How to use unfed sourdough starter…I ponder this question each week. So I search for or adapt recipes, like sourdough pretzels

Baking, natural style

In my never-ending quest to make my family’s diet less about commercial processed foods and more about wholesome ingredients, I make sourdough bread…without commercial yeast (yup, you read that right). I received the sourdough starter (descended from a batch more than a century old) for Mother’s Day, 2016, and after trial (and lots of errors), I’m now pretty good at making an extra-tangy sourdough bread. Sourdough starter is basically flour and water and a colony of wild yeast that needs to be fed, nurtured, cuddled, sung lullabies…you know, babied (ok maybe not quite that last bit…much). To feed sourdough starter, each week you first have to take out some (known as unfed sourdough starter or discard) before adding more flour and water to the crock. If you don’t discard some, you’ll eventually have “the starter that ate Cincinnati” as the crock overflows (especially if, like me, you don’t bake bread every day). I hate to waste anything, so I have to figure out how to use that unfed sourdough starter…in other words, time for sourdough starter discard decisions.

Side note: if you’re interested in how sourdough starter turns into sourdough bread, I wrote about that in my first Outlander Cast post, How They Made it…Baking at Lallybroch. Hop on over for a bit…It’s ok, I’ll wait for you…(humming quietly, if a bit off-key)…


sourdough starter discard decisions, sourdough starter, unfed sourdough starter, sourdough pretzels
Extra-tangy sourdough bread…read all about it on the Outlander Cast blog

Finding ways to use sourdough starter discard

Great, you’re back! So, back to the discard. If I take out a cup of unfed starter each week, that’s 8 oz, or 4 oz of flour and 4 oz of water. All I have to do is find a recipe that uses at least that much flour and water, replace those amounts in the recipe, and bake it. And boy have I gotten creative…savory uses are obvious like rosemary focaccia (like the one I paired with Glenmorangie Bacalta scotch in Fancy Finishes and a Chance to Pair), bannocks, biscuits, pizza dough, but (believe it or not) there are sweet uses, too! I’ve made chocolate cake, spice bread, coffee cake, and molasses gingerbread cake, just to name a few (if the flavor is strong enough, the mild sourness is covered up). Luckily, Pinterest has many recipes using unfed starter, so I’m generally not at a loss for ideas (more often I’m at a loss for time!).

One day I was at home with my starter (we’re very close), and I came across a recipe for Sourdough Pretzels on King Arthur Flour (one of my favorite baking sites). Since it called for unfed starter discard, I knew I had to try it. I did adapt the recipe for what ingredients I had on hand and some differences in method, so my adjustments are noted in italics. Homemade pretzels, fresh, warm from the oven…mmmmmm…(wiping away drool)…away we go!


sourdough starter discard decisions, sourdough starter, unfed sourdough starter, sourdough pretzels
Unfed sourdough starter and friends make up yummy pretzels

Sourdough Pretzels

Sourdough Pretzels are a delicious way to you your sourdough starter discard
Adapted from King Arthur Flour
Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: General
Keyword: Bread, Pretzels, Sourdough, Sourdough Starter
Servings: 12 pretzels
Author: Tammy Spencer, Scotch & Scones



  • 1 cup unfed sourdough starter (8 oz, 227g)
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour (12-3/4 oz, 361g)
  • 1/4 cup nonfat dry milk, see Recipe Notes
  • 3/4 cup water (6 oz), lukewarm, see Recipe Notes
  • 1 Tbsp granulated or brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp butter, melted & cooled, or vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp  instant yeast

Water Bath & Toppings

  • 2 Tbsp  granulated or brown sugar in 2 Tbsp water, see Note
  • pretzel salt (coarse Kosher salt works as well)
  • 2 Tbsp melted butter, optional


For the dough

  • Mix and knead the dough ingredients — by hand, mixer, or bread machine — to make a cohesive, fairly smooth dough. It should be slightly sticky; if it seems dry, knead in an additional tablespoon or two of water.
  • Cover the dough and let it rest for 45 minutes. It will rise minimally. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350°F (I baked the pretzels at 400°F for a shorter time).
  • Turn the dough out onto a lightly greased work surface, fold it over a few times to gently deflate it, then divide it into 12 pieces, each weighing about 2 1/4 to 2 1/2 ounces.
  • Roll each piece of dough into an 18" rope. Shape each rope into a pretzel.

For the water bath

  • Dissolve the baking soda (or sugar) in the water. Brush the pretzels with the solution, and sprinkle lightly with coarse pretzel salt. (Here I differed from the instructions after reading some of the comments on the recipe…I boiled the pretzels in the baking soda bath for 20-30 seconds per side, drained them and put them on a cookie sheet, then sprinkled them with salt before baking)
  • Bake the pretzels for 25 to 30 minutes (at the higher temp, bake for 12-15 minutes), until they're a light golden brown. Note: This is correct; there's no need to let the shaped pretzels rise before baking.
  • Remove the pretzels from the oven, and brush with melted butter (optional, but who am I trying to kid…of course I brushed the freshly baked pretzels with melted butter!)

Recipe Notes

Instead of nonfat dry milk (which I don't keep on hand), I substituted ¾ cup (6 oz) of fresh milk, scalded & cooled, and omitted the water.
I made a baking soda bath (instead of the brown sugar bath) using a solution of ¼ cup (2 oz, 55g baking soda dissolved in 9 cups water)


sourdough starter discard decisions, sourdough starter, unfed sourdough starter, sourdough pretzels
Roll, twist, and flip…all it takes to shape pretzels


sourdough starter discard decisions, sourdough starter, unfed sourdough starter, sourdough pretzels
Into the oven (after baking soda bath) and out again


sourdough starter discard decisions, sourdough starter, unfed sourdough starter, sourdough pretzels
Here’s my mid-afternoon snack


These pretzels were mind-blowingly good…chewy on the outside, soft on the inside, with just of hint of sourness to add interest. Served with a little mustard on the side, these bits of pretzel goodness were the perfect snack for a recent rainy day afternoon. Amid all the unfed sourdough starter use choices I have each week, sourdough pretzels will definitely be repeated!

Slainté! L’chaim! Cheers!


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