Discard…I hate the word, but it’s a hot topic in the Facebook forums. For some reason sourdough bakers hate the idea of throwing away their spent starter. I’ve seen photos of kitchens overrun with jars of the stuff! But if you think of your starter as a pet, like a hamster or a guinea pig, would you feel bad about throwing away the wood shavings or hay from their hutch after you’d cleaned them out? Or even compare it to other foods; do you resent throwing away tea bags or coffee grinds? I hope the answer is no and so it should be, they’ve done their job and what you are left with is a waste product. Now that’s not to say that you have to throw it away or that it has no culinary value, but I’d really stop stressing over it...stop worrying about this by-product and just concentrate on making great bread. I do get slightly confused when I see people posting pictures of loaves they say are made with discard, i.e. ‘I just mix my discard with flour and water, let it proof and bake it’. Isn’t that just a loaf of sourdough bread…maybe with a slightly mature starter?
Anyway, if you’re on a mission to use your discard, there are a few options out there. Crackers don’t hold much appeal for me, but they do seem to be a popular choice for many, as are dog biscuits…but then with no dog to feed, again appeal levels are low. So for me, I generally have two ways to go to use up my discard. Sourdough waffles are my first and favourite choice (getting made at least three or four times a month), and they do a good job of using up excess starter; see my tutorial here. If waffles aren’t your thing though, then what about fast and tasty bread? Not possible you say? Well let me show you how.
First, let’s discard the word discard and start thinking of our excess/mature starter as a pre-ferment or poolish. A flavour booster that can elevate any standard bread recipe without the need for extra time. In fact, we can even cut the time it takes to make a loaf, by replacing it with the time that’s already been invested in our starter. I’m currently keeping my starter in the fridge and only feed it once a week. I feed it with 100g flour (30% Rye and 70% White) and leave it at room temperature for 3 or 4 hours so the yeast can get going and the PH levels can come down. This way bad bacteria will have less chance of thriving and spoiling it. If you feed your starter and put it straight back into the fridge, that ‘raw’ flour and water mixture has a good chance of going off and mouldy. Each time I feed it, I am left with about 200g of mature starter that has had at least seven days in the fridge; gently fermenting and developing those lovely yeasty, beery, sour and tangy flavours. In essence what we have here is a pre-ferment – a very prolonged pre-ferment. So just like we can use a poolish to extend the fermentation time and in turn enhance the flavour of our bread, this mature sourdough starter can do exactly the same thing.
In the recipe below I use 200g starter, as this is generally what I have available to me after a feed. I simply use it to replace 100g flour and 100g water from my basic bread dough recipe and then follow the process of baking a standard loaf. This works out as about 18% starter but I would have no qualms about increasing this and experimenting with 25 to 50% to see what effect it has on the flavour and texture of the final loaf. Just bear in mind that mature starter will be quite fluid and the gluten will have broken down. The more you add, the wetter and weaker your dough will become, so adjust the hydration accordingly. When it comes to adding the yeast, I tend to go a little higher than normal (15g rather than 12g) just to speed up the fermentation process a little, so I can get my loaves cranked out in 2 to 3 hours. You could go down the opposite route and just use a couple of grams of yeast to ensure a really slow rise, but for me the benefit of using the mature starter is that the flavour is already there, all I need to do is concentrate on getting the loaves made as quickly as possible.
1100g Strong White Bread Flour
650g Tepid Water
200g Discard (Mature Sourdough Starter)
15g Instant Yeast
60g Olive Oil (Optional)
Flour/Rice Flour for dusting
Put all the ingredients together in a KitchenAid or a large bowl and mix on a low speed (1-2) for 5 minutes. The dough should look smooth, stretchy and well homogenised. Scrape any dough off the dough hook, cover the bowl with a plate, tea towel or sheet of Clingfilm and allow to proof at room temperature for an hour or until the dough is lifting the cover off the bowl.
Tip the dough out onto a lightly floured surface being careful not to tear it too much and then use a dough scraper or a large knife to divide it in two.
Working with one piece at a time, flatten the dough out into a rectangle by pushing and manipulating it with the tips of your fingers. Then, using the palms of your hands scoop both sides up simultaneously and fold them over so they meet in the middle, push them down to flatten them out and degas the dough a little. Fold the two top corners in like you are making a paper plane, take the point that has been formed at the top and pull it up and over on to itself. Now with your hands flat, push the point into the dough to seal it into place. Now continue rolling the dough from the top, again using your flattened hands to squeeze the dough together at each half roll. Keep repeating until you have formed a nice taught cylinder. Pinch the ends together to create neat seams.
Place each loaf into a tin lined with baking parchment, cover with a tea towel and leave to proof at room temperature for 30 to 45 minutes.
Pre-heat your oven to 240c with an empty roasting tin on the bottom shelf. When you are ready to bake, put both loaf tins side-by-side in the oven and then pour a cup of cold water into the hot roasting tin and quickly close the oven door. The water in the roasting tin will produce steam for the first few minutes of cooking which will help your loaves 'spring' and also give them a nice crisp, shiny crust. Bake for 10 minutes at this temperature, then turn the oven down to 200c and continue to cook for a further 23 minutes.
Once cooked, leave the loaves in their pans for a couple of minutes, the steam from the bread will help release them, but then do transfer them to a wire rack otherwise they will get very soggy bottoms. Allow to cool for a couple of hours before slicing.