COVID-19 conditions have inspired a resurgence in sourdough bread baking across the country. Jars of lactic and acetic acid-activated starters are bubbling over on counters everywhere as home bakers find themselves with the time and inclination—but not necessarily enough commercial yeast—to make their own daily bread. Sourdough breads don’t need yeast to rise to the occasion.
To maintain an active starter, a baker must regularly feed it flour and warm water. Part of this process entails pouring off a cup or so of the starter’s volume to hold ingredient ratios steady and make room for the starter to thrive in its crock. But sourdough discard is certainly not a waste product, according to Martin Philip, head baker at King Arthur Baking Company in Norwich, Vermont.
“Discard is flavor,” Philip says, because it adds a touch of acidity to all sorts of baked goods in unexpected ways. Use it to add brightness and depth to butter biscuits, pizza dough, crackers for cheese, and even chocolate cake. “You may find discard recipes you like so much that you will need to build extra quantities of sourdough culture” just to have enough discard to use in your baking, he says.
The flavor of any discard depends on its ripeness. Discard that’s been sitting in the fridge a couple weeks will have more pronounced acidity than discard taken from a recently fed starter. “As the starter ferments, by-products build up, boosting the impact in the final product, which can be either good or bad, depending on your goals,” says Philip.
Discard can be held in the fridge for up to a month, but it will gather acidity as it sits. Once it reaches an acidity level you like, though, Phillip says it’s best to freeze it and thaw overnight on the counter before using it.
- 1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup sourdough discard
- 6 tablespoons melted butter, divided
- ¼ cup mixed small seeds (flax, poppy, sesame and/or sunflower)
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons flaky sea salt
- ►Preheat oven to 350°F.
- ►Combine flour, sourdough starter discard, 4 tablespoons butter, and seeds in a stand mixer with hook attachment. Turn mixer on low. Once dough forms a shaggy ball, increase speed to medium and knead until smooth, about 2 minutes. Divide dough in two pieces and shape each into a rectangular block. Rest dough for 30 minutes.
- ►Lightly flour a 12- by 16-inch piece of parchment paper. Place one block of dough in center and roll out, stretching dough as close to edges of paper as possible. Use a pizza cutter or a pasta roller to cut dough into 24, 1 ½- to 2-inch by 3- to 4-inch strips.
- ►Brush dough with 1 tablespoon butter and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon flaky salt. Transfer cut and seasoned dough, still on parchment, onto a baking sheet. Repeat process with second block of dough.
- ►Bake, turning sheet at 5-minute intervals, until dough is completely dry and crackers are browned around edges, about 15 minutes. Transfer baked crackers to a wire rack and cool completely. Store them in an airtight container for up to a week.