"Adventures in Sourdough Cooking and Baking," Charles Wilford

Pros: Absolutely delicious recipes
Cons: Typos; makes sourdough sound harder than it is; self-promotion
Rating: 3 out of 5

First published 1/23/2001

This book does have a reasonable amount of information on the care and feeding of sourdough. I have a plea to cookbook authors everywhere, however: if you’re going to give all of the complex, detailed directions for your favorite type of cooking, do everyone a favor and present the simple view first. That way you won’t accidentally make things seem much harder than they actually are. Cooking with sourdough starter really isn’t difficult. We stick our starter in the fridge every week and forget about it until it’s time to proof it for the next loaf of bread. This cookbook makes it sound like it’s a prize poodle – and just as much effort. You should care for your starter like you care for a pet, you’re told.

Don’t listen to Mr. Wilford on this one, folks. At least, not until after you’ve gotten started, realized that it isn’t so difficult after all, and relaxed. Then you can read all of his little details. Instead, start out with “World Sourdoughs from Antiquity,” which makes cooking with sourdough seem much easier, and which also provides hints this book doesn’t – like what to do with your starter if it develops mold (hint – don’t panic – all flour comes with mold in it, so it’s just a matter of time before this happens to you). Then buy this book and play with all of the spectacular recipes therein.

The Recipes

And they really are spectacular. Sourdough crackers, for example. The sourdough isn’t used for leavening – just for flavor. These are fantastic with a good cheese. This is where one of the major differences in this cookbook comes in. Sourdough isn’t just a convenient leavening agent, a cheap yeast substitute with some handy flavor. It’s also used purely as flavoring agent.

The recipes are clearly detailed with short, numbered steps so you won’t get lost. Ignore the “primary batter A” and “primary batter B” designation, however. The only difference between the two batters is the quantity of starter it makes, and the recipes themselves tell you how much starter to use. Again a case of making things look more complicated than they are.

You’ll find a wide variety of pancakes in here, including Sour Cream Pancakes, Cornmeal Pancakes, Baked Fruit Pancakes, Apple Pancakes, Shrimp Pancakes, and much more. There are waffles (Brandy Pecan Waffles!), and instructions for converting any pancake recipe to a waffle recipe. There are even whole pages of short, simple syrup recipes to pour over your waffles: Orange Syrup, Honey Plum Topping, Boiled Cider, and more.

You’ll find pretzels, breadsticks (yum!), blini, scones, graham crackers, and of course breads: white bread, banana bread, dill bread, cheese bread, sausage bread (the tomato juice in the batter makes a fine addition), cranberry bread, and much more. There are dumplings, cornbread, rolls, bagels, meatloaf(!), fried chicken(!), noodles, cookies of all things, and much much more. You’ll find some truly innovative uses for sourdough in here that you just cannot find anywhere else that I am yet aware of.

The Opening

Which is why it’s really too bad that the opening comes across as such a juvenile, poor-quality piece of work. There are typos and missing words, the writing is poor, and there’s rampant self-promotion for “Gold Rush Sourdough Starter” (the author’s company) including an ad up front that, yes, has typos in it.

So please, do yourself a favor and read “World Sourdoughs from Antiquity” first. Then follow it up by making every recipe from this book at least twice. Oh, and yes. Get your starter from the King Arthur Flour Company Baker’s Catalogue; it comes live, so you don’t have to reconstitute it, and it’s incredibly active.

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