Sourdough Crackers

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cracker tin

I had hoped to write a blog about sourdough starter for my first post. And then my second. Then my third. (This is post twenty-six.)

You can probably find entire books devoted to starter alone. There’s so much to know and food scientists today still make discoveries about the ecosystem of sourdough cultures. I find the idea of writing a blog about starter daunting. But I use it for many recipes and my starter—I named it Eleanor, after Eleanor of Aquitaine, wife of two kings, mother of three—has become a big part of my routine, almost like a pet. In fact, I think I now have more pictures on my phone of starter, dough and bread than I do of my children. I had a different starter last year, Heloise (of Abelard and Heloise), but I let her die. She wasn’t perky.

You too may begin to sound nuts if you decide to nurture a starter of your own.

So, I’ve decided to go ahead and write some blogs on recipes that call for the starter before I actually get around to writing the blog about the starter. But first, a condensed how-to based on Michael Pollan’s recipe in Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation.

Starter 101

People have been baking bread for approximately 6,000 years. Until about 200 years ago, when commercial yeast appeared on the market, they baked with a sourdough starter—or wild yeast. The starter makes the dough rise (among many other things, which I can’t cover in what I’m trying to keep short).

Combine flour and warm water. Mix 100 grams of flour (I use 50 grams whole wheat, 50 grams white) with 100 grams of warm water in a bowl and stir it vigorously with a fork. It will have a consistency similar to pancake batter. Cover it with a cloth. If you mix your starter in a glass bowl, you can better observe the bubbles that form. (You may begin to feel more like a scientist than a baker in your kitchen.)

Set your starter aside and stir it once or twice a day or whenever you think of it. Check it daily for bubbling. Those bubbles mean that the dormant microbes in your flour have revived in order to transform your mixture into a living culture, filled with good bacteria and yeasts.

Once you notice bubbling, feed the starter daily. My starters begin bubbling after a couple of days, but it can take a week. To feed the starter, you need to discard about 80 percent of it (but don’t throw it out!). Mix in another 100 grams of flour and 100 grams of warm water into the remaining two or three tablespoons of starter. After about five days to a week of feeding your starter regularly, you can use it in recipes.

sourdough collage
Clockwise from top left: sourdough bread, sourdough banana bread, sourdough tortilla, sourdough waffles

Maintain your starter. Some bakers swear that you must feed your starter twice daily, at 12-hour intervals. Sandor Katz says every two or three days will suffice. I’ve tried once a day and I’ve tried twice a day. I haven’t noticed much difference either way but I’m not a professional baker.

If you want a break from the daily care of your starter or you won’t use it for while, put it in the refrigerator and feed it once a week. Take it out, let it warm up, feed it and allow it to ferment for a few (or several) hours before returning it to the fridge.

I never throw my discarded starter away. I store it in the fridge for other recipes. Sometimes I feel like Mickey Mouse from Fantasia in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, but deluged with starter rather than water. If you don’t use your discarded starter—and like me, the thought of throwing it out horrifies you—it will take over your fridge.

My starter above, ready for action.

Sourdough Resources

For more information on starting a starter, check out this helpful video from Cultures for Health. I also recommend the following books, which all cover fermentation or sourdough:

And now a recipe! (Phew!)

Sourdough Crackers

UPDATE: I made a few small revisions to the recipe below. You can read that post here.

These crackers are delicious. The microbes in the starter transform a handful of ordinary ingredients into dough that renders thin, crisp crackers that taste—believe it or not—cheesy. I’ve had to put the finished product aside as I write this, as I’ve scarfed down way too many.

ingredients

Ingredients

  • 2/3 cup unfed starter from the refrigerator
  • 3 tablespoons coconut oil (or butter or olive oil, but I prefer coconut oil for the flavor and aroma)
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • olive oil for topping (not shown)
  • extra coarse salt for topping (not shown)

I bought everything in bulk, filling either cloth bags or glass jars, except the coconut oil and olive oil. I’ll reuse their glass jars though. And I actually can buy (and have bought) those oils in bulk at Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco!

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.

coconut oil and starter2. Combine starter and coconut oil in a glass bowl. In a separate bowl, mix together flour, salt and baking soda.

mix dry and wet3. Add dry ingredients to bowl with wet ingredients. Combine.

knead a bit4. You may have to knead the dough a few times to incorporate the last bit of flour. Cover bowl with a plate or towel and let rest overnight or for at least eight hours. This will help develop a rich, sour flavor. You can move onto the next step now, but the crackers will taste better if you wait.

divide dough5. Divide dough into two (brain-like) halves on a generously floured surface.

roll out thinly6. Roll the dough out two to three millimeters thick. Once again, the microbes work their magic by making the dough easy to handle and roll out so thinly. Use quite a bit of flour when rolling out this somewhat sticky dough. I should probably chill it like pastry an hour before I roll it out. Maybe next time…

brush with oil7. At this point, I transfer the dough to a Silpat, a silicone baking mat. If you don’t have these, you may want to lightly grease your cookie sheets. Using a pastry brush, brush sheet of dough with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt.

cut craker dough8. Cut into rectangles with a pizza cutter. (I’ve had this plastic one since before I starting purging the plastic.) Because my cookie sheets have a lip on them, the large wheel of my pizza cutter bumps up against the lip before it cuts all of the dough. So, I cut the dough on the Silpat before transferring everything to the cookie sheet. Do not cut with a sharp metal blade on your Silpat.

ready for oven
Ready for baking!

9. Bake for 8 minutes, turn tray and bake 8 minutes longer.

hot from oven

10. Transfer baked crackers to a rack to cool. As you can see, the crackers shrink quite a bit in the oven. Keep in mind also that the edges usually brown faster than the middle.

Store crackers in an airtight container. You don’t actually need to worry about them going stale though. They will disappear quickly!

Sourdough Crackers

Ingredients

  • 2/3 cup unfed starter from the refrigerator
  • 3 tablespoons coconut oil (or butter or olive oil, but I prefer coconut oil for the flavor and aroma)
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • olive oil for topping
  • extra coarse salt for topping

Directions

1. Combine starter and coconut oil in a glass bowl. In a separate bowl, mix together flour, salt and baking soda.

2. Add dry ingredients to bowl with wet ingredients. Combine. If necessary, knead the dough a few times to incorporate the last bit of flour. Cover bowl with a plate or towel and let rest overnight or for at least eight hours to develop flavor.

3. After the dough has rested for 8 hours, divide it into two halves on a generously floured surface.

4. Preheat oven to 350°F.

5. Roll the dough out two to three millimeters thick. Sprinkle with flour between rollings to prevent dough from sticking to surface.

6. Transfer the dough to Silpat-lined cookie sheets or lightly greased cookie sheets. Using a pastry brush, brush sheet of dough with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt.

7. Cut into rectangles with a pizza cutter. Do cut with sharp objects if using a Silpat.

8. Bake for 8 minutes, turn trays and bake 8 minutes longer. Crackers are done when crispy and slightly browned.

9. Transfer crackers to a rack to cool. Store in an airtight container.

47 Comment

  1. First of all let me say, you are the first person I’ve ever read who could deftly combine the topics “sourdough” & “Heloise et Abelard” in the same blog post. Very impressive!!! Secondly, as you know, I’ve been dabbling in the same scientific mysteries (fermentation, probiotics, etc.) and so this looks like something I really need to try. And such an improvement over boxed crackers, I’ll bet! Thx for sharing!!!

    1. Ha ha. Thanks! I think starting a starter is right up your alley. I have been baking bread for almost twenty years, but I had always used commercial yeast. Microbes have opened up a whole new world for me! Plus sourdough bread is healthier and simpler (not the baking exactly, but the composition). I feel I am (slowly) learning an extremely useful skill baking this way. Let me know what you christen your starter 😉

  2. I’m so excited to learn more about sourdough! Thanks for the post!

    1. You’re welcome! It’s fascinating what goes on in a bowl of starter. While I was writing this post, I thought of your daycare and how excited kids would be to see a starter in action 🙂

  3. Funny, I was talking with a neighbor yesterday about starting her own sourdough starter! I’ve had the same starter for a few years now that came from a friend who I think ordered it from the King Arthur Flour Company. It goes through periods of neglect – it certainly does not get fed anywhere near once a week during the summer when it’s far too hot to bake. I’ve shared it with friends and one in particular keeps trying to kill it. I have managed to bring it back several times – pull it out of the fridge, dump most of it, feed what’s left. Let it sit on the counter for a few hours, dump most of it, feed again. Repeat until you have signs of life.

    1. Cool! I think the King Arthur starter dates back to the 1700s! I bet your bread turns out really well. Thanks for the info about the neglect and for reviving it. I probably don’t need to be so OCD about feeding mine.

  4. This post is ALL-AWESOME!

  5. Those crackers look fantastic! I kept a starter a few years ago, but like you, did not want to throw out 80% of it. So, instead of cleverly storing it in the fridge as you describe, I kept giving it to friends until they would see me and run as though it was zucchini season! Your post and a new cookbook have rekindled my interest in starters. I had no idea you could make so many things from one starter. Very inspirational!

    1. Ha ha! Starter “grows” as prolifically as zucchini, but the season lasts 12 months! I kept mine out on the counter for a while and fed it every day. I couldn’t bring myself to throw any of out, so I had to bake every day. It was like a part-time job that left me chronically exhausted. I would love to give some starter away, but almost everyone I know is gluten-free. (A few people have asked me if I can make gluten-free sourdough!!! Ummm, no.) I found a Facebook page today listing people throughout the US giving away their various ferments and I’ll try to figure out how to sign up (it wasn’t obvious). The fridge has worked out well though.

      I’m glad you found the post helpful. I look for new things to do with Eleanor all the time. Pasta is on my list and I hope to get to it soon. My daughter made sourdough brownies recently. They tasted like flourless chocolate cake. Which cookbook did you get?

      1. I received “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice”, by Peter Reinhart. There is a lot of delicious looking bread in there, and quite a good selection of sourdough.

        It is supposed to be 30 degrees C here all week, so I think the baking will wait for a cooler week.

        We have made pasta, and by the third time we had the feel of it and it didn’t seem onerous. Perogies are fun to make too.

        Brownies that taste like flourless chocolate cake – oh yum!

      2. I just Googled that book and it looks wonderful. New cookbooks are always so inspiring. I hope it cools off and soon and you get a chance to try out some new recipes 🙂

      3. The photos are good too. I’ll let you know how it goes 🙂

  6. Cool! I look forward to reading more of your sourdough recipes. I just recently got one going for sourdough pancakes. So much fun, like you said, feeling like a scientist in the kitchen.

    1. Thank you and yum! Starter makes delicious pancakes. I’ll have to add those to my recipes-to-blog-about list 🙂

  7. This is a million ways of perfect! I want to make our own crackers for No Plastic July and this is definitely the recipe I’m going to use! I think it will be closest to the commercial Krackawheat that Josh is addicted to.

    Thank you.

    1. You’re welcome and thank you. I hope he likes them. They are very tasty and addictive. You can snack on them with your chamomile kefir water 🙂

      1. I’m gonna be so cultured!

  8. I should try making sour dough starter again. I would keep it in the fridge and only feed in once a week. I’m single and don’t eat bread that often lol. I don’t need 800lbs of sourdough starter

    1. Lol. Yes, you could easily accumulate 800 pounds of starter. Starter would actually be a good illustration for a math lesson on exponential growth.

      1. Lol I don’t want to have that example at home

  9. Many thanks for your blog, both timely and informative. Since doing Plastic Free July, I have not been able to buy any savoury crackers as they all contain plastic or plastic-coated foil packaging. Will give your started a go when I’m not to scared, and have a bit of time to spare. A great answer to my 5 o’clock hungry time!

    1. Thank you! Please don’t be scared of the starter! The worse thing that can happen is it doesn’t bubble up and you’ve wasted a bit of flour and water. Once you get it going, it’s pretty resilient. And now that I keep it in the fridge, I don’t have to worry about feeding it during my morning rush every day. I feed mine once a week but another blogger commented on this post that she feeds hers less often than that and it has still thrived.

      Thank you for the comment and good luck with Plastic Free July! I hope it’s going well 🙂

  10. These taste great. I couldn’t get them so beautifully thin the way yours look in the photo, but I will try again.

    1. Great! I’m glad you like them. I need to make some more this week. I haven’t tried this, but I think if you chill the dough, it might roll out easier. I just thought of it after I rolled out the last batch. Thanks for the comment 🙂

  11. […] final beginning is thanks again to the Zero-Waste Chef for reminding me about sourdough. I used to make it in Southbridge but then my starter died and I […]

  12. […] first thing I made were sourdough crackers. I hadn’t ever thought about them until seeing a post by the Zero Waste Chef, but they looked […]

  13. Your instructions are great! I’m taking the plunge. I’ve been curious about starting my own starter. Will keep you posted. Can’t wait to try your cracker recipe.

    1. Lol. I’m making these right now and have the recipe open on my screen. I can never remember the measurements. Yes, please let me know how your starter goes! I’m just feeding mine now (it’s sourdough night).

  14. I left my dough covered overnight but there are large darkish black spots on the dough… Is this normal?!

    1. That’s okay, Hayley. That happens to mine too. After you roll it out and bake it, the crackers all brown evenly.

      1. Phew! Great thanks so much! Just ate some delicious sourdough waffles 🙂

      2. You’re welcome. Mmmm, I love sourdough waffles. I’ve been making a lot of sourdough pancakes lately too. Both are such a great way to use up starter. Enjoy your crackers 🙂

  15. My starter (Albus, after Albus Dumbledoor from Harry Potter) has been used numerous times for bread, pancakes and scones and they’ve all turned out fine, (though I’ve never actually eaten traditional sourdough products before so I’m only comparing Albus against himself) but my starter doesn’t rise at all like yours does in the video. He bubbles away and may rise a mm or two, but that’s it. Any ideas?
    Looking forward to making some crackers!!

    1. I love the name, Breanna! How often do you feed Albus? He may need more frequent feedings if you want him to rise more. If your food turns out well and you like it, then I wouldn’t worry too much about it though.

      1. Once a day when it’s on the counter and a feed right before refrigeration – it’s only in the fridge for 2-4 days, a week at most. Yeah, I’m not too bothered, just curious after seeing yours in action.

  16. How “unfed” does my starter need to be? What will happen if I use starter that’s been fed in recent hours?

    1. It’s fine to use a recently fed starter, Nancy. The older the starter, the more tangy the crackers. I like to use older starter as a way to use it up. Keeping up with the discard is a constant (but fun) battle.

  17. Your blog needs a minor correction – in Directions, Step #7 says DO cut with sharp objects. I’m sure you meant DO NOT!

  18. Thanks for wonderful recipe which I used for the first time today. I added sesame seed and pumpkin seed meal and used virgin macadamia oil as its a local product. To get really thin, even crackers, I rolled them out with my pasta maker on setting 3. Worked a treat.

    1. OMG those sound delicious! I have a pasta maker too and have wanted to try using it for these. Thanks for letting me know it worked well. Enjoy!

  19. Thanks for another item in my arsenal of using up “discard” starter (mine’s called Martha, although I have no reason behind it–just sounded right). I tried the KA Flour crackers and they weren’t quite what I was hoping…I’ll try these and see if they’re more what I like. Any chance you have weights for this recipe? Ever since I started using a scale I’ve become quite lazy about washing measuring cups. =)

    1. My pleasure. I love the name Martha 🙂 I hope you like the crackers. I make them often. I’m sorry I don’t have the weights of the ingredients for these. I will record those the next time I make these. I prefer a scale also. It’s easier and more accurate. Oh, by the way, I updated these a little. I’ll have to make a note of that in this post. Here’s the updated version: https://zerowastechef.com/2015/11/18/sourdough-crackers-2-0/

      Enjoy!

  20. Hello Z-WC Love finding new uses for my discard. I am single and have learned to keep my starter in the fridge, but I keep a very small starter 20-30 g starter fresh fed with same amount rye/AP floret and water. I’ve done this for about 2 years and It can go 2-3 weeks with no issue. Sometimes has a little crust on the top, but I just sprinkle a lite water on it, and sit out on the counter til it warms up when I want to bake. I then feed it 2-3 times, or as long as needed for the volume in the recipe I am making. I save any extra discard and make sourdough dog bones for my pack ??. Trying your crackers today with some pepitas and chipotle chile seasoning.

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Hi Linda,

      I would LOVE to hear more about your sourdough dog bones. Lucky dogs! I’ve been keeping a small starter these days too–40 grams max. It’s much more manageable. I hope you like the crackers. Your seasoning sounds delicious. Enjoy!

      ~ Anne Marie

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