It all started with about an eighth of a cup of leftover sourdough starter that I just couldn’t bear to throw out. There had to be something I could make with it, right? A quick internet search revealed these sourdough cookies whose feet seemed to fill the shoes quite nicely. But, as often happens to me, I hadn’t even finished reading the recipe before I was fiddling with the specifics, imagining how I could tweak, alter, and otherwise change the recipe to fit my tastes. I’d had a hankering for spicy Mexican chocolate recently, so cocoa powder and cinnamon were added to the ingredient list. I also thought that a whole cup and half of sugar seemed excessive. Most recipes, even for sweet things, that I make these days rarely call for much more than 3/4 cup sugar. A full cup if I’m feeling generous and amiable toward the world. So obviously the sugar would need to be cut back. And why not go ahead and double it? If I’m going to the trouble of making cookies, why not have plenty to enjoy and share?
Even as I started the venture, a lecture was rolling in my head. “You know you’re not a baker, Jana. Perhaps you should rethink all these amendments and just make the recipe as is. Or at least choose just one alteration.” But I skipped ahead with an optimism born of past cooking successes. Hadn’t I turned those leftover scrambled eggs and sausage gravy into killer breakfast pitas? What about all the leftovers I’ve cunningly foisted in under the roof of “fried rice”? Surely something with such good things as butter, eggs, and chocolate can’t go too horrible askew, right? Six cups of flour, about a quarter of a box of cocoa powder, and God only knows how much cinnamon later, the cautionary voice in my head was proved right.
I am not a baker.
On the counter stood a bowlful of not quite bad, not really delicious, but definitely wheat-y tasting cookie dough. Don’t let the rich chocolate-y color deceive you. The thing stared me down, hands on hips, eyebrows raised, lips pursed. If it had been a miffed fourteen-year-old girl, it couldn’t have been more sassy. “So what now, Miss Creative Genius of the Fry Pan? Where’s your artistry now, huh?”
I quailed before it.
What had begun with my refusal to waste a few tablespoons of starter now had morphed into a giant ethical dilemma for my frugal nature. Here was a bowlful of half a dozen eggs, two sticks of butter, the last of my stock of chocolate, not to mention my cracking pride. The bowl had all these things in it, but what it definitely did not have was cookie dough. What to do? To give up and throw it out would be to admit defeat and make the waste of that dollop of starter sting even more. But I couldn’t possibly make cookies with it as it looked more like the pizza dough I’d made earlier that afternoon.
And with that, a thought occurred to me with the force and clarity of a forgotten proverb. If it looks like bread, tastes like bread, and acts like bread, then it probably is bread. And so I treated it like bread.
I debated whether or not to post the actual “recipe” for this bread. After all, it was a complete mistake. Since I didn’t even measure half the ingredients, how could I even be sure what the “actual recipe” was? However, I decided that the bread was good enough that I might actually want to make it again- in which case I would appreciate having a place to start from. So, baker beware! The following recipe should not be taken as gospel truth but instead as a draft that the baker ought to edit.
After a few tries of fashioning a free form loaf that always ended up looking like, well, some other amorphous brown substance, I settled on making braids. Though I tried several different sizes, I think the thicker the strands, the better.
Chocolate Sourdough Braid
1 cup butter
1 1/2 cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups fresh sourdough starter
1/4 cup water
4 cups white whole wheat flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2- 3/4 cup cocoa powder
3-5 T cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cream together butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time. Then add the vanilla extract. Gently mix in the water and sourdough starter. In a separate bowl, mix together the dry ingredients. Combine the wet and dry ingredients. Allow the dough to rest for 15 minutes. To make the braids, take three equal balls of dough (the size is up to you, just make sure they are all equal). Using your palms, roll each ball into a long log, just like how you did with playdough as a three year old. Next, squish the top ends of the logs together. You are going to braid the strands together, just like hair. If you haven’t braided before, go find someone’s little sister to help you. Or use the pictures below.
Once you’re done braiding, carefully transfer the loaves to a baking sheet. You can sprinkle them with cinnamon and sugar if you’d like. Or try coarse kosher salt, my personal favorite. Bake in the oven for 12-3o minutes, depending on the thickness of your loaves. Skinnier loaves will take less time, while thicker ones will take more time. To take the guess work out, use a probe style thermometer and bake the bread until it’s temperature reaches 200°. Cool on baking racks. Enjoy with butter, greek yogurt, or ricotta cheese.