The Perfect Loaf is a column from software engineer-turned-bread expert (and Food52’s Resident Bread Baker), Maurizio Leo. Maurizio is here to show us all things naturally leavened, enriched, yeast-risen, you name it — basically, every vehicle to slather on a lot of butter. Today, pikelets made with sourdough starter discard.
Pikelets are small, round, griddle breads very reminiscent of pancakes or crumpets. They’re more common in Australia and the U.K., and are welcome anytime at my breakfast table. Their flavor is neither super-sweet nor savory, a middle ground amongst the syrup-drenched waffles and salty bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches out there. In terms of texture, they’re more dense and sturdy than you might first think when seeing one (they do look a lot like fluffy American pancakes), but they’re still soft inside.
Traditionally, pikelets are a simple mixture of flour, baking powder, milk, and egg; in my typical fashion, I like to work in a bit of sourdough starter discard, which is simply flour and water, after all. Using discard brings two benefits: first, tangy flavor; and second, while discard is totally edible, it accumulates every time you feed your starter, which can really add up.
These pikelets occupy their own space in the gamut of breakfast or brunch items that might appear on your kitchen table (and if they’ve never appeared there before, I’m hoping to change that). Let’s take a look at pikelets and why they’re so delicious — especially with a bit of added sourdough starter discard.
What’s the difference between pikelets and pancakes (or crumpets)?
At first glance, a pikelet might look exactly like a pancake. In fact, my kids reached up on the counter and exclaimed, “ooh, pancakes this weekend!” It wasn’t until I explained (though at that point they began voraciously eating and likely stopped listening) that pikelets land somewhere between the fluffy American pancake and the yeasty, porous crumpet more often seen in Europe. When compared to a pancake, they are smaller and denser and they don’t quite flop around in quite the same way. And conversely, unlike a crumpet, pikelets are not quite as open and porous, because crumpets use commercial yeast and a longer fermentation time to achieve their open interior — pikelets rely only on baking powder (and in the case of my recipe, perhaps a small contribution from the sourdough starter) for lift.
When compared to preparing other breakfast classics, such as muffins, scones, or yeasted crumpets, pikelets make for an easygoing weekend morning. I like to make them early and let them cool to room temperature, where they act as a filling breakfast that can be enjoyed leisurely with a cup of tea and a bit of the morning news. By contrast, the typical rushed play that is pancake-making involves trying to keep them warm as they come off the hot griddle and eating them hurriedly before pats of butter fail to fully melt to my satisfaction. Pikelets are the slow, lazy breakfast-maker’s best friend.
Why (and how) to use sourdough starter discard
As a bread baker, when I’m not baking sourdough loaves (which is rare, to be honest), I’m always looking for places to work in my sourdough starter discard. Because it’s simply fermented flour and water, it can be used in many different ways and can bring substantial flavor wherever it’s added. The sourness of the fermented flour and water acts somewhat like buttermilk in recipes like biscuits, scones, and (yes!) pancakes: it brings a tanginess that acts to highlight the flavors of the other ingredients.
When adding sourdough starter discard into a recipe, I like to think of the starter as a mostly equal blend of flour and water. But keep in mind that the fermented mixture will have less “life” left in it compared to using fresh flour. In other words, because the flour has fermented for potentially many hours, it won’t have the same gas-trapping properties as dry flour added right when mixing. This means it will likely result in less rise when cooking or baking — but with these pikelets, which are denser and more compact, that’s precisely the goal.
Recipe: Sourdough Pikelets
Can I use whole grains in pikelets?
Given the fact that pikelets are denser and sturdier than pancakes, I find they’re a great place to add in whole grains and not have to worry about a lack of volume. I’ve modified my sourdough pikelets recipe with up to 50% whole wheat flour for added nutrition and flavor — and they were fantastic. The added whole grains bring a robust flavor that works well with sweet toppings and makes for a heartier breakfast.
Whole-grain rye, spelt, or Khorasan are also great choices, each bringing a different flavor. If using rye, I would recommend first starting with only 10 to 15% of the flour in the recipe swapped out for rye, and adjusting that percentage up or down to suit your preference. Due to the low gluten properties of rye, its batter won’t bake up to the same lofty volume as when using wheat.
Add mix-ins to mix it up
While pikelets are different from pancakes, I’ve found any of the typical additions to a pancake batter work really well with pikelets. Blueberries, chopped apples or pears, even chocolate chips(!) all bring added sweetness and a new flavor profile. They can also be taken to the savory side with scallions, chopped bacon bits, or even caramelized onions. If going the savory route, I’d omit the sugar called for in the recipe to firmly plant them in that camp.
What toppings go well with pikelets?
Though you might drench a pancake in maple syrup, pikelets take more of the crumpet or scone route when it comes to toppings, practically begging to be spread with lemon curd, whipped cream, preserves straight from the jar, or even clotted cream. My favorite is a mixture of freshly whipped cream and lemon curd, which makes for a tasty combination of sweet and tangy, similar to the sourdough pikelet itself. I even made a quick blueberry compote using frozen berries and used that in combination with whipped cream for a seriously satisfying topping. The sturdy pikelet held up to the juicy fruit concoction, and a light squeeze of fresh Meyer lemon finished things off properly.