A good starter is the opening chapter to a book, the story of how bread came to sit on your table. It’s one of the oldest kitchen tales, full of science, yes, but also a hefty measure of whimsy. You’re building an edible net to catch wild yeast from the air—what isn’t rather fey about that?
A gluten-free sourdough starter just has to rewrite the magic a little.
I’ve been making “experiments” in the kitchen since I was two years old—old enough to be up to my elbows in bread dough alongside my mother. When my gluten allergy kicked in years later, sourdough seemed a lovely mirage on a horizon I’d never touch again. Regardless, I’ve been walking towards it ever since. This year, I finally set foot in its field once again. This year, we’re working on my own terms.
It’s a good idea to read this recipe through all the way before you jump in. Remember: there’s science behind the whimsy and science likes its methods to be followed. The first time I tried this starter, I sealed the plastic bag completely and it raised one of the shelves in my cupboard with its gasses, knocking over cans and jars alike. The second time I tried this, I filled the jars too full and my husband got that worried note in his voice as he asked what was growing over the refrigerator shelves. It’s okay to be rusty.
These Zucchini Sourdough Rolls belong between summer and autumn. Use up the last of your late summer zucchini surplus and curl up to a warm roll as evenings grow chilly. Make a batch of Tomato Jam and lather it on. Enjoy the quiet way these rolls fill every corner of your kitchen with their scent, a secret whispered to an ever-earlier sunset.
Gluten-free Sourdough Starter
Makes enough for 2-4 quart jars
.8oz active dry yeast
12oz water at 100 degrees Fahrenheit
115g sweet rice flour
115g millet flour
110g brown rice flour
110g amaranth flour
1 yellow onion, skinned and cut in half
Heat 12oz water to 100-110 degrees Fahrenheit. If you don’t have a thermometer to measure it with, the water should be warm if touched to the inside of your wrist, but shouldn’t feel much warmer than your skin. If it burns, it’s too hot. You must be very careful about the temperature of your water because if it’s too hot, it’ll kill the yeast and your starter will never live.
Dissolve yeast in warmed water and set aside to proof. After a few minutes, it should form bubbles and foam up. If it does nothing, throw it out and get new yeast.
Sift together all flours in a large bowl. Whisk in water and yeast mixture until all flour pockets are incorporated. Either pour into a clean new bowl or a gallon plastic bag. Push onion halves partway into starter. Cover loosely with plastic or a towel, or partially close the plastic bag. Set in a corner of your kitchen where it won’t be disturbed and leave it for 24 hours. I use a dark cupboard by the stove, so it stays somewhat warm. Do not completely seal bag or tightly wrap your bowl! You want to leave room for the gasses to escape.
After 24 hours, bring out the starter and remove onion halves. Wash glass quart jars very well. Scoop starter into jars, filling about 1/3 full. Leave plenty of room for the starter to grow because it’s going to do just that. At this point, you have a choice. Fill 2 jars and throw the rest away. Or, fill 4 jars and keep it all. Keep in mind that every time you feed your starter it will grow. This quickly becomes a losing battle if you try to use all of it every time, so either get used to some waste or find a lot of friends who want your endless supply of gluten-free starter. (I’ve found that I don’t like to use the first leftover from the starter for recipes; it’s a little young and needs a week or so to develop its perfect sourdough flavors.)
Cover the mouths of your jars loosely with plastic wrap and let them sit out on the counter for 2-4 hours. This gives them some time to grow and also to pull wild yeast from the air. Wild yeast will change the flavor profile of your starter, so it’s nice to set it out to catch some wild yeast every few weeks. After the starter has set for a couple of hours (and grown considerably), wrap the mouths tightly and store them in the fridge. You may notice your starter separating a little while it’s stored in the fridge. This is normal, but you want to pour off the water from the top before using. Don’t mix it in. It’s a good idea to use and feed the starter at least once a week. You can feed it every day if you prefer. Take care of it and it’ll last you a lifetime.
Feed your starter with 1 part flour, 1 part water. My recipe below is broken down into the flour mix I use specifically for my starter.
50g sweet rice flour
50g brown rice flour
50g amaranth flour
50g millet flour
1 ½ cup water at 100 degrees Fahrenheit
Sift flours together. Whisk in warm water until thoroughly mixed. Whisk in your starter, divide among clean jars, leave out for wild yeast, and store in the fridge. Repeat at least once a week for a healthy starter.
Zucchini Sourdough Rolls
Makes 10-12 muffin size
40g (1/3 cup) tapioca starch
60g (1/2 cup) gluten-free oat or quinoa flour
30g (1/4 cup) gluten-free rolled oats
1 ½ tsp baking soda
1 ¼ tsp sea salt
2 tsp brown sugar
¼ cup olive oil
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
2 tsp lemon juice
45g (1/4 cup) flaxseeds, ground
1 cup loosely packed grated zucchini
250g (1 cup) gluten-free sourdough starter
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin.
Sift together flours, baking soda, salt, and brown sugar into a large bowl. Add oats and set aside. Measure olive oil, apple cider vinegar, and lemon juice together. Stir in ground flaxseeds until the oil is thick and gooey.
Add grated zucchini to flours and toss to coat. Stir in oil mixture, slowly adding sourdough starter as you go. When everything is incorporated, scoop batter into prepared muffin tin. Fill either ¾ full or all the way to the top, depending on how large you want your rolls.
Bake at 375F for about 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm with butter, honey, maple syrup, or tomato jam.