Our Favorite Ways to Use Sourdough Discard
From cake to waffles, experiment with these ideas and look forward to the delicious results.
Each time you feed a sourdough starter in order to keep it alive in your effort to make beautiful loaves of rustic bread—like those from favorite bakeries such as Bien Cuit, Marigold Roma, and Tartine—there is something left behind: a jar of living, breathing flour and water mixture. Only about one third is used as the culture for the next batch; what to do with the other two thirds? This is known as the discard, but the name feels insufficient given all the things this gooey stuff can be used for. You might throw the discard away or dump it into the compost bin in your hurry to maintain your sourdough starter and get on with the day, but that seems reckless and wasteful. Reckless, because it's hard to know if or when flour will be available for ongoing baking needs, and wasteful, because why throw away something that could be the foundation of a pancake, a tortilla, or a pizza?
"Make waffles, then freeze individually," Lucinda Scala Quinn, our former director of food and entertaining, suggested to senior food editor Lauryn Tyrell when Lauryn, who had just posted a picture of her first batch of sourdough bread on Instagram, was wondering about the discard. Many bakers have been sharing ideas and baking support during the shelter-in-place phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the discard has become more precious, bakers have begun asking others for guidance.
It's easy to fall down a rabbit hole of ideas and recipes for using up sourdough discard, some better than others. Many creations have been trial and error. Sometimes, out of desperation to use up discard, bakers will substitute it for the flour and liquids in a tempting recipe—like a Bee Sting Cake, or various batches of English muffins. Baker and author Jason Schreiber made English muffins with spelt, rye, and whole wheat flours, but says he's still perfecting the recipe. Looking for something you can make right now, following clear recipe instructions? Schreiber posted a stellar cracker recipe he had developed on his Instagram feed (it can be found in his highlights). The dough simply stretches to fills a sheet pan and after it's baked, you break it up by hand into appealing shards. Top with whatever you like, but Schreiber recommends za'atar. Of course, you could expend a bit more effort, and get out your pizza wheel or pastry cutter to make King Arthur's popular recipe for pretty, perfectly cut sourdough crackers.
A banana bread recipe using sourdough discard from baker and teacher Sarah Owens' book, Heirloom ($35, barnesandnoble.com), is a delicious breakfast option. Crumpets are another pretty straightforward way to use up discard and are also great for breakfast, but you will need a pastry ring or biscuit cutter to cook them. And the waffles? Lucinda was right. They are an exceptionally delicious way to use discard. The recipe uses a whole cup of starter; you let it sit overnight in the refrigerator, whisking the last few ingredients together in the morning while you're heating up the waffle iron.
For snacks and teatime, a simple, not too sweet cake is perfect. Aran Goyoaga, cookbook author and creator of the blog Cannelle et Vanille, came up with a chocolate one made with sourdough discard and sweetened with dates. She is gluten-free, but the cake doesn't have to be—just substitute all-purpose flour for the rice flour in her recipe. It's on her Instagram, saved as a highlight called Chocolate Cake.
You could also pour the discard straight into an oiled skillet and fry it up into a pancake. This idea came from Caroline Schiff, the pastry chef of famed Brooklyn restaurant Gage & Tollner, who has made it regularly for her lunch while quarantining at home. The starter she uses is named Edna after the late, great southern chef Edna Lewis who was the head chef of the same Brooklyn restaurant from 1988 through 1995.
Schiff's simple skillet pancake is as versatile as can be—add greens, scallions, spices, or whatever else you like to the starter discard, fry it in a nonstick pan until the edges bubble, and flip it until both sides have crisped. As always, adapt to your own situation. Every starter is different and all starters vary from hour to hour and day to day—if yours is quite runny, it will work well for this. Stir in a couple of spoonfuls of kimchi into the discard if you like, or add a pinch of baking soda for lightness in the center, which some days can be gummy; it also counteracts some of the natural sourness. You might want to add some water to thin yours down.
Schiff is on a mission to lift the stature of discard as we know it—she proposes changing its name from discard to daughter, and we hope this sticks. Like so many things we once did, we will take our discarded sourdough starter for granted no longer.