Instead of setting off firecrackers for the Fourth of July, I decided to try my hand at baking some crackers-not from explosive material but from sourdough discard. It was leftover from my experiment with making a starter from scratch (you can check out my earlier post on that subject here).

Though flour is in far better supply now than it was a few months ago, I still hate to throw away most of the starter, which the King Arthur recipe -and almost every other-calls for each time you try to re-energize the stuff after it has been stored in the refrigerator for a while or when you feed the hungry beast to build it up for your next sourdough-fueled creation.

Sourdough discard, like starter, once stirred, is like liquid gold, adding great flavor, though little rising power, to baked goods.

Just a note, in case you’re new to sourdough and wondering what the buzz is all about, this is a mixture of flour and water that ferments and turns sour over time. In addition to adding flavor and preserving power, it’s a rising agent in bread, because the bubbles in a ripened starter-one that’s been “fed” with flour and water and sits at room temperature for a while-are natural yeast. You can use it as the sole rising agent, or you can, as I do in a recipe below for hotdog buns, combine starter and commercial yeast, which usually makes for a faster rise.

In the process of making a starter, you usually “discard” some in order not to build up an unwieldy amount. King Arthur (no, the company doesn’t pay me for my endorsement, but I freely confess to being partial to their products and recipes) seems to recognize the waste-not-want-not mentality of its fans and offers a number of recipes for using up discard. Some of my favorites include pancakes, pretzels, pizza dough, and English muffins.

My latest infatuation is with sourdough crackers. These were so tasty I had to stuff them in a tin, throw the tin in a closet, and try to forget they were there after devouring half the batch right out of the oven. The recipe (click here to get it) suggests serving them with hummus, which sounds perfect. Of course, as I love hummus, especially homemade, I think everything goes with it! But I also love cheese and returned from our recent road trip with some garlic jack and Manchego from a farmer’s market we visited in a cute little town called Cayucos near Morro Bay (check out Jeff’s piece on that if you’re interested). Here’s a picture of a timely art piece on display at The Sea Shanty, the quirky restaurant where we ate lunch.

The crackers are pretty easy to make, but, like so much else in life, hard to perfect. I didn’t roll the dough thin enough, so some of the resulting crackers were crisp, while others were a bit bendy and soft, but, covered with cheese or hummus, you’d be hard-pressed to notice. I used olive oil instead of butter and a mix of spices and seeds instead of just spices. Next time (maybe tomorrow!) I may add some parmesan and sub a tablespoon or two of rye flour for the whole wheat.

After being home for a week, the good vibes from our road trip seem to be vanishing faster than roadside greenery in the rearview mirror, especially with the constant drumbeat of news about the worsening toll of the pandemic in our area. We decided to quarantine in case we unknowingly picked up the virus on our travels and brought it back with us, so no backyard get-togethers for the Fourth. I don’t think anyone else is doing those either-at least if they have good sense!

A seagull outside our window in Morro Bay, already just a fond memory.

But I really do crave that barbecue, with all the fixings-hotdogs, pickles, corn-on-the-cob, watermelon, etc. So, getting back to that sourdough starter-not the discard this time, but the full-strength, bubbly, ripe version, and yet another King Arthur recipe-for hotdog buns, this time. I’ve wanted to try these for a long time. I don’t have the special pan the recipe calls for, but no worries. Easy enough to shape little six-inch loaves. And I just happen to have all the ingredients I need in my pantry-even potato flour and dried milk. Check out the recipe here.

In my experience, the trickiest parts are dividing the dough evenly (best to weight it rather than to guess) and the rising time, which turned out a lot longer than expected.

But the resulting rolls are worth it. I sprinkled a few seeds on top of some of them. Next time, I’ll add more sprinkles-and make half the dough into hamburger buns. Toasted, with grilled franks inside, and a good dollop of mustard, the combo makes for a very satisfying summer supper for the Fourth of July-or any day. And the sturdy buns are nothing like the pillowy supermarket variety (especially when you bake them a bit too long, as I did!); they’d be excellent for any hot or cold sandwich you might dream up.

Now that I have some more baking projects in my future, I don’t feel so bad about being home again. Just need to make that hummus!

Hope you have a happy Fourth-and Fifth too!

Thanks for reading this edition of Ruth Talks Food. If you liked it, please share it with a friend, and don’t forget to hit reply to let me know what you think.

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