My daughter Charlotte makes soft pretzels often. After I posted her recipe here, I decided I had to come up with a sourdough version to use up some of my extra starter. Sourdough deliciousness and food waste aversion all wrapped in one! Win-win!
To feed my sourdough starter, I remove most of it from its jar and stir in fresh flour and water. I store the stuff I remove—the discarded starter—in my refrigerator to use later. Because I don’t bake every day but I do feed my starter every day (usually), I can sometimes accumulate quite a bit of discard and I can’t bear to throw it out. So I use it to bake pancakes, crackers, waffles, tortillas… (You can read more about the feeding and caring of a starter here and here.)
My sourdough starter consists of 50 percent flour and 50 percent water (100 percent hydration in sourdough lingo). I wanted to use 1 cup of this excess starter in Charlotte’s recipe. Because 1 cup of starter contains 1/2 cup of water and 1/2 cup of flour, I reduced the amount of water and flour each by 1/2 cup in Charlotte’s recipe.
Sounds reasonable right? Well, four attempts later, it worked.
Here’s what I learned:
- Discarded starter will work for this recipe but the pretzels will turn out best if the starter has been fed within the last couple of days.
- Sourdough doesn’t like simple math. Substituting 1 part sourdough starter for 1/2 part water plus 1/2 part flour didn’t work as well as I had hoped. I had to play around with the amounts of flour and water in the recipe and adjust for other factors (see bullets below).
- I used too much flour in my first three attempts, which resulted in stiff dough and dense pretzels. Err on the side of too sticky. You can always add more flour as you knead the dough.
- Dough conditioners (dried ginger, citric acid) are your friends when you work with older starter. They help soften the dough. I added less than 1/16th of a teaspoon of each.
- Cheat and add some commercial yeast. Perhaps if I had just fed my starter, I wouldn’t have needed store-bought yeast. But the point of this exercise was to develop another recipe that would use up my discard.
- Baked goodies made with discarded starter tend to be on the dry side. Add some oil.
- These taste delicious! They have a nice crust and a delicious tang. I can’t stop eating them…
- 1 cup sourdough starter, unfed and at room temperature
- 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 1 cup warm water (105° to 100° F)
- 2 cups to 2 1/2 cups white flour
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- 2 teaspoons course salt plus more for sprinkling
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- large pinch each citric acid and ginger (optional)
- 2 tablespoons baking soda
- Dissolve yeast and sugar in warm water and set aside for about 10 minutes, until yeast becomes foamy.
- Combine 2 cups white flour, whole wheat flour, salt and, if using, citric acid and ginger.
- When the yeast is ready, stir it into the flour mixture. Stir in the sourdough starter and olive oil. Add more white flour if the dough is too sticky to work with.
- Turn dough out onto a generously floured work surface and knead by hand for about 7 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic.
- Form a ball. Grease a bowl with olive oil. Place dough ball in the bowl and turn right side up to coat entire ball in oil. Place a towel over the bowl and set bowl aside, preferably in a warm spot in the kitchen. Let the dough rise for about an hour and a half, or until nearly doubled in size.
- Preheat oven to 475° F and grease two cookie sheets.
- Divide dough into 12 equal portions. Roll each portion into a rope, about 18 inches long and then twist into a pretzel shape. Lightly press the ends of the rope into the pretzel.
- Bring water to a boil in a pot and dissolve the baking soda. Drop in pretzels one or two at a time and boil for about a minute. Drain and transfer to a baking sheet.
- Sprinkle pretzels with salt. (You can also sprinkle them with cinnamon and sugar in lieu of salt.) Bake for 12 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack.