Are you a proud parent of a sourdough starter? Congratulations on keeping your fermented baby alive. It certainly feels like a small victory to realize your starter (mine is named Frampton) is flourishing.
If it is, you are probably used to the routine: You feed your starter once or twice a week (or maybe even once every two weeks, I don’t judge). You also may cringe every time you, well, discard the discard: Wasting food feels terrible during normal times, and these aren’t even normal times. Flour and yeast can be difficult to come by, so using up everything, and throwing out as little as possible, is more important than ever.
Well, I’ve got good news: Your discard is practically begging to be used in various baked goods — and it’s easier than you might think.
Martin Philip, a baker at King Arthur Flour and author of “Breaking Bread: A Baker’s Journey Home in 75 Recipes” (Harper Wave, 2017), explained it like this: “The question should be, what shouldn’t you put discard in as opposed to what you should put discard in?”
Zachary Golper, owner of Brooklyn-based artisanal bakery Bien Cuit and author of “Bien Cuit: The Art of Bread,” said discard can serve two purposes: as a flavoring or a commercial yeast replacement. “If the discard has no time to ferment, it’s a flavor component,” he said.
In this piece, we’re focusing on using discard as flavoring because it is so simple. (Check back in a few weeks for discard-as-yeast tips.)
Used this way, unfed discard provides near-instant gratification. Because you’re not letting your discard’s yeasts reactivate and are using it right away, you are essentially capitalizing on those sour notes to provide lovely, complex tang to your baked goods, Philip said.
Numerous recipes can help you use your discard as flavor — crackers, biscuits, banana bread (or any quickbread) — but I want to highlight two less-obvious favorites that are perfect for sourdough newcomers: crumpets and popovers.
Adding leavener to discard: Crumpets look similar to English muffins: thick, perforated pancakes cooked in ring molds on a griddle. Crumpets, however, are made with loose batter, while the muffins are punched out from thicker dough. For crumpets, the discard, baking soda, salt and sugar are mixed and then immediately cooked on a griddle. That’s it.
The baking soda acts as a leavener when combined with the acidic starter. If you don’t have molds, you can make free-form crumpets, but they will not get the same rise. Though they will resemble pancakes, they will still taste delicious. Like English muffins, crumpets are ideally suited to butter, jam and a cup of tea; they can also be frozen and reheated in the toaster.
Using eggs as a leavener: If making popovers intimidates you, let me put your mind at ease: They take 10 minutes, a muffin tin, a bowl and a whisk. Unlike crumpets, popovers don’t require a chemical leavener such as baking soda, but eggs give them the power to rise, puff and form a gloriously festive dome, much like the marriage of a souffle and a muffin. Fresh out of the oven, they’re billowy and fancy and make you look like you went to pastry school.
The popovers here are made with Gruyere and a generous grating of black pepper, elevating them into something truly special. The savory notes in Gruyere are an ideal partner to the sour flavors of discard. You can, however, make them plain — they will still be delicious.
Adapting recipes using sourdough discard: For more experienced bakers looking to adapt recipes, such as quickbreads, to sourdough discard use, Philip cautions that discard will “behave more like a liquid than flour,” so you’ll need to do the math to figure out how much liquid and flour to subtract from the recipe and replace with discard.
Here’s an example: If you take 1 cup of starter that you’ve created through equal parts flour and water, it will weigh in the neighborhood of 250 grams. Breaking the ingredients out, by weight — because your hydration levels should always be weight-based — you will have 125 grams (1 cup) of flour and roughly 125 grams (1/2 cup) of water. (Do not do your math by volume, because a cup of flour is about half as light as a cup of water.) To use it in, say, a banana bread recipe that uses 456 grams water and 213 grams flour, start by reducing that to 285 grams water and 107 grams flour. Keep an eye on the bread: It may bake for a little longer or shorter, and place a rimmed baking sheet under the loaf pan as your batter may expand more than usual.
This isn’t an exact science, because every discard will behave slightly differently, depending on hydration levels, flour used, frequency of feedings, ambient temperature and humidity of your home, and so on.
Make this recipe: Sourdough Gruyere Popovers
So you have to use your senses, too. The math, Philip adds, “will get you to the right county, and to the right town, and maybe even to the right neighborhood. But then you should say, what does this batter feel like to me? And once you’re off-roading, with some knowledge and a scale — and a little bit of science — you’re in good shape.”
For playing around with other recipes using discard, Philip recommends going to a source, such as King Arthur’s website, that has tried-and-true recipes tested many times over. His advice, “Start with a recipe that’s solid.”
Once you have more experience, you can then start experimenting.
Along with a delicious baked good will come the gratification, especially in these unprecedented times, of using every last bit of something.
“It’s important as an aspect of honoring high-quality ingredients that we don’t throw it away,” Philip said. “Farmers worked hard at growing these grains. Food is a privilege, and let’s treat it with honor and respect. Make an extra loaf and give it away. Make your discard something that can contribute to the well-being and happiness of someone.”
If you have sourdough starter, you can make these crumpets in 15 minutes. Scan the ingredients, and if that doesn’t make you run to your kitchen and give these a go, consider us surprised.
Crumpet, a type of griddle cake, traces its origins to the 17th century and is similar to the English muffin, except the former is made from loose batter whereas the latter is made from firmer dough. A popular teatime treat, crumpets were originally cooked in special crumpet molds and only on one side. We preferred how the crumpets looked and tasted when we cooked them on both sides, English muffin-style.
Serve the crumpets warm with butter and jam.
Storage: The crumpets can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days or tightly wrapped and frozen for up to 2 months.
1 cup (250 grams) sourdough starter discard (unfed)
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Scant 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Neutral oil and melted butter, for greasing the pan
In a medium bowl, stir together the discard with sugar and salt until combined. Sift in the baking soda and whisk it in thoroughly; the batter will rise and bubble.
Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium-low heat until you can feel the heat when you hold your hand a few inches above the skillet’s surface. Lightly grease the skillet with oil and butter.
Brush a 3- to 3 1/2-inch cookie cutter with a little oil. Using a 1/4-cup measuring cup, scoop the batter into the center of the cookie cutter.
Cook until the top of the batter is set and full of small holes, 5 to 10 minutes. Look for the top of the crumpets to resemble the surface of the moon — full of craters and dimples. Adjust the heat as needed to achieve a mostly cooked, porous surface on top without burning the bottom (you can peek using a spatula to lift the molds). Using an offset or fish spatula, or tongs, flip the crumpet and remove the cookie cutter ring. To do so, gently “cut” around the perimeter of the crumpet using a butter knife.
Cook on the other side until golden brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Serve warm.
Adapted from King Arthur Flour.
Tested by Olga Massov; email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Scale and get a printer-friendly version of the recipe here. The nutritional analysis is based on 4 servings.
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More from Voraciously:
Calories: 120; Total Fat: 0 g; Saturated Fat: 0 g; Cholesterol: 0 mg; Sodium: 343 mg; Carbohydrates: 26 g; Dietary Fiber: 1 g; Sugars: 2 g; Protein: 3 g.