Tuesday, April 18, 2006


Best Blog Tips

My grandfather, Gilbert Tonge (on the left), with his silkscreen art printing company colleagues in San Francisco in 1916.

Today is the centennial of the Great 1906 San Francisco Earthquake. That's where I'm from, originally, and my maternal grandfather, Gilbert Tonge, survived the disaster (he was a 22-year-old art student at the time). He used to tell us about it and I wish I had recorded some of that! But, of course, we were young, and didn't realize the historical importance of his stories. He was born in California, in what is now Placerville, in El Dorado County. The town was called "Hangtown" at one time!

Cooking in the street after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake: 
Above is a photo of my grandfather, Gilbert Ross Tonge (age 22 at the time, on the far left-- my cousin Chris Tonge looks just like him!); Guillermo DeCastro next to him; then my great-grandmother, Mary Hicks Tonge; then someone named Amelia; and, on the far right, my grandfather's Aunt Libby (Elizabeth Tonge Barret).

This photo was sent to one of my cousins by a Swiss art historian, Guido Lengwiler, who wrote a fascinating book on the history of screen printing. The book includes a section about my grandfather, who helped develop a type of silk-screening. (See 

My mother was also born in California. Not to be outdone by her father, my mother was visiting California in 1989 when the Loma Prieta earthquake hit. In fact, she was in Santa Cruz, near the epicenter, and she and a friend [both senior citizens] had to run from a store, with goods from the shelves falling on their heads!

Anyway, all this got me thinking about San Francisco food memories. What came to mind first and foremost was sourdough. The sourdough bread was so delicious! I hope it still is-- I haven't visited for some time. You can't always get good sourdough bread up here very easily, so I make it myself. Of course, I really need an outdoor oven to get a good crust on it, and we may try making one this summer! UPDATE: Try the "bake in a pre-heated heavy pot or casserole" method for a super crust in your stove's oven.

I make a yogurt-based sourdough starter. It works like a dream, doesn't need to be fed all the time, and can lie dormant in the refrigerator or freezer for months, if necessary, and be revived. I have since revised the starter to use a soy yogurt starter.

**I also use the "Oregon Trail Sourdough Starter", which I treat the same way. You can get a free (dried) starter (and it's a great story that goes with it!) here. You just pay postage(PS: I don't use the sugar and potato they call for in the instructions., and it works fine.)**

To acknowledge the centennial, I'm posting the vegan yogurt-based starter recipe.

UPDATE: More sourdough recipes on this blog:

Golden Sourdough Rolled Biscuits

Dutch Pumpernickel Bread

No-Knead Sourdough Bread Experiment

Crusty No-Knead Half-Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread (free-form or pan loaf)

Vegan Whole Grain Sourdough Pancakes

More Ways to use Sourdough Pancake batter-- sourdough, vegan, whole grain waffles and crepes!

Printable Copy of recipe and Information

I keep sourdough starters in my fridge at all times. They will stay “fresh” (that is, active enough to use straight from the fridge in a bread recipe) for about two weeks. If you haven’t used your starter and refreshed it within two weeks, then dump out some of it and refresh it (preferably once a week). I keep a white starter, and one whole wheat and one rye.

In my opinion, most bread machine breads just don’t come up to scratch compared to our oven-baked breads. There is something missing. I have discovered that if you use the old-fashioned sponge method (the liquid and half the flour with the yeast—often much less than usual-- risen for 2 to 12 hours), or an Italian biga starter, or French poolish, etc., OR the use of sourdough gives better flavor, texture and keeping qualities (and you can also get away with a more moist dough, which I think makes better bread). If I use sourdough straight from the fridge with hot liquid and a little yeast (only 1.2-1 tsp.), I can make a bread without starting it hours before (although that is no problem—just put on the sponge before going to bed at night). I have converted lots of breads this way. If you use some yeast and sweetener, the sourdough flavor is not pronounced. To convert, use 1 c. starter in place of 2/3 to 3/4 c. liquid and 1/3 c. flour (approximately).

I generally use Canadian unbleached flour, which is similar to American unbleached bread flour, and wholewheat flour made from hard wheat (grind my own), and have not found it necessary to use gluten flour (even in all wholewheat bread).

I learned how to make San Francisco-style sourdough starter from Sunset magazine years ago. They had scientists from the University of California look at San Francisco starter and found that the closest thing to that particular sourdough bacteria was yogurt. I made it for many years with dairy yogurt and loved it. When I became a vegan, I tried it with soy milk, and it worked just fine. You can use hemp or nut milk yogurt, if you prefer.

Bubbly starter
Printable Recipe

Makes 1 1/3 cups
NOTE: I prefer soy milk. Other vegan milks are suggested in the recipe. 

NOTE: Make sure that all utensils and containers are freshly washed and then scalded with boiling water, to avoid any foreign bacteria.

1 c. plain soymilk, pea milk, hemp milk, coconut milk or nut milk (90-100 degrees F or 32-38 degrees C) which has been scalded first (brought almost to a boil) and then cooled to the right temperature
NOTE: Ideally, use soymilk from an unopened package or freshly-made

3 T. live-culture plain vegan yogurt of your choice
OR a packet of dairy-free freeze-dried yogurt culture.  Vegan Yogurt Starter is available here in the USA and Upaya Naturals in Canada.

Combine the ingredients in a glass, ceramic, rigid plastic, or stainless steel quart (or L)-size container, like a canning jar. Stir the mixture well, cover and let stand in a warm place for 18-24 hours, or until the consistency of soft yogurt.

If a clear liquid forms on top, stir it in. (CAUTION: But, if the liquid is pink, this indicates that a foreign bacteria has gotten in-- throw the mixture away and start again, using scrupulously clean equipment.)

Now add:
1 c. unbleached white flour
(1 T. rye flour can be added for more sourness)

Stir the mixture until it is smooth, then cover the container tightly and let it stand in a warm place until the starter is full of bubbles, has a bit of clear or grey (not pink-- see caution above) liquid on the top, and smells pleasantly sour (it will get a sharper tang with age). It will take from two to five days to achieve this.

TO STORE THE STARTER, keep the tightly-covered jar in the refrigerator (you can also freeze it for several months). REFRESH once a week, or AT LEAST every 3 weeks, if you use it infrequently. (See below.)

EVERY TIME YOU USE THE STARTER, replace the amount you used with equal amounts of warm water/soymilk mixture (1/2 & 1/2), and unbleached flour.

For instance, if you use 1 c. of the starter, you should have about 1/3 c. of the starter left in the jar. You add back to the jar 1 c. warm water/soymilk mixture (1/2 & 1/2), and 1 c. of unbleached flour. Stir it up, cover the jar, and set it on the kitchen counter for about 8-12 hours, or until it's bubbly again, then refrigerate it until the next time you use it.

TO INCREASE THE STARTER, if you want to make a larger recipe or give it away, you can add up to 10 c. EACH of water/soymilk mixture (1/2 & 1/2) and unbleached flour to 1 c. of starter. Use a LARGE container or bowl-- the starter may QUADRUPLE in size, then fall. It will take about 2 days for this much to get bubbly and form a clear liquid on top.

YOU CAN USE OTHER FLOURS FOR STARTERS, but the white one is the most versatile. If you make rye bread, or buckwheat pancakes, often, you can make rye, Durham semolina, or buckwheat flour starters, or a wholewheat starter. You can also make spelt flour starter. But you can use the white flour starter in a rye or wholewheat bread, or a buckwheat pancake batter-- it only adds 1 c. or so of white flour and you can use wholegrain for the rest.

YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO LET THE STARTER COME TO ROOM TEMPERATURE BEFORE USING it in recipes, but I often use it cold and use very warm liquids in the recipe to compensate-- I haven't had any trouble with using it this way.

After using the starter for a while, IF IT BECOMES TOO LIQUIDY, add a bit more flour in proportion to the liquid when you add the ingredients back into it.


TO "FRESHEN" THE STARTER AFTER NOT USING IT FOR SOME TIME, discard or use most of it, leaving just enough to get it going again (1/4-1/3 c. for a quart jar). Add equal amounts of warm water/soymilk mixture (1/2 & 1/2) and unbleached flour. Stir it up and let it stand on the kitchen counter until it gets bubbly again, as instructed above.

If it doesn't bubble after a day or so, it's probably dead, and you'll have to start over again. Watch out for colored liquid-- anything other than clear or grey means it should be discarded.

IF YOUR STARTER IS OLD, FRESHEN IT AS ABOVE, BUT YOU MAY HAVE TO REPEAT IT FOR THREE OR MORE DAYS IN A ROW TO GET IT REALLY BUBBLY AGAIN. Do a small amount first, then gradually increase the amount. If it still seems sluggish after two days of freshening, you can add  a tablespoon of sugar and/or 2 T. mashed potato flakes (just this once—you don’t need to keep adding them later on).

FROZEN STARTER must stand at room temperature for 24 hours before using.



Dori said...

I've made the sourdough before and I think I'll try it again. I got tired of playing with mine and let it go bad. It is nice to hear your earth shaking memories connected with them.

Isil Simsek said...

I love baking breads. Thanks for sharing the tips for making sourdough.

spiceislandvegan said...


You are inspiring me! Did you add 500 mg vitamin C? Why and what is it for? That's odd. I have never heard of adding vitamin to bread.


Bryanna Clark Grogan said...

SIV, the vitamin C is a bakers' way of adding acid to dough. Acid (including sourdough and lemon juice) is a "dough conditioner", which makes bread light, which this bread is supposed to be.

Anonymous said...

Do you have instructions for making this by hand? I would love that as I don't have or want a bread maker.
thank you so much for the detailed info.
I can't wait to make this !

Bryanna Clark Grogan said...

Anonymous: you can certainly make this in the oven! Just rise your sponge overnight, then add the rest of the ingredients and knead at least 10 minutes. Let it rise until double in a warm place. Shape into a loaf and place in a greased 9 x 5" loaf pan. Let rise until just over the top of the pan. Slash with a razor blade and squirt the top with a spray of water. Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes, or til nicely browned. You can make a braided bread out of this, too.

spiceislandvegan said...


Do you use 500 mg vitamin C from your vitamin tablet or do you buy a powder form?

Or, maybe there is a special vitamin C for baking purposes?

It is interesting that I have never heard about it. Thanks so much for sharing your valuable information. Obviously, I am not familiar with baking bread. The staple of my diet is rice. I am learning something new everyday.


Bryanna Clark Grogan said...

Nothing special-- I just crush a 500 mg tablet between two spoons!

Anonymous said...

At the risk of appearing entirely superficial, I must say that your grandfather is so handsome and quite dashing! Can you tell us about his artwork?

Bryanna Clark Grogan said...

Yes, he was quite the dandy until he died, in his late 80's-- always the dapper suit, tie, and hat. He was a muralist, painter and silkscreen artist. He painted murals in theaters from Mexico to Alaska, and some of the backgrounds in the Museum of Natural History in San Francisco. He painted in oil, too-- his California redwoods were quite well known. He also was a co-inventor of a particular type of silkscreening. A fellow in Switzerland is writing a book about the history of silkscreening, and has been corresponding with us about this. My mother is also an artist, though she specialized in portraits. My grandfather taught her the art of painting on gold leaf, which gives a very special effect. She has done some beautiful gold leaf paintings.

spiceislandvegan said...


You have interesting stories and histories in your family. I will look it up (the mural, I mean) if I ever go to San Francisco again.

I met your mother and didn't know that she is an artist but we had nice conversations.

So far, I experienced earthquakes in California but 've never been close to the epicenter. I cross my finger that I would not ever experience it. :-)


Anonymous said...

Hi Bryanna!
I just found your blog. I miss you. Hope you're doing great. The sourdough starter looks awesome.


tokyovegan said...

Hi, Bryanna.
First, let me say I really appreciate your site! I made your Levantine Sanieh last week, and it was out of this world.
After wanting to try sourdough for months, I've finally found the time and energy. The starter (whole wheat bread flour with added rye) looks like it's supposed to, and I've now got the sponge going in the bread machine. Only problem is no vitamin c in the house. May I substitute lemon juice or something else?
2 more questions: Is it possible to make pumpernickel bread with this, too?
How do you cover the window on the inside of the bread maker without the foil falling into the dough? Can I just place the foil on top of the pan?

Bryanna Clark Grogan said...

Thanks, tokyovegan! You could try adding a couple of tablespoons of lemon juice.

I just lay a piece of foil over the top of the pan, as you say-- sorry I wasn't clear about that!

I haven't made pumpernickel in a bread machine-- I usually make the very compact sourdough, slow-rise, slow-bake type, like Dutch pumpernickel-- the recipe is here;


tokyovegan said...

Hi, Bryanna. I have really been enjoying experimenting with your starter. My neighborhood bakery makes apple puffs by rolling the sourdough thin and putting a 1/4 piece of baked apple inside with maple syrup and slitting the top so it looks so beautiful like a leaf after baking. May I use your starter as is to try to make my own apple puffs, or would you recommend another recipe?
Thanks always,

tokyovegan said...

Dear Bryanna.
Apologies for asking one comment after another! I have 2 more questions:
1. When you have an excess of starter, can it be used (baked and eaten) as is, rather than throwing it away?
2. Can sunflower seeds and other kinds of seeds (pumpkin, flax, poppy) be added to any bread recipe? If so, should it be at any particular point in the baking cycle?

Bryanna Clark Grogan said...

No problem, William! You can freeze excess starter to make new starter with. Or, yes, bake with it. You can add seeds, etc. to many bread recipes, but you'll just have to experiment with the amounts, because it depends on your taste. Start with 1/4 cup per loaf, perhaps. happy baking!

daniel essman said...

i make a very successful sourdough starter using organic raisins, water, flour...takes about a week to ten days...mix 'em up in a clean canning jar...i love the evolution(s)of the wild yeast(s)...
dan essman