Sourdough discard can be used for lots of tasty treats

April 22, 2022

During the pandemic, my friend Marie honed her skills as a bread baker. When she and her husband arrived in Lewes for a recent weekend visit, she brought a beautiful sourdough boule and crackers made from “sourdough discard.” She packaged and tagged the triangle-shaped crackers for me to take to a bake sale, and by the time they left on Sunday, we had eaten most of the crusty, tangy loaf (still intact in the photo).

For those of you familiar with the history of sourdough, you may know that it is the oldest type of leavened bread. Egyptians were using sourdough cultures for bread baking over 4,000 years ago (skillful in the practice of fermentation, they were also master brewers). A combination of flour, water and naturally occurring yeast (not an added packet of the commercial stuff) is the source of sourdough’s leavening power.

The initial fermentation may take a week or more as the yeast consumes the flour, creating a food source for lactic bacteria. They, in turn, create an acidic environment tolerable only to the yeast. This gives the dough its sharp flavor as well as encouraging the proliferation of yeast, creating generous amounts of carbon dioxide and ethanol to leaven the dough.

Each batch of starter will impart a slightly different flavor, based on the specific varieties of yeast and bacteria in the mixture. Anyone who has visited San Francisco has likely tasted the distinctive tang of the city’s renowned sourdough bread. Its signature sourness comes from the happy coexistence of the bacteria Lactobacillus sanfrancisco and the yeast Candida milleri.

This teeming culture can persist for years if properly fed and stored. As you use the starter to make a loaf of bread or batch of muffins, you also need to feed it by adding fresh flour and water. In order to keep the starter healthy, manage its growth, and refresh the acidity levels, you will need to discard a portion of the existing mixture before feeding.

Although it’s called “discard,” the portion of starter removed to make room for feeding is exactly the same ingredient you would add to your bread dough and perfectly good to use in other recipes. Marie told me she found the cracker recipes on a website called The Pantry Mama, and she also tries the King Arthur Flour website for other discard ideas.

The value of the discard recipes is that they help you put the excess starter to good use, instead of dumping it into your compost bin or the trash. These recipes are typically for dishes you can assemble far more quickly than multi-day bread-baking recipes. And, if you want to create another starter, feed the discard in a separate container.

I’ve included a recipe for the crackers, which calls for a “cracker roller.” This device (found at houseware specialty shops and online retailers) is used to prick the dough into tidy triangle shapes, instead of using a fork or paring knife to cut the dough into shapes. Once the crackers are baked, you simply snap them apart along the perforations.

If you’re interested in growing your own sourdough starter, I would recommend the jars of fresh starter sold by King Arthur. They claim these are descendants of a New England batch they have been cultivating for decades. You may never choose to bake a loaf of sourdough, but you can use the tangy starter and the discard for all sorts of delicious treats.

Sourdough Crackers*

Fresh rosemary sprigs

220 g sourdough discard

80 g all-purpose flour

50 g whole-wheat flour

5 g salt

30 g softened butter

30 g shredded Parmesan cheese

20 g olive oil, for brushing

10 g sea salt, for topping

Preheat oven to 350 F. Strip the leaves from the rosemary stems; set aside. Combine sourdough discard, flour, butter, salt and Parmesan in a large bowl; work the mixture into a pliable dough. Divide the dough in half and form each into a ball. Place each ball onto a piece of parchment paper large enough to line a baking sheet. Flatten the dough into a rough rectangle using your hands. Sprinkle each piece of dough with rosemary and gently push the leaves into the dough. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough into a 1/16-inch-thick rectangle. Using a cracker roller, perforate the dough into triangles. Place each parchment paper with dough on a baking sheet. Lightly brush the top of the dough with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Bake until golden, about 25 minutes. Cool the crackers on a rack before breaking into individual pieces. *Adapted from The Pantry Mama.


Sourdough Biscuits*

1 C all-purpose flour

2 t baking powder

3/4 t salt

8 T cold butter

1 C sourdough discard

Place the rack in the upper third and preheat oven to 425 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside. In a large bowl, stir together flour, baking powder and salt. Add the butter and work into the flour with a pastry cutter until the mixture is crumbly. Add the starter and mix gently until a soft dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and pat it into a 6-inch round about 1-inch thick. Use a biscuit cutter to cut a total of 6 rounds, combining scraps as needed. Place the biscuits onto the prepared baking sheet two inches apart. Bake until golden, about 20 to 23 minutes. Serve warm, or allow them to cool before wrapping for storage. *Adapted from King Arthur Flour.


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