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Bread starters give a taste of frontier


Published: Wed, November 10, 2004 @ 12:00 a.m.


Starters are known by a variety of colorful names.
By DONNA PIERCE
CHICAGO TRIBUNE
Several readers have requested information about sourdough bread starters, as well as recipes for Herman bread, also called Amish friendship bread.
Sourdough starters, or wild yeast starters, were the sole source of leavening for breadmaking before the arrival of baking powder and commercial yeasts, writes Sharon Tyler Herbst in "Food Lover's Companion." A portion of the starter for each batch of bread was removed and reserved to be used as the base for the next batch. Such starters, which can be traced to biblical times, were invaluable for settlers during the Western expansion.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Amish friendship bread, as well as an interchangeable starter referred to as Herman (the source of the name varies), became a popular exchange among friends who shared the starter as well as recipes. As the moniker "Herman" shows, starters are known by a variety of colorful names.
Subhead
In 1990, Harlene Watland and Dawn Watland Johanson included recipes and instructions in their 236-page cookbook, "The Best of Herman Sourdough Herald," based on recipes collected from the newsletter that the mother-and-daughter team published in the 1980s. (The book can be purchased online at amazon.com and other used book sellers. Or order from Adventure Publishing, (800) 678-7006, 820 Cleveland St., Cambridge, MN, 55008, for $12.95 plus $2 shipping). In "New Recipes from Quilt Country," Marcia Adams offers a starter recipe using a tablespoon of sugar in what she describes as "a wonderfully responsive dough."
In "Manna: Foods of the Frontier," author Gertrude Harris describes one version of a starter used by pioneers as a "true frontier" leavening agent that includes more sugar (1 cup) and 1/2 cup of mashed potatoes. And "Monk's bread starter" was a sourdough sponge named after the Tennessee neighbor that author John Egerton described in his book, "Side Orders."
Herman was described as "a distant cousin of the old-time favorite sourdough starter" in the Watland/Johanson book.
"If your love affair with Herman cools a bit, he does freeze well, only to be thawed at room temperature when the urge for him returns to full force," they add. "To re-start thawed starter, add it to any recipe for Herman starter. Keep and use the same way as any Herman starter."
HERMAN STARTER
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup warm water
2 packages (21/4 teaspoons each) active dry yeast
2 cups each: milk, flour
Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the sugar over the warm water. Sprinkle yeast over mixture; set aside until doubled in volume, about 10 minutes.
Combine milk, flour, remaining sugar and yeast mixture in a plastic or glass container. (Do not use metal.) Stir with a wooden spoon; cover loosely. Set aside at room temperature, at least 8 hours.
Stir mixture once a day for three days. On the fourth day, measure out 1 cup of Herman for baking; measure 1 additional cup to give to a friend as a gift.
To replenish starter: Add 1 cup flour, 1 cup milk and 1/2 cup sugar to remaining batter. Stir mixture once each day for the next three days. On the fourth day, measure out 1 cup of Herman for baking; measure 1 cup to give to a friend as a gift; feed remaining batter with 2 cups flour, 2 cups milk, 1 cup sugar. After the 10th day, you can begin using Herman daily or as desired. Keep feeding every 5 days; or if you are not using it often, just add 1 tablespoon sugar.
Yield: 4 cups.
Nutrition information per cup: 492 calories, 6 percent of calories from fat, 3 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 9 mg cholesterol, 9 g carbohydrates, 12 g protein, 64 mg sodium, 2 g fiber
HERMAN COFFEECAKE
When this recipe was made in the test kitchen, most of the topping baked into the batter to become part of the cake. Tasters gave a hearty thumbs up to this rich, crumbly coffeecake, adapted from "The Best of the Herman Sourdough Herald."
Topping:
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 stick ( 1/2 cup) butter
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Cake:
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
11/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup oil
2 eggs
2 cups Herman sourdough starter, see recipe
Heat oven to 350 degrees. For topping, mix together brown sugar, butter, flour and cinnamon in a medium bowl; set aside.
For cake, sift flour, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda and salt together in a medium bowl; set aside.
Mix sugar and oil in a large bowl with a mixer on medium speed until combined. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time. Add Herman starter; stir in dry ingredients. Transfer batter to a greased 13-by-9-inch baking pan; crumble the topping mixture over the batter. Bake until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 35 minutes.
Yield: 12 servings.
Nutrition information per serving: 479 calories, 39 percent of calories from fat, 21 g fat, 7 g saturated fat, 57 mg cholesterol, 69 g carbohydrates, 5 g protein, 266 mg sodium, 1 g fiber.


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