate chips, etc, (except for bananas, which can be mashed and added to batter), I prefer to add manually to the raw side of pancake during the cooking process. One time, I added thawed frozen-blueberries to the batter and the additional liquid threw off the recipe.

6. The more air in the batter, the more pancakes you are going to have (and fluffier.) The first time I made this recipe, they were not as fluffy and the recipe made 3 nice size pancakes. Good for one person. The second time, I doubled the recipe, and let the batter sit for about an hour. It got frothy and I had enough pancakes for 3 people. I guess what I am trying to say is, you can easily double or triple the recipe and you will get at least double or triple the number of pancakes.

7. I find that a ⅓ of a cup dollop yields a “restaurant size” pancake. A ¼ cup dollop results in a smaller pancake which I find easier to work with (flip, etc.)




I676's picture

Here's my thing: My ideal, platonic form of pancake is infinitely fluffy, and tastes of buttermilk. I just can't wrap my head around a sour pancake, one that's not fluffy (how can you get fluff without baking powder?!), and one where the gluten has had a chance to develop, à la starter sitting for days in the fridge.


Am I misconceiving what a sourdough pancake is? What is it in contrast to my fluffy, chemically-leavened,  New Jersey diner unicorn? 

Genuinely curious.

linder's picture

In the sourdough pancake recipe I have, you mix 1 tsp. baking soda with 1 TBSP water and add it to the sourdough mixture(that sat out the night before) along with egg, salt, oil and sugar just before making the pancakes.  You will see that the batter gets light and airy once the baking soda is added.  The pancakes are light and fluffy with the slight tang of sourdough as opposed to buttermilk. 

The recipe -

Night before - Mix together 1 cup sourdough starter, 2 cups flour (whole wheat, ap, bread flour any mix you like), 2 cups lukewarm milk or water, 2 TBSP sugar.  Leave out overnight at room temperature.

In the morning, add 1 egg, 2 TBSP vegetable oil,  1 tsp. salt, 2 TBSP sugar and mix well.  Just before cooking the pankcakes - In a small dish combine 1 tsp. baking soda with 1 TBSP water, mix well and stir into sourdough pancake mixture.  Let sit for about a minute, cook pancakes as usual.  We like to add some berries to the pancakes as they cook and serve them with maple syrup.



I676's picture

Ah, I get it now--the starter is really there for the acid, not the gas; it takes the place of buttermilk more than the baking powder.

I can see that.

Fermenting my own buttermilk as I write thus, but will perhaps give the sourdough approach a try. 

Kneads_Love's picture

Hi 1676,

The recipe I share in the OP uses both Baking Powder and Baking Soda, in addition to Sourdough Starter. You are correct, there is acid in the starter. But, there is also acid in the molasses in the brown sugar. So, there is plenty of acid to react with the Baking Soda. So, assuming there is enough Soda and Powder, this recipe has a triple lift... Yeast, Powder, and Soda reacting with Acid. The liquid from the milk and oil quickly breaks down any gluten and even though we add additional flour, gluten does not get a chance to reform (these are not English Muffins.) I am not saying that you can't find a way to make them fluffier and lighter. Certainly letting them sit overnight will engage the yeast and increase bubbles. Likewise, adding more Soda or Powder might also increase the fluff-factor -- although, you might start to affect the taste. However, for me, the fast approach offsets any loss of fluff. But on their heaviest days, these are a far cry from hockey pucks. And, in any event, they've got to be better then bisquick. 


I676's picture

Makes complete sense. I think I read your original post too quickly--mea culpa.

sunnspot9's picture

looks good, can't wait to try, especially with blueberries and maple syrup!

EvaB's picture

by simply mixing water and flour and stirring it with a poplar twig from the tree in the back yard, let it sit, fed it when she removed some and made pancakes everyday, didn't use backing powder or soda (those are for non sour dough pancakes) and didn't let it sit more than half an hour to an hour before baking. Made the best darn cakes you ever saw, and with the addition of beaten eggwhite, folded in, made super waffles! Oh yum, am starving now!

The best pancakes other than those were the ones my uncle made in the summer when I was visiting, he got up at 4 or 5 am to work on the farm, he mixed the baking powder batter up, and cooked his breakfast, leaving the bowl of batter on the counter with a cloth over it for us kids to cook our breakfast with, and then my aunt made it up out of bed around 9 or 10 am (she was not your typical farm wife) and cooked up the rest of the batter, which we ate at lunch cold, or made snacks or sandwiches from for our riding expiditions etc. The batter is just different if you leave it sit, and baking powder is double acting, first puffing up at the addition of water, then when its heated!

jeni_rainbow's picture

Just made these and they were fabulous! I did let the starter, milk, flour, sugar mix sit overnight, because I came across the recipe last night, looking for something to use up some spare starter with, so I got going with it right away. I used a little extra milk because my starter was quite a stiff one (Professor Calvel's recipe) and only had about a teaspoon of muscovado sugar, so that's all I used, but otherwise followed the recipe pretty much as given. They came up very tasty and extremely light and fluffy - best recipe I have found so far and definitely a keeper! I used the quantities as given and it made 8 delicious pancakes! Thank you, I'll be having these again! Soon!

Kneads_Love's picture

Hi Jeni,

Thanks for the feed back. Blueberries are slowly making their way bake into our fair city. I think it might be time for me to run to the market and mix up a batch myself.


loydb's picture

I just made a slightly modified version of these, they came out great! I tripled the recipe, except for the brown sugar, which I only doubled, and used melted butter instead of oil.