“Sourdough: Recipes for Rustic Fermented Breads, Sweets, Savories and More.” By Sarah Owens. Roost Books. $35

As the name suggests, “Sourdough: Recipes for Rustic Fermented Breads, Sweets, Savories and More,” is a tribute to the benefits of using sourdough – and plants – as ingredients for baking.

A self-described gardener-baker, Sarah Owens studied horticulture at the New York Botanical Garden’s School of Professional Horticulture and became the rosarian at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

City living was an adjustment for Owens, who grew up on a farm in the hills of east Tennessee. It was during this period of urban life that she experienced severe digestive distress and began trying to heal herself through nutrition. She found that converting a disease-ridden, chemically dependent rose garden to an organic oasis of insects was analogous to what she needed to do for her own body.

According to her account in “Sourdough,” she healed herself by changing her eating habits: eliminating processed foods, creating recipes with ingredients from her garden and embracing the dynamics of fermentation and microbial communities. She attributes the biggest positive impact on her digestive health to adding sourdough to her diet.

The book, a hardback, contains recipes for baking with seasonal produce and fermented dough to create baked goods that range from artisan breads to pastries. Many of the herbs, flowers and even weeds called for in the recipes, such as Dandelion and Chive Popovers, Salsify Latkes and Geranium-Scented Cake, are unusual in baking.


In addition to the recipes, “Sourdough” has information on baking tools, terminology, techniques and fermentation. Wonderful photographs throughout illustrate the baked goods, the plants used in the recipes and the wide variety of Owens’ baking tools.

Don’t expect to whip up recipes from “Sourdough.” These breads and other baked goods require time to make, both to gather the ingredients and let fermentation take its course.

The book is full of information that is worth taking time to read, absorb and understand before plunging into the recipes. With quotes from Walt Whitman and Wendell Berry, and the Latin names for plants, it is a nature and botanical primer, and it’s a pleasure to read.

The recipes list ingredient amounts in grams, making a digital scale an essential tool for using the book. Without one, converting grams to cups (weight to volume) may be an exercise in conversion frustration – and I speak from experience.

After making approximate conversions to cups and tablespoons for a recipe from “Sourdough” (I’ve included them with the recipe), I’ve added a kitchen digital scale to my wish list of baking tools.

Since we often bake traditional sourdough bread in our family, we opted to try a sweet sourdough recipe that calls for herbs we grow in our garden. The Parsley and Herb Doughnuts were a tasty spring treat. The dough was soft and smooth and had a wonderful fresh scent of parsley and mint. The sweet orange glaze complemented the dougnuts’ herb flavors. We opted to bake the doughnuts, but the recipe has directions for frying, too. When baked, the doughnuts look like health food.



You must have sourdough starter in order to make this recipe. I used my own starter as Owens’ recipe is long and complicated, requiring seven days of attention and tinkering. Also, be forewarned that you must start a day ahead; these doughnuts won’t work for a spontaneous Sunday brunch.

Yields 12 doughnuts


115 grams unsalted butter, softened (about 1/2 cup)

45 grams fresh parsley (3+ tablespoons chopped)


25 grams whole fresh mint or lemon balm leaves (2 tablespoons chopped)

50 grams granulated sugar (1/4 cup)

1 large egg

45 grams fresh parsley juice (3+ tablespoons, can substitute water or milk if you don’t have a juicer)

45 grams whole milk (3+ tablespoons)

145 grams hydration starter (1/2+ cup)


360 grams unbleached flour (3 cups)

Pinch salt


30 grams fresh orange juice (1/8 cup)

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

90 grams confectioners’ sugar (about 3/4 cup)


To make the doughnuts, blend the butter and herbs in a food processor. Add sugar, egg, parsley juice and milk and pulse to combine. Add the starter and pulse to form a slurry.

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour and salt, then add the slurry mixture to the dry ingredients, mixing with your hand until a soft dough comes together. Cover the dough and allow to ferment for 3 to 4 hours. (I assumed at room temperature, which is what I did, although the directions did not specify.)

On a floured surface, pat the dough into a 10-inch round about 3/4-inch thick. With a doughnut cutter (another tool I don’t have, so I used a 3-inch biscuit cutter and made holes in the center), cut out rounds and shape 12 doughnuts. Place on a lined baking sheet, cover with plastic and refrigerate overnight, setting on the counter 1 hour before baking.

To bake: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Bake for 20 minutes until the bottoms are golden. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then dunk into the glaze.

To fry: Heat at least 2 inches oil in large cast iron skillet over high heat until the thermometer reads 375 degrees F, about 10 minutes. Place no more than 3 doughnuts into the hot oil at one time and fry for 5 to 6 minutes, flipping half way through. The doughnuts will be a deep golden brown when ready to remove. Drain on a plate lined with a paper towel. Allow to cool for 10 minutes then dunk into the glaze. Be sure oil returns to the appropriate temperature before resuming frying.

Prepare the glaze: Put the orange juice and vanilla in a small bowl. Sift the confectioners’ sugar over them and stir to combine. Run through a sieve to remove any lumps.



1 package (or scant 1 tablespoon) dry yeast

2 1/2 cups warm water, divided

2 cups unbleached flour

1 tablespoon sugar

Soften the yeast in 1/2 cup warm water. Add the remaining water, the flour and sugar and beat until smooth. Place in a large glass or ceramic bowl. Do not use a metal bowl. Cover with cheesecloth or a towel and let stand in a warm place until it begins to bubble, 24 to 48 hours. (Discard the starter and start over if signs of fermentation have not begun.)

Stir well, cover and let stand several days or until mixture becomes foamy. Stir well and place in a glass jar, cover and refrigerate. When liquid rises to the top, the starter is ready to use. Stir well before using.

The starter can be stored for several weeks without using but after that, if not used regularly, add a tablespoon of sugar and stir well every 2 weeks. To replenish the starter, replace what you have used with amounts of flour and water equal to amount of starter you used. When used regularly, the starter will keep indefinitely.

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