Here is a simple method for processing leftover starter into a versatile ingredient that can favorably increase the complexity of a bread's flavor profile. It's a "toadie" in dabrownman's parlance. Perhaps a “cheat” in yours. Ok, it's not strictly altus. It had aspirations to become bread but never got the call. Hence “Alt”. Here’s the...
A few reasons. Uses for Leftover Starter is a recurrent theme at TFL. Periodically air-drying some as a backup should be #1 on everybody’s list. Baking it into croccantini is a favorite, especially if you accumulate large quantities of spent fuel (true, that link is not about leftover starter, but her video is a hoot. You’ll never hear Mary Berry say, “Oh shit I forgot to add the rosemary!”). Or you can just make another loaf with it (try mine or fernerz). Here it gets baked, pulverized and christened “ingredient”. Another nobler destiny for your spent fuel than an ignominious plop into the bin.
Second, I harbor a bit of an obsession with the Maillard reaction, likely owing to the relative dearth of its craveable products in our home’s vegetarian cuisine (me by choice because of my dearest’s inherited intolerance of meat). Dry-toasted “toadies” and grano arso are short on Maillard products owing to their deficit of a key reagent required to mobilize reducing sugars and amino acids so that they can encounter each other and spontaneously react: water.
Third, I discovered a while back that fearless flavor prospectors Cortney Burns and Nick Balla included pulverized, blackened bread in Bar Tartine’s wacky cache of flavorings. Fancy that. Right there on the rack alongside turmeric and allspice (as well as powdered dehydrated beet, kale and parsnip).
Fourth, I’ve noticed that when our oven steam apparatus shamelessly drips where it shouldn’t -- onto the loaf baking below -- the resulting bit of wet-burned crust can be surprisingly tasty.
Finally, a fellow loafer recently posted a query about preserving starter by drying it down in the oven – a strategy doomed to be about as gratifying as drying a bathed cat in the microwave. Maybe he meant “proofer”. Regardless, that suggestion may have catalyzed the coalescence of the above sources into the process and product described below. I have serially tinkered with the method over for the past several months. It’s very simple and forgiving. All loaves pictured here are 60% fresh-milled wheat with 1-3% Alt Altus-coated oat porridge added. Without further ado, here’s the ...
1. Preheat oven to 400˚F. A countertop toaster oven serves well if you have a small amount of leftover starter to process. Avoid convection as it will render your Alt Altus case-hardened (crisp outside, soft inside) or quickly blackened if you are not properly attentive.
2. Dilute your leftover starter, if necessary, to turn it into a thick batter (*see footnote). Don’t add too much water – just enough to make it viscously pourable. Aim for 110% hydration if your starter is less than that. [Note: Fresh leftover starter is best, so make this soon after serially refreshing your starter for a bake. For example, bake your Alt Altus while the dough from which the starter was left over is final-proving and the oven is pre-heating. Ancient starter dredged from deep in the fridge yields a bitter product.]
3. Position parchment paper on a sheet pan and pour diluted starter onto it in a tight switchback pattern of narrow bands close enough to one another to ooze together into a very shallow irregular puddle. A baking sheet with an efficient non-stick coating can be used instead of parchment paper. Recommended: Sprinkle fine salt over the surface of the puddle now. This can make the final product somewhat snackable, especially if you bake it more blonde than bold. It’s always reassuring to add an ingredient to bread dough that already tastes good enough to eat by itself. Salt does that here.
4. Put your preparation into the oven or toaster oven.
5. After 6-8 minutes, when the surface has become dry to the touch and is beginning to tan, flip the paper over with the lightly baked product still attached, now underneath. Return it to the oven to dry the parchment-product interface sufficiently to free the paper when you next open the oven.
6. After another 6-8 minutes, remove it from the oven and carefully peel off and discard the paper. Separation anxiety may necessitate gentle encouragement with a spatula.
7. Return product to the oven and repeat flipping and rotating it every 5-7 minutes. Begin to break off product to a countertop plate as edges acquire a shade you’re comfortable with along the blonde > chestnut > black spectrum. Parts will brown at different rates, so keep a close eye. Reduce the time interval between tests as the process accelerates to completion. Reward your patience by toasting some pistachios on the baking tray ;-).
8. Turn off the oven, open the door and put the plated product back inside until the oven is barely warm. Convection (with no heat) helps here.
9. Cool fully on the countertop.
10. Like dried herbs or coffee, the product is best stored intact and pulverized just before use. A modernist might store it under vacuum. The rest of us: a ziploc bag. When ready to use, pulverize in a mortar, food processor, coffee/spice grinder, grain mill or ziploc bag+rolling pin.
The amount of Alt Altus to add in any application depends upon the boldness with which it was baked and, of course, personal taste. The darker product can be quite potent and is best deployed sparingly for optimum effect. Otherwise its strident notes can overwhelm others with which it should gracefully harmonize.
• Add granulated product equal to 1-3% of total flour to any bread formula. Our preferred method is to mix it, coarsely ground to drip coffee sized bits, at 3% into cooked, cooled, broken-up porridge that is ready to be added to dough at the second fold. This also conveniently reduces clumping of porridge additions.
• Fold it at 1-3% of total flour into pizza or pasta dough (al grano arso) or polenta (to give it an authentic saracena look, if not exactly the flavor).
• Jump-start a gumbo’s roux with finely powdered product (Warning: May be a capital offense in some Louisiana parishes).
• Add powdered product to any chili, gravy, sauce espagnole or veggie burger mix.
• Consult Burns & Balla.
It has not escaped our notice that creatively varying the ingredients in this method could yield some novel flavors. Sourdough starter is just flour (here wheat, spelt and rye) fermented in water by sourdough microbes. One could prepare an Alt Altus batter from scratch (i.e., not from leftover starter) in which the flour was replaced or supplemented with powdered substrates prepared from other cereals, legumes or even dehydrated vegetables. The liquid in which they are suspended (with or without fermentation) to create the batter could alternatively be apple/raisin yeast water, other populations of fermentative microbes or simply water supplemented with a suitable solute (shoyu, Marsala, Marmite, liquid aminos*). Toasting such batters and pulverizing the products to generate “spices” would subtly expand the flavor space represented by most pantries.
* Including liquid aminos (up to 10% v/v of total leftover starter - more than that becomes Weapons Grade) in the dilution liquid makes a somewhat richer Alt Altus. Reduce added salt when including this or other salty supplement.