Sourdough baking sees rise in popularity during COVID-19 pandemic

Sourdough has become popular during the COVID-19 pandemic. But for Ione Christensen, sourdough is not a new trend. The 86-year-old Whitehorse woman has baked with sourdough for most of her life.

'There's been a rush on yeast, it's like toilet paper, it's a popular item'

Baking with sourdough has become popular during the pandemic. (Submitted by Karl De Smedt)

Sourdough has become popular during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you scroll through your social media feed, you might find dozens of photos of sourdough loaves. 

But for Ione Christensen, sourdough is not a new trend. The 86-year-old Whitehorse woman has baked with sourdough for most of her life.

The sourdough starter Christensen uses has been passed down through her family since the Klondike Gold Rush. Since then, sourdough has had a strong connection to Yukon. New Yukoners earn the nickname "Sourdough" after they make it through their first winter.

Like many during the pandemic, Christensen has been baking for family and friends a lot recently.

"I've been making cookies and cinnamon buns and bread and my hot cakes, of course, every Sunday," she said.

Ione Christensen's waffles are made with a sourdough starter that's been alive since at least 1898. She recently cooked a special breakfast for Karl de Smedt, a sourdough librarian. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

Sourdough uses wild yeast and Christensen said with baking ingredients in short supply, people are turning to sourdough.

"There's been a rush on yeast. It's like toilet paper. It's a popular item," Christensen said with a laugh. 

Two years ago, part of Christensen's starter was sent to the Puratos Sourdough Library in Belgium to join the collection. The DNA in the starter's yeast was tested to find where it originated. 

Karl De Smedt is the sourdough librarian.

He said besides the rush on yeast, sourdough is popular because people are at home and have the time.

Christensen with Karl De Smedt, who collects samples of sourdough from around the world, tests and studies them, then stores them at the Puratos Sourdough Library in eastern Belgium for the future. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

De Smedt is a popular guy these days too. 

"You have no idea. I get constantly questions on Facebook, on Instagram, through Messenger, WhatsApp, about people asking for tips and tricks," he said.

De Smedt's top tips for getting your sourdough starter going include cleaning the inside of the jar, keeping the starter between 20 and 35 degrees and feeding it every day for the first week with the same amount of flour and water. 

After that, the starter can be fed the night before you use it. 

Ione Christensen's 1898 sourdough starter, which her great-grandfather may have picked up in Alaska. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

Even though many parts of life are disrupted at the moment, there's some comfort in sourdough and the fact Christensen will still be making sourdough hotcakes every Sunday.

Sourdough recipes

Christensen has handed out little packets of dried sourdough starter over the years. Along with the packet, there is a two-page hand out with her family's connection to the 120-year-old starter and recipes for her hotcakes and waffles. 

These recipes come from that hand out. 

The night before you bake with the starter, add two cups of warm water, two cups of flour and two tablespoons of sugar to the starter.

Place in a warm area to work overnight. 

In the morning, take out half a cup of starter and put back in the container. Christensen says to always save some of your starter before you start making anything.

Sourdough Hotcakes

Remaining starter

1 egg

2 tbsp. melted shortening

2 tbsp. sugar

1 tsp. salt 

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tbsp. warm water

1. Gently mix all ingredients except baking soda and water.

2. Mix baking soda and warm water together.

3. Fold baking soda and water mixture into batter.

4. Bake on griddle.

Christensen says it will serve five. 

Sourdough Waffles 

Remaining starter 

3 eggs

1/2 cup oil

2 tbsp. corn meal (optional)

1/2 tsp. salt

1 tbsp. baking soda 

1/8 cup warm water

1. Beat eggs, oil, salt and corn meal together.

2. Add mixture to starter.

3. Mix baking soda and warm water together. You might need more or less water depending on the consistency of your batter. Should lift firmly on your spoon. Not too thin and not too thick.

4. Fold baking soda mixture into batter. 

5. Bake in waffle iron. 

Note: you can separate eggs and beat whites then fold them in just before adding soda. 

Will serve five.