Do you have leftover sourdough starter? Don't throw it away - there are many delicious things you can make with the discarded portion of your starter!
It's a familiar scenario for anyone who's ever made sourdough bread: you measure out the required amount of starter, feed it, use what you need for the recipe, and then you're left with a bowl of unused starter. What now?
What are you supposed to do with the leftover sourdough starter?
Quite a lot!
There is no need to physically discard or compost your excess sourdough starter when there are so many creative ways to use it up!
This guide to using up leftover sourdough starter is dedicated to a lot.
What is Sourdough Discard?
In general terms, a sourdough starter is a mixture of flour and water that has been allowed to ferment. The process of fermentation allows the growth of beneficial bacteria and wild yeasts, which in turn gives sourdough bread its unique flavor, texture, and leavening power.
If you maintain a sourdough starter, you'll need to "feed" it on a regular basis to keep the wild yeasts and bacteria alive and active. The general rule of thumb is to feed your starter once a day when stored at room temperature, or once a week when stored in the fridge, although this may vary depending on how often you use it.
As part of the feeding process, you'll need to remove some of the existing starter before adding fresh flour and water. The amount you remove will depend on the size of your sourdough starter - for example, if you have a small starter, you might only need to remove a few tablespoons.
The unfed starter that is leftover after you've taken some starter to feed is often referred to as sourdough discard. You can think of it as the "waste" product from keeping a healthy sourdough starter; however, it's really anything but.
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Is Sourdough Discard Useful?
You shouldn't actually be discarding your extra sourdough starter! Discard is basically flour and water and flavor because it's full of wild yeast and bacteria just like your starter, which means it can be used to make all sorts of recipes - sweet or savory - to add a sourdough flavor and improve the texture.
Leftover sourdough discard is a fantastic ingredient to have on hand, and once you get into the habit of saving it, you'll be surprised at just how many ways you can put it to use.
While discard does not have the power to leaven bread it doesn't mean it's not useful to us, or that it can't be used in baking recipes. Discard can be used in bread recipes that call for yeast, it can be used in baked goods that rely on baking powder or baking soda for leavening, or it can be used in things that don't require rising like cookies and crackers.
How to Store Sourdough Discard
If you're not ready to use your discarded sourdough starter right away, don't worry, there are a few ways that you can store sourdough discard for future use.
The easiest way to store sourdough discard is at room temperature in a covered jar or container. If you're planning on using your discard within the next few days, this is the method for you. Just make sure that your container is covered so that your discard doesn't dry out.
Be aware though that as the yeast and bacteria consume the available food, they'll start to die off as the food supply dwindles causing the build-up of alcohols (HOOCH) and the flavor will quickly become overpowering. If your discard creates hooch, simply stir it in if you like the sour flavor or pour it off before using.
There are no preparations required for room temperature sourdough discard - it is ready to use when you are.
In my (un)professional opinion, storing excess starter in the fridge is the BEST way of keeping it.
I keep a labeled and dated container in the fridge and add discard to it each time I feed my sourdough starter. The bonus to storing it in the fridge is that it can be kept in there almost indefinitely. I mean, if something catastrophic happens, you could even use discard to REVIVE YOUR SOURDOUGH STARTER!
Yes, your fridge is cold and dark and it slows down yeast activity, but we know from PROOFING SOURDOUGH IN THE FRIDGE that it doesn't completely stop fermentation or flavor development.
Discard kept in the fridge will have a slightly different flavor than a warmer discard. This is because the bacteria continue to break down available starches into lactic and acetic acid increasing the sour flavor, while yeasts dominate the flavor profile at room temperature.
I prefer to use my discard within 7 days of the first addition to my discard container, otherwise, you risk too much sour flavor!
To use sourdough discard that's been stored in the fridge and place it on the counter to warm up for 2-3 hours before using it in your favorite sourdough discard recipes.
If you're baking a lot, or you get overtaken by sourdough starter cause you're not discarding as much as you should, you can definitely toss some of that leftover starter in the freezer.
Freezing is a great way to store a lot of discard for long periods of time (months!) without affecting the quality or flavor too much.
To freeze, transfer the discard to a labeled and dated freezer-friendly bag, squeeze the air out, and freeze the bag flat for later use. It is important to label, especially if you're like me and you have multiple different cultures in the freezer at all times, like rye sourdough starter and Amish Friendship Bread starter.
To use frozen discard, just pull it out of the freezer and let it thaw on the counter until completely warmed to room temperature before using.
How to Use Discard
There are all sorts of delicious recipes that make use of sourdough discard, so there's sure to be at least one great recipe for your tastes!
If you're in the mood for something sweet, try using your discard in sourdough pancakes or waffles drizzled in maple syrup. For something savory, put it to good use as a base for sourdough crackers or flatbreads.
My Favorite Sourdough Discard Recipes
These are my tried and true recipes for using up a large amount of discard. They're delicious and they keep me sourdough baking!
Sourdough Pasta might be my husband's favorite sourdough recipe. It's hands down delicious, uses a full cup of sourdough discard and is divine tossed in melted butter and smoked garlic. You can easily adjust the tanginess of this recipe by using newer or older sourdough discard.
Sourdough Bread Machine Bread
This Bread Machine Sourdough Bread recipe uses a full cup of discard and lets your bread machine do all the work! It's a great easy recipe that's full of flavor with a superb tender crumb and airy texture.
Sourdough Soft Pretzels
These sourdough pretzels are far superior to anything you'll find in grocery stores! They're hand-rolled, boiled in a baking soda bath, and baked to perfection. My son swears these are the best thing that's ever happened to pretzels!
Decadent Sourdough Brownies
If there were a sourdough brownie recipe to rule them all, it would be this one. They are fudgy, indulgent, and completely irresistible. These brownies start with browned butter and melted chocolate, use both white and brown sugar, and end with a healthy dose of cocoa powder.
This recipe uses up 1/2 cup of sourdough starter, but they're so good, you'll be baking them again - trust me!
Sourdough Banana Bread
Is there any recipe that's as good at using up excess ingredients like banana bread? Didn't think so! This sourdough banana bread is a half cup of discard per batch and delivers some major yum.
Sourdough Chocolate Chip Cookies
This is the first sourdough discard recipe I made and mastered. They are studded with chocolate chips, rested in the fridge for maximum flavor, baked to perfection, and then sprinkled with sea salt. These sourdough chocolate chip cookies might be my favorite cookie ever. Oh, and they use an entire cup of discard, score!