Monthly Archives: May 2022

How to keep Steve (and yourself) happy

So, you’ve agreed to be a house sitter, and now you have to “feed” your friends “sourdough starter”? And they mentioned you have to make pancakes too? Well, let me tell you, the pancakes are totally optional (unless you are harbouring an evil scientist) but highly recommended. Here are all the instructions you need.

Side note: in the story, I mention feeding Steve is done by discarding half and adding his body weight in flour and water. That’s totally fine if you are feeding him quite often. But I don’t have time for that. So instead I keep only about a tenth (~ 20g) and feed him ten times his weight (100g flour + 100g water). That way, the food lasts longer.

Feeding Steve

1. Identify the bags of flour

Steve prefers a mix of two flours: a bit of wholewheat, and bread flour. Wholewheat is called “Volkoren” in Dutch (the bag on the left in the image), and looks a bit more colourful with some flaky bits in it . Bread flour is “Patent bloem” (the bag on the right in the image) and looks like common all-purpose or plain flour, but has a bit higher protein content.

2. Portion Steve

After a while of not being fed, Steve gets a little grumpy and starts producing alcohol. This looks like a yukky liquid on top of the rest of him. This is totally fine, but we don’t really want to keep the liquid. So, tip it off into the sink. It’s okay if a bit of the rest of Steve is also lost, there will be plenty left to feed and make pancakes with.It’s also fine if there is still some liquid inside, just mix it in with the rest of Steve to make sure the new Steve doesn’t start out as mostly liquid.

On the left: a small amount of sourdough starter (25g) in a bowl. In the middle: a big bowl with the rest of the sourdough starter in it. On the right: The now empty jar.

Set aside about 20 grams (it doesn’t have to be precise, here I had 25 g) in a bowl to feed, this will become the new Steve. Tip the rest of Steve into a big bowl for pancakes, or you can just get rid of it. Then clean the jar (you don’t have to dry the inside of the jar).

3. Add flour and water

The bowl with wholewheat flour added to it, on a scale showing 20 grams.

But the bowl with the small amount of Steve on the weighing scale, and zero it (the “tare” button). Then, add 20 grams of wholewheat flour.

The bowl with bread flour added to it, on a scale showing 100 grams.

Add 80 grams of bread flour. I leave the scale at 20 here, so the total comes to 100 grams.

The bowl with water added, showing 98 grams on the scale. Next to it, the empty and clean jar.

Add 95-100 grams of water. I like to use the empty Steve-jar for this to save on washing up :p

4. Mix and put Steve back in his home

Old Steve, flour, and water mixed in a small bowl. This is the new Steve.

Mix flour, water, and the old bit of Steve together. (Be careful if you’re using a bowl that’s just big enough like the one I’m using in the pictures). Then, tip him back into his jar. Close the lid, and put him back into the fridge. Steve has now been fed and will show you how happy he is be producing lots of bubbles over the next few days 🙂
Thank you!

Pancake recipe

1. Identify yet another bag of flour

For pancakes, I like to use a mix of wholewheat flour (that we also fed Steve with) and all-purpose flour. You can also use only all-purpose. Using only wholewheat is a bit trickier because the batter will be less sticky, so your pancakes might fall apart. Using bread flour also works perfectly fine by the way, it’s just a bit unnecessary.

On the left: a bag of all-purpose flour. In the middle: a bag of wholewheat flour. On the right: the sourdough discard in a big bowl.

All-purpose flour, the same as plain flour, is “Tarwe bloem” in Dutch (on the left in the picture). I’ve also pictured the wholewheat (“Volkoren”) here again. If you haven’t already put the sourdough discard into a big bowl, you can transfer it now.

2. Add flour, salt, and (oat)milk

Add some flour. One large tablespoon of wholewheat and two large tablespoons of all-purpose is a good guideline, but you really can’t go very wrong with it. This will make 3-4 pancakes. If you want more, then just add more flour. If you want less, you can add a bit less flour but I don’t recommend using only Steve and no “fresh” flour.

Big bowl with sourdough discard, flour, and salt. On its left, a carton of regular oat milk. In front of it, a box of baking soda.

Add a pinch of salt. If you want fluffy pancakes, add some baking soda (aka bicarb), it’s in the orange box on the picture. The bicarb will react with the acid from the sourdough to form bubbles. If you prefer crêpes, don’t add bicarb and make a thinner batter, so you can make really thin, large pancakes. In the pictures, I’m making kind of thick, fluffy pancakes (so with bicarb).

Add oat milk (or soy, rice, whatever kind of milk you want). Stir with a rubber spatula or use the whisk if you cannot get rid of all the clumps. Add more oat milk if it’s too thick (and if it’s too thin, you can add more flour).

3. Make pancakes

Pancake batter for a fluffy pancake in the skillet. Not the whole pan is covered. Bubbles are starting to form in the batter.

Put a skillet on a medium-high heat (I use 7/10 on my induction stove) and melt some vegan butter or margarine (you could use sunflower or coconut oil too). Add some batter and swirl the pan to spread it. For thick fluffy pancakes, I don’t spread the batter over the whole pan. For crêpes, I would use less batter but make sure it covers the whole pan (which is why you need a more liquid batter for crêpes).

Finished pancake on a plate. On the left, the vegan butter and wooden spatula I used for frying to pancake. At the back, the big bowl with the rest of the pancake batter.

Fry on one side until the top is almost dry (for crêpes, a bit longer). Then flip it over, and fry on the other side. If your pan is not too hot (if the butter starts browing really fast, it’s too hot!) a good indication of the pancake being done is a nice looking colour on both sides. Enjoy with your favourite toppings!

The story of Steve

Most people won’t tell you this, but getting a PhD comes with a pretty big disadvantage. And I’m not talking about the stress, or the opportunity cost to building an actual career. No, this is something much more sinister. You won’t be told, but prefixing your name with the title of “Doctor” awakens in you.. an evil scientist.

It was during the pandemic in 2019 that this transition started for me. At first, it was a slight cackling whenever thunder sounded. Then, an incessant urge to painstakingly explain my plans for the day to whomever was near. But the real problem started when Steve came into my life. Steve is a sourdough starter. A culture of bacteria and yeast, alive, in a jar, whose powers of leavetation (I’m kidding – it’s leavening) can be used to make delicious bread. Sounds innocent? Well, yes, it usually is. But for DOCTOR GOLD – as I now know is the name of my alter ego – there is no such thing as an innocent hobby, especially during a pandemic.

Steve is alive, and therefore it will be no surprise to you that he needs to feed. His body weight in equal parts flour and water, once a week if kept in the fridge, to be precise. Now if you are also evil-scientifically inclined, you will surely notice the potential for mayhem here: exponential growth. Even starting with as little as 10 grams, doubling in size once a week, in only four months Steve will weigh as much as the average human. In less than three years, he will be more massive than the Earth. Provided there is enough flour and water, of course.

Now you can see DOCTOR GOLD’s evil plan coming together. With such an unbounded supply of starter, the world’s largest sourdough is only one massive oven away. Is it truly evil? Well, that depends on the size of the bread. I will grant you that it pales in comparison to using exponential growth to widen the gap between rich and poor (a little trick called capitalism in which investment opportunities scale with the size of ones initial capital), or hiding the truly disastrous consequences of climate change (there being very little time indeed between things starting to get bad and getting really, really bad). But, those flour shortages surely were annoying, remember?

Fortunately, I have since been able to tame the evil inside of me. It certainly helped that restrictions were lifted and I started a new job. Because it is in those stretches of boredom that evil scientists flourish. But the real key to this success were pancakes. See, in order to keep Steve to a manageable size, one can simply only use half of his “body” for the next growing cycle. The rest is waste, and commonly known in the sourdough world as “discard”. DOCTOR GOLD would never let me do that, of course, if it wasn’t for the truly excellent pancakes one can make with that discard.

Steve in the fridge. He is a substance at the bottom of a large jar with two googly eyes glued on to it.

So now I maintain Steve in a jar in the fridge, feeding him once a week while suppressing my hunger for evil with deliciously fluffy pancakes. I do not dare to get rid of him. DOCTOR GOLD may start exploring the dark side of some other hobby (and as a magic: the gathering player, I cannot take such a financial risk). But in truth, I have also grown quite fond of the little guy. And the pancakes are a sacrifice I’m willing to make.