Like many sourdough experiences, the cracker recipe was inspired by an online friend who also harbors a sourdough obsession. A farmer by day and a cooking dad at night, Christian Spinillo of Ham Sweet Farm in Williamston, Mich., has been working with his sourdough starter for a few years. His bread baking comes and goes with the season’s demands, but his work with the spent starter doesn’t. He provided the cracker recipe ratios, and I played with them.
Easy and quick to make, the ingredients are infinitely adjustable. Add toasted sesame oil instead of half the olive oil. Try butter for melt-in-your-mouth crackers, a grassy olive oil for a more assertive flavor or coconut oil for a sweeter version. Poppy seeds are beautiful either kneaded into the dough or sprinkled on top, as are toasted sesame seeds. Try za’atar, curry powder or a dash of ancho chili powder. I kneaded in the last of a packet of smoked salt and topped the baked crackers with a smidge of cream cheese and a rosette of smoked salmon. Make crackers with any cookie cutter, from dinosaurs to star shapes, and float them on top of soup.
Sourdough Starter Castoff Crackers
Sourdough starter requires regular feedings, each of which begins with discarding (casting off) a significant portion of the existing starter. Rather than throw it away, the discard can be an outstanding beginning to many baking projects. These crackers are snappy, wheaty and filled with seeds. Be creative with the flour blends and flavors.
NOTE: Sourdough baking requires precision. Your starter will be most successful if you use a food scale to measure ingredients. This is why the recipe here leads with grams and is followed by volume measurements.
- For the crackers
- 274 grams (a scant 1 cup) lively castoff or discard sourdough starter, see headnote
- 80 grams (2/3 cup) whole-wheat flour, or more as needed
- 20 grams (1/4 cup) rye, oat or pumpernickel flour
- 40 grams (1/3 cup) spelt or semolina flour
- 25 grams (3 tablespoons) olive oil, or more as needed
- 17 grams (2 tablespoons) toasted sesame seeds or everything bagel spice mix
- 6 grams (1 teaspoon) kosher or flaky salt
- All-purpose flour, for dusting (optional)
- For the egg wash
- 1 egg white (optional)
- 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt (optional)
- 8 grams (1 tablespoon) toasted sesame seeds or everything bagel spice mix (optional)
In a large bowl, combine the starter with the whole-wheat, rye and spelt flours using a sturdy spoon or your hands. Add the olive oil and continue to mix, and then knead until a sturdy, smooth dough emerges, about 15 minutes. (Or, using a stand mixer and the dough hook, mix on medium speed for about 6 minutes.)
Work in the sesame seeds and the salt. At first the dough will break apart, but it will come back together with continued kneading, about 3 minutes, until smooth and slightly tacky.
Form the dough into a ball, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes.
Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Line 3 large, rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
Divide the dough into three equal pieces. Place another piece of parchment paper on a clean tea towel (to keep the paper from sliding) and very lightly dust with a sprinkling of all-purpose flour. If all you have is whole wheat flour, use that. The dough will not stick. Roll out one of the pieces of dough as thin as possible, about 1/8-inch thick. Use a ruler and a very sharp knife, or pastry wheel, for precise 2-inch squares. (Alternately, use a cookie cutter or make freehand shapes that please you.) Reroll any scraps.
Transfer the crackers to a lined baking sheet, about 1/2-inch apart. You should have about 28 crackers. Repeat with the other 2 pieces of dough.
Bake the crackers as they are, or brushed with olive oil. The former creates a cracker with a dusty surface; the latter with a slightly shiny surface.
Alternately, if using the egg wash, whisk the egg white and salt together and brush on each cracker. Lightly top with the seeds or spice mix, sprinkling from a height of at least 12 inches for the most even distribution.
Bake 2 baking sheets at a time until golden brown, 18 to 23 minutes, swapping the position of the baking sheets, front to back and top to bottom, halfway through baking. Slide the parchment off the baking sheet onto a rack, carrying the crackers with the paper. Repeat with the third baking sheet. Cool the crackers completely and then store in a cookie tin or in zip-top bags.
Recipe from food writer Cathy Barrow.
Tested by Ann Maloney; email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Note: This recipe does not include nutritional analysis because of the variations in flours from starter recipes.