Caroline Schiff was thinking beyond the sandwich during the pandemic sourdough frenzy, when hundreds of hobby bakers were debating what to do with yet another loaf of bread. The chief pastry chef at Brooklyn’s Gage & Tollner was experimenting with sourdough’s intriguing complexity in brownies and its crisp promise in streusels, concluding that the method merits a place in the dessert canon. Her research resulted in The Sweet Side of Sourdough, a cookbook that appeared just as many of us were perplexed by the sourdough starter at the back of the refrigerator, wondering how many boules and pizzas we’d have to eat to keep it alive for another winter.
The book demonstrates that sourdough’s sweet side isn’t limited to bread (although there is a salted honey focaccia and a dark chocolate walnut boule). It also includes instructions for enhancing the flavour and texture of shortbreads, tart crusts, and blintzes. I asked Schiff why sourdough is such an important ingredient in sweets, as well as some of her favourite underutilised applications for the leftovers, which ranged from granola to onion rings.
When most people think of sourdough, they think of bread. Why should individuals start experimenting with sourdough?
Sourdough is quite adaptable, and it should be viewed as both an ingredient and a method of leavening baked goods. And bread is such a broad category. Consider how many delectable foods belong under the bread category yet aren’t savoury, crusty loaves! Doughnuts, cinnamon buns, brioche, and babka. It’s limitless, and sourdough can work in so many of them.
What role does the sourdough starter play in something like a tart crust or a shortbread cookie?
Sourdough gives taste depth, crispiness, and chewiness in all the right places. My chocolate chip cookies are a prime example. They have crispy edges and a delightfully chewy core, as well as an almost savoury character that lends them a distinct je ne sais quoi.
What role does sourdough play in the pastries you produce at Gage & Tollner?
I enjoy slipping sourdough into the meal whenever possible. Obviously, we bake crusty miche bread for dinner service every day, but I’ve been known to sneak it into a few sweet treats here and there. My personal favourite is the malted chocolate torte, which is also included in the book and has been modified for home chefs. I use sourdough in the filling, and it’s amazing how beautifully it complements both the dark and light chocolates.
For lunch today, I prepared your savoury sourdough reject pancake. It’s delicious, and it inspired me to feed my starting. Are there any other uncomplicated things you like to do with trash?
This makes me really pleased! Another popular use is to combine the trash with a little plain seltzer and use it as a light batter for homemade onion rings. Seriously, it’s fantastic. I also include it into my homemade granola before baking, which results in these extremely crispy, toasted clusters. And I’m just interested in granola for the clusters.