How to use your sourdough starter for so much more than bread!
Discard or excess, whatever you call it, the extra starter can be used in almost everything you bake
I'm a lapsed sourdough bread baker — from ten years past, long before the surge of cookbooks, blogs and even bakeries dedicated to the production of slow-fermented bread in North America. The trio of flour, water and salt is the purest form of bread making (and remains the sort of "back to basics" nourishment we all crave during trying times). And long before the convenience of packaged yeast, wild yeast was available all around, floating freely through the air as it does to this day.
A starter is a living, and growing culture made of equal weights of flour and water that pulls natural strains of yeast from the air and slowly ferments. Think of it as a living agent that gives baked goods lift, life and that remarkable tang. Depending on how often you plan to bake with your starter, you can either keep it on the counter, feeding it once or twice a day, or refrigerate it for up to a week or two
Bottled, fed, discarded and fed again, the patterned cycle of the sourdough starter is a practice where you throw out much of the growth to make room for more life. (You don't want to become the parent of a volcanic growing blob!) While invigorating your starter is part of the maintenance, the act of discarding seems wasteful and a bit sad. So why throw out that gorgeous acidic flavour when it could be incorporated into your favourite baked goods?
To incorporate the discard into baking recipes, consider the hydration of your starter, there is no steadfast conversion, and you will need additional leavening agents for the rise. Remember, you're repurposing the starter instead of chucking it, it's a great way of adding a tangy and complex acidic flavour profile.
Any way you plan to reuse your starter, remember the joy is in the journey! Check out this video and very simple recipe for crackers made with sourdough discard, and see below for three more delicious ways to transform that discard.
First, some basic starter instructions
To sustain an active starter, discard 80 per cent of the starter and replace it with an equal amount of your flour (blend) and warm water (you want a thick mixture). Let stand in a warm environment until doubled (dot the container with a marker or place an elastic band to track the growth).
To nurture a refrigerated starter, let it stand at room temperature to acclimatize. Stir, then discard 80 per cent of the mixture, and replace it with an equal amount of your flour (blend) and room warm water, and let stand until it shows signs it needs feeding, (bubbling, doubling) in 12-14 hours. Repeat two to three times to build up the full strength before embarking on your recipe of choice.
Tip: Be sure to avoid old starter left unattended in the refrigerator; it needs to be refreshed for a few days before diving into any application. I prefer working with a mature, sweet bubbling starter or newly deflated mix for the best tasting results. For more tips, check out our article full of troubleshooting advice for sourdough stresses!
Waffle or pancake batter
The process begins the night before, but is super-easy.
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 3 tbsp granulated sugar
- 1 ¾ cups buttermilk
- 1 cup of sourdough starter discard
- 2 eggs
- ⅓ cup melted unsalted butter
- 1 tsp kosher salt or sea salt
- ¾ tsp baking soda
The night before: In a large bowl, stir together the flour and sugar. Stir in the buttermilk and starter until combined. Cover with a kitchen towel and leave at room temperature overnight.
In the morning, whisk together the eggs and butter in a small bowl. Whisk in salt and baking soda until combined. Stir into the flour mixture until just combined. The batter will immediately bubble and grow. Cook in a preheated waffle iron for waffles or skillet for pancakes by ½ cup portions.
The heavenly match of buttermilk and sourdough is the fermented equivalent of perfection.
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 ½ tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp kosher salt or sea salt
- ¼ tsp baking soda
- ⅓ cup cold unsalted butter
- ⅔ cup sourdough starter discard
- ½ cup buttermilk or sour cream
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda. Grate the butter into the mixture and then work it in with your fingers until coarse crumbs form. In a small bowl, whisk together the discard and and the buttermilk, then stir the wet mixture into the flour mixture, until it clumps into a shaggy, soft dough.
Turn the dough out onto an unfloured work surface, and pat it into a 1-inch square. Cut it into thirds and stack each, one on top of the other, pressing down and rolling to form a 1-inch thick rectangle. Halve lengthwise, then cut into rectangles, about 8 or 10 total. Freeze on a large plate for 10 minutes, then place the pieces on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Bake in a 425F degree oven until the biscuits are puffed and browned, about 20 to 22 minutes.
Here too, an overnight cold ferment really improves the flavour — and the dough's strength too.
The approximation that follows will depend on the type of flour you use; start with 3 cups and slowly add more if the dough is too sticky.
Mix ½ cup of sourdough discard into 1 ½ cups warm water to 3-3 ½ cups bread flour, 00 flour, or all-purpose flour, and add 2 ¼ teaspoons of kosher salt and ½ teaspoon of instant yeast. Stir all of the ingredients together and knead until smooth. Cover and ferment overnight in the refrigerator, then bring to room temperature before forming into 2-3 balls, and making your pizza.
Soo Kim is a Toronto-based professional cook and baker, writer, stylist and recovering food editor. Hungry for more? Follow her delicious stories on Instagram @soocookie.