With a wonderfully soft and tender crumb, these sourdough pancakes make a lovely companion to lazy Saturday mornings, especially when you pair them with pats of salted butter, a drizzle of maple syrup, and a mug of strong tea.
Since I started baking sourdough bread nearly a decade ago, I’ve always needed a use for my leftover, discarded starter. And these pancakes, sweetened by the slightest trace of honey, are such a perfect use for it. I've meddled and toiled with this recipe over the years, making small adjustments here or there: leaving out the honey, beating in whole eggs, soaking the batter overnight.
And I finally have a version I'm really happy with: Marvelously rich with the flavor of whole grain flour, but tender, too, with a soft light texture.
Pancakes Are Great for Spent Starter
To maintain a lively and active starter for sourdough bread baking, you must feed it a slurry of water and flour. This carbohydrate-rich slurry nourishes and provides food for the bacteria that give good bread its characteristic tartness and it also feeds the yeast that give the bread a lofty rise. Bread needs lively and active yeast to give it a wonderful rise an airy crumb. And recently fed, bubbly starter does just that.
But, maintaining sourdough is all about timing. Once you feed your starter, and it bubbles up and doubles, those lively yeast will exhaust their food source and the starter will fall. This spent starter won’t make for good bread, but it’s perfect for making sourdough pancakes.
How to Make Tender Sourdough Pancakes
Tender pancakes achieve their loft through leavening. When you make pancakes the leavening comes from the natural chemical reaction between acidic and alkaline ingredients.
Thanks to all its friendly lactobacillus bacteria, spent sourdough starter is very acidic (that’s what makes it wonderfully tart!). When you combine the sourdough starter with baking soda, which is very alkaline, the pancake batter will bubble up beautifully - and a bubbly batter makes for airier pancakes with a tender crumb.
But that’s not all you need to make fluffy pancakes. Whipped egg whites will lighten your pancakes when you gently fold them into the batter, and also give the batter enough structure to hold the air that will make your pancakes light and fluffy instead of dense or chewy.
Use a Whole Grain Flour
When baking and cooking for my family, I like to keep our grains (mostly!) whole. Not only do whole grains offer the clear benefit of higher dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals (when properly prepared), but they also offer incredible, complex, and rich flavor.
The problem is that many whole wheat flours are very high in protein and are flecked with dark bits of bran. That makes for great bread, but not so great pancakes.
So, instead of opting for plain whole wheat flour; make your pancakes from white or ivory wheat. These flours are still 100% whole grain, but they’re made from softer wheat with a lower protein and a much lighter color. That means lighter, softer pancakes that are still a whole grain.
The Night Before
- Toss the flour, milk, sourdough starter and sea salt together in a blender, and blend until they form a smooth batter. Pour the batter into a mixing bowl, and cover it with cling film or with a tight-fitting lid (this bowl set works well).
- Let the batter sit, covered, at room temperature overnight, or 8 to 12 hours.
The Next Morning
- Beat the egg yolks together with honey and melted butter. When they're uniformly combined, beat the egg yolk mixture into the pancake batter you made the night before.
- In a separate bowl, whip the egg whites with the baking soda until they hold stiff peaks.
- Gently fold one third of the whipped egg whites into the pancake batter. Continue folding the remaining egg whites, one third at a time, until you’ve added them all. Incorporate the egg whites into the bowl slowly, carefully and gently, leaving some streaks of unbroken whites, until the batter is light and fluffy. The key to a light sourdough pancake is to avoid deflating the whites.
- Set your oven to warm, and place a baking sheet in the oven on the middle rack.
- Heat a cast iron skillet or pancake griddle over medium heat, and melt a touch of butter in the pan. When the butter foams, pour a ladleful (approximately ¼ to ⅓ cup) of pancake batter into the pan. Let it cook without disturbance until you see bubbles forming in the center of the pancake. Flip the pancake and continue cooking it 1 to 2 minutes further until cooked through. Transfer the pancake to the baking sheet in the oven to keep it warm.
- Continue cooking pancakes, one at a time, and adding more butter to the pan as needed until you’ve exhausted the batter.
- Serve with additional butter, maple syrup or homemade blueberry syrup.