Sourdough Starter and Vegan English Muffins–Spelt or Gluten-Free

by Maria Theresa Maggi on October 23, 2014

Vegan Spelt Sourdough  English MuffinsGluten Free Vegan Sourdough English  Muffins

I haven’t been much of a television watcher in my adult life. Back in the days when you could get public television reception without paying for cable and there weren’t a million stations anyway, that was good enough for my son and me–at least most of the time. The one notable exception to that back in the 90s caused me to capitulate and pay for TV. My boyfriend’s favorite show was Northern Exposure, and he wanted us to be able to watch it together at my house. Skeptical though I was to begin with, I still regard some of those episodes as the best TV I’ve ever watched.

One of my favorites is a late fall episode in which the citizens of Cicely bulk up on extra pounds in anticipation of the coming Winter by ordering extra pancakes, fries and chocoate cake at The Brick. I can’t remember if any of the customers at The Brick were ordering English Muffins slathered in butter, but nevertheless they seem like perfect cold weather comfort food to me. Even better when they can be low fat, vegan, and, if necessary, gluten free. Oh, and not taste like cardboard. The best way to make sure of this is to make them myself.

I’ve had great fun learning how to do just that. I also have a request from a reader to share my Spelt English Muffin template. But I didn’t want to do that until I finished an experiment to see if the same basic English Muffin recipe could be made gluten free. Now that I’ve boldly gone where my recipe source only suggested it might be possible to go, I can show how to make them either with spelt or with gluten free flours.

Since this is slow food, we have to start by making a sourdough starter. There are tons of tutorials on the internet. I’ll refer to a few that have been helpful for me, and show you some photos, so you know what it can look like, and what the difference in looks is between a  white spelt starter, a whole spelt starter, and a gluten free starter. Getting your starter going will take a few days. But once it’s bubbly, you’re ready to go. You can store it in the fridge and feed it once a week. When you’re ready to make another batch of muffins, just take it out and bring it to room temperature and feed it. When it’s all bubbly and active again, you’re ready to use it.

You can make starter simply by mixing up equal amounts of flour and water and letting it sit at room temperature, lightly covered. A good place to keep it is on top of the refrigerator. You can cover it with a cloth, or a lid. You can stir it once of twice the first day, or leave it alone. After 24-48 hours, you can feed it more flour and water. Usually it’s a little more flour and an little less water, say, 1/2 cup of flour and 1/3 cup of water.

Sometimes fruit is added to the starter as a way of encouraging the yeast to grow. The first recipe for starter I used at The Sit Down Cook, said to put a thumb-sized piece of rhubarb in the starter. I tried that with great results. There’s also something called a pineapple juice starter.  You can see a great video about how to make that here, on Breadtopia. There is also an excellent spelt sourdough bread recipe on that site. And finally, you can add lightly mashed grapes to the mix. The simplest formula is equal parts grapes, flour and starter. Here is a simple “recipe for doing just that.

If this sounds complicated and difficult, it’s not. The truth is, it’s pretty darn hard to mess up a starter. I rarely measure and have done all kinds of experimenting and it always goes live. The main thing is to keep it in a glass or even plastic container, stir it once or twice a day, and feed it once or twice a day. Twice is good while you’re trying to activate it after the initial 24 or 48 hours. If this sounds vague, it’s because it’s pretty hard to mess it up if you forget to stir or feed one of the times, or even for one day. It will just take a little longer.  Here are two photos of active spelt starter:

active whole spelt sourdough starter

Active whole spelt sourdough starter


Active white spelt sourdough starter

Active white spelt sourdough starter

Gluten-free sourdough starter is made in exactly the same way, but it looks a little different. Instead of getting stringy and stretchy, it bubbles and make a slight dome in the bowl:

Active Gluten-Free Sourdough Starter

Active Gluten-Free Sourdough Starter

I took my cue about how to make a gluten free sourdough starter from this great how-to post on wholenewmom. I also added some grapes to my starter. I used a combination of sorghum flour and sweet white rice flour. The rice flour seemed most receptive to becoming starter, so I recommend using white or brown rice flour. Once you have your starter going, hop on over to this incredible guest post by Erin on GNOWFGLINS for how to make the English Muffins. I use Erin’s directions, except I used almond milk or watered down almond yogurt, and a little less salt. I added a tablespoon of ground golden flax and a tablespoon of millet to the dough. When it came time to add the sweetener, salt and baking soda and knead the dough, I did not oil the counter or my hands. Instead I emptied the risen dough out onto a sheet of baking parchment sprinkled with rice flour. Spelt dough has shorter gluten strands than wheat or rye, so I used a method called stretch and fold in place of traditional kneading. You can see how to do that here in this Breadtopia video. It’s slower than traditional kneading, but it works like a charm. And really these muffins don’t need vigorous kneading at all. Both spelt and gluten free dough are more wet than wheat dough is, so it’s perfectly fine for it to be a wet mess. They will still come out.

(Note: in the gluten-free version, I also added a teaspoon of baking powder along with the salt, sweetener and baking soda. I’m not sure if this is necessary, but it’s often added to gluten-free recipes, so I decided to use a little for good measure.)

One simple tool that made my sticky dough mixing life a heck of a lot easier is this–a danish dough whisk. If you  really want to get into this dough thing, I highly recommend investing the eleven or so bucks for one.

danish dough whisk

What follows are a few photographs I took as I was making the gluten free batch of muffins. The first two batches I made were spelt and I had no idea I was going to write a post about it so I only took pictures of the finished product because I was so thrilled with how they raise in the pan and how good they tasted. Erin, the source of the recipe I use and linked to above, had not tried to make these gluten free, so I figured it was worth documenting where this English muffin recipe had never went before. Here are the blobs of dough after it has risen overnight and  the sweetener is added. The gluten free dough cannot reallly be kneaded, even in stretch and fold style, like the spelt can, however gently. Nevertheless, they both look pretty similar to this after being cut into blobs with a pizza cutter or a dough scraper:


Here are the muffins after having been shaped into rustic muffins with a little extra flour. They rest like this for about 45 minutes to an hour.

gluten free sourdough muffins before cooking

Here are the muffins starting to cook on medium heat in a non-stick skillet:

gluten free vegan sourdough English muffins cooking

And here they are flipped over, all golden and toasty:

gluten free sourdough english muffins

And yes, the gluten-free ones puff up just like the spelt ones did!

If you’re worried these babies will tempt you back to butter and jam, let me assure you they are spectacular untoasted and plain. They are great with eggless salad or scramble –you can put any kind of sandwich filling or veggies burger in them too. You can have bread that’s oil free, vegan, homemade, and, if necessary, gluten free. You can add raisins or other dried fruit and cinnamon if you like. I tried that with the gluten free ones and they were delicious. If you don’t need to stay away from wheat, you can also make your starter and your muffins with wheat or even rye flour. It’s all good. For a special treat, use a small dab of nut butter and top with apple or pear or banana slices. Or just use the fruit.

The cold weather’s coming. I looked for a scene online from Northern Exposure where the characters are happily bulking up at The Brick for the winter, but I couldn’t find one. I did, however, find what might be the end of that episode.  You can watch the citizens of Cicely welcoming the first snowfall of the year here, and know that when the snow flies where you live, or the temperature drops, you’ve got a homemade English muffin recipe techmique at the ready. And I’ll wager, though it IS bread, it’s tastier and more healthy than anything you can buy in a package (or order at The Brick).

Bon Hiver. Well, almost.

Maria (moonwatcher)


Leave a Comment

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Nicole O'Shea October 24, 2014 at 10:18 am

Yummers! You are a baking magician, Maria. Also – Northern Exposure is the best. Might have to start watching that while I paint soon…xoxox Nicole


2 moonwatcher October 24, 2014 at 2:10 pm

Thanks, Nicole! Ah, Northern Exposure. So nice we share that love, too. Sounds like a good show to paint by. 🙂


3 Pam October 24, 2014 at 10:56 am

I love the way you continue to experiment with things. These look great!


4 moonwatcher October 24, 2014 at 2:10 pm

Thanks, Pam! Kind of can’t help myself. I just love to cook. And bake. 🙂


5 Barbara October 24, 2014 at 1:46 pm

I have been looking for a vegan English muffin recipe forever! Specifically, one that didn’t require making those aluminum rings because the dough was so liquid! I have made English muffins many times, but just never had a good recipe for the vegan (or gluten-free) kind. Will definitely be trying this recipe out as soon as I get some spelt flour. Many thanks!!


6 moonwatcher October 24, 2014 at 2:09 pm

Welcome, Barbara–so happy you are happy to find this recipe! Hope it works for you. I, too, did not want to fiddle with making or buying rings. Too much fuss. Let us know how it goes. We’ll learn from each other. 🙂


7 Veronica October 24, 2014 at 3:12 pm

This is a fantastic post!! I’ve never been patient enough to pull off a successful sourdough starter (mainly because I just didn’t bake often enough and never used what I had started). But you’ve inspired me to start baking at home again. 🙂 I love how you tried both spelt and gluten free! We recently acquired a boatload of fresh jams and jellies and have been wondering how to use them up… Muffins sound pretty perfect. Stay toasty!! xoxo


8 moonwatcher October 24, 2014 at 3:43 pm

Thanks so much, Veronica! Glad it inspires you to try your hand at home baking again. Though it’s not a super fast process, it really is pretty hard to mess these up. I bet they’d go great with your fresh jams and jellies. 🙂 You stay toasty too! 🙂


9 moonwatcher October 24, 2014 at 7:54 pm

I’ve just added a note to the post above that in the gluten-free version I added an additional teaspoon of baking powder to Erin’s recipe at the point the sweetener, salt and baking soda are added to the dough.


10 Gena October 30, 2014 at 7:02 pm

These look truly delicious. I do not have a track record of patience with homemade breads, but you are inspiring me!


11 moonwatcher October 30, 2014 at 7:38 pm

Thanks, Gena! I’m happy these inspire you to try! I have always loved to bake, and I am really enjoying it all over again.


12 Genet March 8, 2016 at 7:30 am

These look lovely !
So did you add ground flax and millet FLOUR or was it whole millet ? And did you add those to the spelt version as well, or just the gluten free ?
Thanks for the post and thanks for sharing !


13 Maria Theresa Maggi March 8, 2016 at 8:47 am

Hi Genet–thank you for your question. It’s been a while since I’ve made these, but reading back over what I wrote helped me remember I personally did grind the golden flax seeds in both versions, and the millet I added to the spelt version was whole millet. In the gluten free version, I made the starter as per the link for how to do that, and I most likely used a mixture of brown rice, millet and potato or tapioca starch for the actual dough, roughly 2/3 flours and 1/3 starch, although I can’t remember exactly, I just remember being thrilled they puffed up despite not being able to knead them in any way, which means the starter worked :). . .I don’t see why a little whole millet can’t be added to the gluten free version as well–it’s really for texture and a little crunch. Hope that helps.


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