The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Leftover starter

Floydm's picture

Leftover starter

This question was sent to me via email:

I have been making bread since the mid 1970's. During the past few years, I have been experimenting with starters instead of using variations on the straight yeast dough method.

More recently, I have been experimenting with starters, sour dough, and
related approaches based on recipes and instructions from several of
Peter Reinhart’s books. The bread usually comes out fine although
the process is labor-intensive and time-consuming.

With all of the reciepes in several of his books, I seem to wind up
throwing away a lot of starter or seed. Starting with a small
beginning batch, I let it rise. After the indicated period of time, I
work on it for a few minutes. Instructions say to let a portion of the
starter rise again and suggest that I can discard the rest that is not
needed. Too much starter retards growth of the yeast and the ripening
of the dough.

Am I reading the instructions correctly--does the starter/sour dough
method always give the cook excess dough at the end of each step or
rise that must be thrown out?

Thanks to whoever can provide an answer or guidance?

FYI Reinhart was on one of the cooking shows on NPR. Either he or the
host offered an email for listeners with questions. I asked this same
question but did not get an answer.

I believe the answer is yes, you always end up needing to discard some extra starter.

The last story I can find on that Peter was in was this story about pizza from November. If anyone can find a more recent one, please post it.

andrew_l's picture

I used to suffer badly throwing away good starter! But I've got a partial solution to this now.

I take 30 grams starter, add 30 of water and 50 grams of organic white bread flour, mix, ferment an hour or so, then cover it and put into the fridge. This stiffer starter keeps very well in refrigeration.

When I make a loaf requiring 300 grams active starter, I begin the day before I need it, take 20 grams of starter from my stock starter, add 45 grams water and 45 grams flour, mix and cover. The original starter gets fed with 30 grams water and 50 grams flour, mix and refrigerate (It grows slightly each time and eventually it can either be split into two so two starters are running, or you go back to taking 30 grams of this starter and 50 of flour, 30 of water, discarding the rest.

In the eveing, you take all of the active starter - 100 grams, allowing for the bits that stick to the side of the bowl, add 100 grams water and 100 grams flour. Mix and cover.

next morning - voila!! - 300 grams active starter, waiting to go. It responds very well like this and can raise either a 1 or a 2 kilo boule very well.

While you are still discarding some starter every few weeks, you can use this discarded amount to raise a sourdough pizza - so none ever goes to waste. And I'm quite sure that for centuries this is how it was done - flour was FAR too valuable to waste any!!


Bill SFNM's picture

I maintain 4 different starter cultures, so I end up dumping a lot of excess starter. However, I have found one excellent use for excess starter: yeasted sourdough waffles. Marion Cunningham has in her "Breakfast" book an outstanding recipe where you prepare the batter the night before using commercial yeast and allow it to stand overnight. Instead of the commercial yeast I use 1/2 cup of the excess starter. The result: lightest and best tasting waffles on the planet.

I have also added excess starter to biscuits and cornbread with similar results.

andrew_l's picture

Bill, I tend to maintain 3 starters, using the method above. Two sit ignored by and large - they can last for months, until you want to activate them.
The one I use most is the one which gets fed most. I just hate wating good ingredients by chucking it!

KazaKhan's picture

I've only been using a starter for 8 days, the starter itself is 16 days old. Up until it was ready to use I threw 50% or more away every day. But since last Monday I've been using 70-80% of my starter every day to make bread. I feed the left over starter and let sit for 2-4 hours (or I might split it at this point and let it sit again for more starter) before it goes back in the fridge. And I must say I'm suprised how easy it is to make good bread with nothing more than flour, water and a bit of salt and the yeast in the starter of course. This was todays effort :-)

andrew_l's picture


what a fabulous loaf! Exellent shape. Is it free formed or raised in a bakset?

KazaKhan's picture

Thank you andrew, it is free formed I don't have any baskets yet.

jafo21's picture

Why don't you dry the excess and store it in powder form? This has a number of advantages.

After serving your friends some of your sourdough creations, they doubtless ask lots of questions about how do you get started, where did you get your sourdough, etc. Just please some of them with a welcomed gift. Your dried starter, information on reconstituting, caring for, and recipes for using your starter. You can even mail some dried starter to friends far away if you want.

Another advantage to drying some of your starter is to have a backup, In case your active batch goes bad, you won't have to start over, just take some of your dried starter and reconstitute it, you'll lose a day at most, and you'll have the starter you knew and loved, instead of a newer, different starter to work with.

Drying is easy. Use a cookie sheet with a lip. Place a sheet of plastic wrap over the cookie sheet so in effect you have a "plastic pan". Pour 1/2 cup of starter evenly over plastic. It should be a thin layer. Place on top of refrigerator for 1-1/2 days. Peel pieces of dried starter off of plastic and turn over to continue drying other side 1/2 day. Be sure starter is thoroughly dry or it will mold or spoil. When starter is dry put pieces in a blender or food processor and process until it looks like coarse flour. Store in an airtight container until needed.

For best results, you should feed the starter and let it get as active as in normally does, but use a little more liquid so it is about the consistency of a thick soup or like just melted ice cream. It should be a really thin layer for best results. A 1/4" thick layer will take over a week to dry so the thinner, the better. It should be dried with dry heat no more than 100 degrees. Do not use an oven, dehumidifier, or put it out in the sun. It can best be stored in a sealable airtight glass container, either in a dry, cool area, or, if well sealed, in the refrigerator.

To reconstitute your dried starter, just take 2 to 4 ounces, mix it with one cup of water, 1/2 cup flour and 1 tsp. sugar in a plastic or glass container and follow directions for any starter use. It takes about 24 hours for starter to activate. Remember though, once it again becomes active, it will begin to require more room.

Of course, as many have already said, use it, don't lose it! There are so many good recipes for using sourdough that time, not lack of recipes, will determine what you make.

Through the years of cooking with sourdough, I've learned that a good rule of thumb is that about 30 percent of the flour called for in a bread or roll recipe should be in the starter you're using, and by using this as a guide, you can convert regular recipes to sourdough recipes.

A few recipes you might try are these. I regret not listing the sources for these, but they were found on the Internet. If anyone knows the sources, I would appreciate knowing them. Until then, thank you, wherever you are for sharing these with us.
Sourdough Pizza Crust
This was one of the better pizza crusts I have tried at home. The sourdough in this is used more for flavor than the rise.

1 1/2 cups sourdough starter
4-5 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups flour (plus a little more or less to adjust consistency)
3-4 servings 1 large pizza crust

Preheat oven to 500°F. Mix starter, 1 tbsp olive oil, salt, and flour together in a mixing bowl until it blends and forms a ball (add more or less flour to adjust consistency; if you get it too dry just add a little more starter). Allow dough to rest for about 30 minutes (don't look for it to rise, just to get the dough where it is easier to roll). Roll out mixture on parchment paper or a lightly floured surface until it fits the size of your pan, turning the dough as you roll (if you want a more even circle).
Par-bake the crust on a pizza stone or pizza sheet for about 7 minutes, then remove from oven.
Before topping your pizza with any sauce, cheese, or toppings, brush the top of the crust all over with remaining olive oil (as needed), using a pastry brush (this helps keep soggy moisture out of the crust as it bakes). Top as desired and cook until browned and cheese is melted. If you use certain vegetables as a topping (onions are the first thing that comes to mind) you might want to cook those about halfway before topping the pizza with them (or they will be too crunchy).
Sourdough Rye Bread

2 cups warm water (about 110 degrees F)
1 cup sourdough starter batter at room temperature
7 to 7-1/2 cups all purpose flour, unsifted
2 cups rye flour, unsifted
2 Tablespoons light molasses
2 teaspoons salt
1 Tablespoon caraway seeds
1 teaspoon baking soda
Hot water as required (see step #4)

In a large glass or ceramic bowl, combine water, starter batter and 4 cups of the flour. Cover with clear plastic wrap and let stand in a warm place (85 degrees F) for 8 to 12 hours. Stir in the rye flour, molasses, salt, caraway seeds, baking soda, and enough remaining flour (about 1-1/2 cups) to form a very stiff dough. Knead until smooth. Cover and let rise in a warm place until the mixture is doubled in size, about (2 to 2 1/2 hours). Punch down and divide in half. Knead gently until smooth. Shape each half into loaf or round, Cover loaves lightly; let rise again in a warm place until puffy and almost doubled in size, about (1 to 1-1/2 hours). Carefully place a small pan on the shelf, below the oven baking rack, and fill it with hot water. Place your sourdough rye bread loaves on the baking rack, close the oven door and bake in a preheated (400 degree F) oven for 10 minutes. Then brush your sourdough bread loaves with the baste mixture. Close the oven door and continue baking for 20 to 25 minutes more until the loaves are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped. Remove the loaves from the oven and place on a cooling rack until cooled down to room temperature. Allow your loaf to cool completely (about 2 hours) before cutting into it. A loaf of sourdough bread is not fully flavored until it is fully cool. Also, bread is much easier to slice when cool. Please! Resist the temptation to cut it early, you'll be glad you did.
Sourdough English Muffins
These homemade muffins are light and airy.

1/2 cup scalded milk
1 1/4 cups warm water
1/2 cup sourdough starter
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
4 cups sifted flour (I use 2 cups white flour and 2 cups whole wheat)
3 tablespoons melted butter
corn meal or oat bran or wheat germ

The night before, feed sourdough starter as you normally do. The next morning take out 1/2 cup starter for use in the muffins. Heat milk to lukewarm, add remaining 1 1/4 cups water, sourdough starter, baking soda, and salt to large mixing bowl. Add half the flour and beat well with electric mixer or a wooden spoon. Cover bowl and let rise to double in bulk, this depends on the weather but takes approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour. Add melted butter and remaining flour beating and kneading thoroughly. Cover and again allow to rise until double, approximately 45 minutes. Turn dough out on board dusted slightly with flour and either corn meal, oat bran or wheat germ. Flatten with rolling pin to 3/4-inch thickness. Cut with a 2-1/2 inch diameter cutter, place on cookie sheets that have been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Allow muffins to rest and rise for about 15 minutes or until light. Spray griddle or heavy skillet with non-stick cooking spray and preheat until water sizzles when dropped on griddle. Cook the muffins on preheated griddle for approximately 15 minutes, turning several times. When ready to serve, split in half with fork, toast lightly and top with favorite toppings. About 18 muffins.
Note: Though I don't do this, if you think your starter is not as active as it should be, you could mix 1 (1/4 ounce) package dry yeast with the recipe's 1 teaspoon sugar and 1/4 cup of the called for warm water, and allow the yeast to become bubbly, about 5 minutes. Add this mixture when adding the starter and proceed as normal.
Sourdough Pancakes:
The night before: Take a cup of your starter and put it in a non-metal mixing bowl. To the bowl, add 2 cups of flour and 2 cups of warmish water to your sourdough starter. Mix it up; cover it with a light cloth; and leave it on the kitchen counter all night. The next morning: Scoop a cup of the starter back in a container and pop it back into the refrigerator for next time. Back to the mixing bowl -- add 2 eggs, 1/4 cup of cooking oil, 1/4 cup of dry or evaporated milk and beat it all really well with a non-metal spoon. Now in a separate container (a cup will do), put 2 teaspoons salt (can be reduced if you want); 2 teaspoons baking soda, and 1/4 cup sugar. Mix up this dry stuff real well. Sprinkle the dry mix over the starter in the mixing bowl and fold it in. Pretty soon it will sound sort of "hollow". Be sure you have an adult help you with the stove! Pour little puddles of the batter onto your lightly greased frypan (medium-low heat) and flip the "pancakes" when they get bubble-holes in them and don't look as shiny as when you started. The second side cooks a lot faster than the first! They should be golden brown and have a neat "tangy" taste. Great with fruit, or maple syrup!
Tip: You can add a dash of cinnamon or nutmeg for added flavor, but don't use too much.
Sweet Potato Fritters
I would call these Latkes, but there's no mahtzo meal or eggs in them. They are very crisp.

1 1/2 cups grated sweet potato
grated onion (I like 1 Tbsp)
some freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 cup Sourdough starter
1/2 tsp baking soda, dissolved in very little water
oil for frying
kosher salt

Stir together the potato, onion and nutmeg. Stir the soda/water into the starter and then mix it into the potatoes to bind. Drop by spoonfuls (make these a little smaller than usual latkes) into 1/4 inch hot oil and fry until deeply browned. Drain on paper and sprinkle with kosher salt. Serve with applesauce and sour cream.
Most cornbread is wonderful hot but gets dry and scratchy when cold. This cornbread can be eaten cold as well as hot.

1 cup Sourdough starter, activated
1/2 cup milk or buttermilk
1 1/2 cups cornmeal
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 Tbsp oil
1/2 tsp salt
3 Tbsp sugar 1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda

Stir together the starter, milk, cornmeal and flour and let it sit, covered, in a cool place overnight. Heat an oiled iron skillet or a cake pan in the oven at 400 degrees F. When the oven and pan are really hot, stir the egg, oil, salt, sugar, baking powder and soda into the batter. Pour the batter into the hot pan and pop it into the oven to bake until done, about 25-30 minutes.
Sourdough doughnuts

1 cup starter
1 cup milk
2 cups bleached or unbleached flour

Mix well and allow to rise overnight. Then add:
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup melted or liquid shortening
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs (beaten)
2-3 cups flour
1-2 teaspoons cinnamon (optional)

Knead well on floured surface and allow to rise until doubled. Knead again and allow to rise until doubled. Roll dough about 1/2 inch thick and cut with doughnut cutter. Allow them to rise in a warm place for 30-60 minutes. Cook in hot oil (375 degrees) on each side until golden brown. Use a spatula to introduce them to the oil. A small wooden dowel works best to remove them from the hot oil. Drain for a few minutes on absorbent toweling, then shake in a paper bag with sugar until well coated.
Pretzels, waffles, rolls, buns, etc. can also be made with sourdough starter so little to none ever needs to be thrown away. Naturally, all kinds of variations to sourdough breads are good recipes for using the starter.

With a sourdough starter, properly cared-for, you’ll always have the ability to make bread, pancakes, rolls, and more. After it’s fermented, you can even freeze it for later use. You may want to transfer it to a plastic container first since it will expand as it freezes. Take it out, let it thaw, feed it, and let it set out to “work

dirider's picture

I've been pumping up my 100% hydration starter to make SJ Sourdough for a club luncheon this weekend. As I fed my starter, setting side excess to keep the formulae balanced, I noticed that it continued to thrive under refrigeration.

This morning I got an idea and 'what the heck' nothing to lose, mixed in a little salt, let it come up to room temp, then gently scooped it into a lightly sprayed glazed ceramic baking dish.

3 hours on the sideboard and it got bubbly bubbly. Preheated the oven to 460 deg convect, 12 min with 1 ice cube, then 16 minutes more, and finally 7 minutes with oven off and door propped open.

Oh la la! Black Forest Ham with melted Provolone on crispy sandwich bun, Lovely...