Big Little Recipes

Turn Your Sourdough Starter Into 3-Ingredient Corn Fritters

July 21, 2020

A Big Little Recipe has the smallest-possible ingredient list and big everything else—flavor, creativity, wow factor. Psst: We don't count water, salt, black pepper, and certain fats (specifically, 1/2 cup or less of olive oil, vegetable oil, and butter), since we're guessing you have those covered. Today, we’re showing summer corn a good time.

Before I got this gig as an editor, I would wake up at two in the morning, drive along a pitch-black highway, only to arrive at an also pitch-black bakery, where I would feed a container of sourdough starter big enough to crawl inside and fall asleep.

I don’t do that anymore. In fact, after I stopped working as a baker, I stopped sourdough-ing altogether.

It wasn’t until this spring, when my favorite local bakery (and just about everything else in New Jersey) halted operations at the onslaught of COVID-19, that I tried my hand at sourdough again. That’s when I remembered what I forgot amid all those sleep-short nights:

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Top Comment:
“I also grew out a French brioche yeast I've been perpetuating since 2009; the other is sourdough buckwheat for pancakes, something my mother began doing many years ago. I've also tried fresh corn fritters --- very yummy, but I'm not sure about the maple syrup.”
— Sourdogal

Sourdough starters are fun.

Photo by Anna Billingskog

Like plants, they ask for just enough care to make you feel useful (productive! needed!). But unlike plants, they turn into something you can devour, still warm, with salted butter. If you’re new to the game, this recipe from Sarah Owens (award-winning author of a cookbook titled—you guessed it—Sourdough) is an unintimidating place to start.

The most obvious fate for sourdough starter is sourdough bread. But it’s useful to have other tricks up your sleeve. During the first couple months of sheltering in place, I made King Arthur Flour’s sourdough pancakes so many times that, eventually, I turned into a pancake, my husband turned into a pancake, our cat turned into a pancake, and there we were, a stack of buttery, syrupy pancakes with nowhere to go and, still, somehow, more sourdough starter that needed to be used up.

It was only a matter of time before I branched out. So I sourdough-ified any and all bread-y recipes on my radar, like Alexandra Stafford’s Genius No-Knead Loaf and her equally game-changing Overnight Cinnamon Buns.

But most recently, I’ve been on another diversion—a recipe that, in addition to sourdough, only needs two other ingredients, comes together in minutes, and is the definition of peak summer: corn fritters.

These are especially popular in the American South, where they also go by corn oysters, but their origin is pre-colonial. As Mimi Sheraton writes in 1,000 Foods to Eat Before You Die, “Native Americans had been roasting corn and grinding it into meal to make cakes...long before settlers adopted the practice and expanded the corn crop.”

Corn fritters, whether they’re plump like hushpuppies or flat like pancakes, “were born of a desire to stretch summer’s bounty by mixing corn into a fairly standard batter—flour, egg, baking powder, a little milk, sometimes beer for extra leavening—just before frying.”

Sheraton also notes that “the standard American recipe is so forgiving as to be impossible to mess up.” And I couldn’t agree more. This being a Big Little Recipe, most of the ingredients listed above, I skipped. These laid-back corn fritters have no baking powder or soda, no milk, no beer. Just corn kernels, eggs, and sourdough starter (made from flour, be it all-purpose or whole-wheat, and water).

The eggs provide yolky richness and lofty structure. Meanwhile, the sourdough starter offers bulk and binding—and because it’s alive, it also brings a tangy, fermented flavor, the perfect partner to peach-sweet corn.

Like all of those sourdough pancakes, these fritters are happy to be drowned in maple syrup or honey for breakfast. But they’re just as eager to hang out next to lettuces and vinaigrette, or a yogurty tomato salad, or grilled chicken thighs. Or just add a honking pinch of salt and call it a day, what a day, what a day.

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Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


CaptainGroovy January 25, 2021
I grew up on fritters of all kinds and in the summer corn and shrimp\ corn and clam\corn and crab claw meat\or months with a R corn and oyster were definte treats that were had with Sunday brunch after church. Anyway to cut the kernals off the ear of corn without shooting them all over the kitchen place a small block of wood (2.5"x2.5") or small bowl upside down in the bottom of a wide bowl of your choice (I use a 18" wide by 8" tall stainless steel bowl) to stand your ear of corn on (Note one of the advantages of useing a wood block besides protecting you knife blade from impacting a glass or ceramic bowl when cutting the kernels off the cob is you can put a stainless steel or aluminum spike to hol your ear of corn in place (my wood block is made out of oak and I drilled a small hole in the center of it and installed an aluminum nail that I then cut off so that 1/2" protudes with a rotary tool and sharpened it with file. Besides the bowl and block the other thing that makes life easier is a one of those corn on the cob prongs that you stick in each end to hold the corn with a small kitchen fork also works well. Once you have cut the kernals off the ear use the back side of you knife to "milk" some of the remaining "endosperm" and "bran" of the corn cob. As for the cob after cutting all the goodness off them put them in a zip top bag and save them in your freezer for the next time you cook on your grill and want to add some smokey flavor just toss one on the coals (or on your sizzle plate/lava rocks of you gas grill) and wait a couple of minutes for the smoke start and grill as normal.
Susan January 24, 2021
These sound fantastic, but it’s only me and my husband at home. Can this recipe be halved, or can you freeze them either baked off or unbaked?
Melanie July 26, 2020
If you use the back side of the knife on those “corners” you get more flesh off of the corn.
Sourdogal July 26, 2020
By happenstance, last week I used discarded sourdough from my Alaska batch to make fritters using half a bag of riced cauliflower (thawed, but a food processor would do the same thing), adding an egg, some chopped chives, a half tsp. of baking powder, and a little garlic powder, then frying them in a little olive oil in a cast iron skillet. They were a great side, savory, light and low carb. The leftovers were good warmed in the microwave and stayed fluffy. I also was a sourdough baker in the '90s, working at remote Alaska lodges. I have three strains I use for different purposes; the Alaska one came in a packet and supposedly dated from the Gold Rush. I also grew out a French brioche yeast I've been perpetuating since 2009; the other is sourdough buckwheat for pancakes, something my mother began doing many years ago. I've also tried fresh corn fritters --- very yummy, but I'm not sure about the maple syrup.
Cogar69 July 22, 2020
great idea and recipe! i have just enough starter to use and kids have been asking for corn cakes. would you salt them while mixing the batter vs. slating after?
Emma L. July 22, 2020
Hi, thanks! I add a couple pinches of salt to the eggs, and then sprinkle the fritters with another pinch of salt once they're out of the pan.
Melanie July 21, 2020
Microwaving the corn in the husk for about 5 minutes will make the “corn hairs” or silk come right off.
Emma L. July 22, 2020
Terri K. July 21, 2020
Hi! I love this. Could you use discard instead of active starter? Would you need something else to bulk up the rise?
Emma L. July 22, 2020
Hi! I call for active starter here because it acts as the leavening agent and helps lighten the fritters' texture. (With the discard pancakes I've made, I have to let the batter sit for awhile and then incorporate an additional leavening agent.) But! Personal preference. You could try a half-batch with discard and see what you think?
Judith R. July 21, 2020
Can I make this with zucchini? I have a bounty of it and a starter that needs to be fed?
Emma L. July 22, 2020
Yum! I think you would have to squeeze-dry the zucchini really well, to make sure the fritters don't get too watery, but worth a try! If you give it a go, please let me know how it turns out.
Tahinibear July 21, 2020
I would love to hear how you adapted the cinnamon buns for sourdough! Please?
Emma L. July 22, 2020
Hi! Not sure of the exact amount of sourdough I used for the buns, but my strategy is:

Add in X grams of sourdough starter, then subtract 1/2X from the flour and 1/2X from the water called for in the recipe (to account for the flour and water in the sourdough). So, say a recipe calls for 600 grams flour and 400 grams water, and I wanted to swap in 200 grams sourdough. I would subtract 100 grams (half of the sourdough) from the flour and subtract 100 grams (the other half of the sourdough) from the water. Which would turn into a hacked recipe of 500 grams flour, 300 grams water, and 200 grams sourdough.

I really wing it every time, depending on how much sourdough I have around, but it hasn't let me down yet!
elysab July 26, 2020
Is this the same thing you did for Alexandra Stafford's bread? Did you still add the yeast?
elysab July 26, 2020
Is this the same thing you did for Alexandra Stafford's bread? Did you still add the yeast?
Emma L. July 27, 2020
Yes! For Alexandra Stafford's No-Knead Bread, I usually swap in 200 to 400 grams of sourdough starter, and lower the yeast to 2 teaspoons.
Joanna S. July 21, 2020
Oh these are brilliant and I can't wait to try them!
Emma L. July 21, 2020
Thank you! <3