Soft, scrumptious, and sourdough: pretzels from your “discard” starter.

What is it about feeding sourdough starter that makes so many of us nuts?

Discarding that initial cup of perfectly good starter to get the process going, right?

I mean, it just doesn’t feel right, throwing away this starter you’ve been feeding, and coddling, and nursing into maturity with regular meals and draft-free, comfortably warm counter-time.

Why is it, anyway, that feeding sourdough requires you to discard a cup of perfectly good (albeit unfed) starter as part of the process?

Well, most people say it’s “so your refrigerator won’t be overrun with starter.”

But that doesn’t make sense. Since you’re going to remove a cup of fed starter to bake with, why not just count that as the “discard,” rather than remove an additional cup?

Here’s what I think: it all has to do with the yeast’s desire to eat and grow.

If you add flour and water to your starter without removing any of the starter first, the flour won’t feed as many hungry little yeast cells. But if you remove some starter first, before feeding, there’s more new food, proportionally, for the yeast.

So why not just leave the starter as is, and feed with MORE flour and water than normal, to accommodate all the yeast?

Because, unless you’re making some really major sourdough recipe, you’ll be feeding with more flour/water than what you’re removing to bake with – usually about a cup.

Keep that up for very long, and you WILL have to deal with The Starter That Ate Manhattan.

So, we’re back to ”I hate to throw away starter.”

And you don’t have to. Take that cup of “discard,” and make pancakes or waffles. Or cinnamon-apple flatbread. Or sourdough pizza crust.

Multigrain sandwich bread is a great use for your sourdough discard, as is sourdough carrot cake with cream cheese frosting.

Sourdough Pretzels, anyone?

OK, does your sourdough ever look like this?

Mine does – regularly. Dark liquid on top, kind of a pitted appearance to the solid matter underneath…

It’s OK; really. I pour off most of the liquid; it’s mostly alcohol. You can stir it in if you like, then add less water than you normally do when you feed the starter.

Stir any remaining liquid into the starter. Remove 1 cup, and either bake with it (re-read suggestions above), or discard. Transfer the remainder to a bowl.

Add equal parts unbleached all-purpose flour and lukewarm water by weight – which is about 1 cup flour and 1/2 cup water.

Stir to combine. Cover.

Several hours later (if your starter is pretty vigorous to begin with), or the next day, it should be nice and bubbly again.

If it’s not – remove 1 cup, and feed the remaining starter again.

Once it’s bubbly, store in the refrigerator until the next time you’re baking something sourdough – or until you forget it, remember it, your conscience finally gets the best of you, and you feed the poor thing!

At last – we’re ready to make those pretzels.

Put the following in a mixing bowl:

3/4 cup lukewarm water*
1 cup unfed sourdough starter, straight from the refrigerator (or use fed starter if you like)
3 cups Sir Lancelot Unbleached Hi-Gluten Flour* or King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/4 cup Baker’s Special Dry Milk or nonfat dry milk
2 tablespoons (1/2 ounce) non-diastatic malt powder or 1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon butter or vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons instant yeast
*Add an additional 2 tablespoons water if you’re using high-gluten Lancelot flour.

Mix until you’ve made a cohesive dough.

Knead the dough – by hand, mixer, or bread machine – until it’s smooth.

It should be slightly sticky, like this; if it seems dry, knead in an additional tablespoon or two of water.

Shape the dough into a ball, and place it in a lightly greased bowl. Cover the bowl, and let the dough rest for 45 minutes.

It isn’t going to rise a lot; but it’ll definitely grow a bit. Check out the rivet marks in the bowl, on the upper left of the dough…

See the difference? Two of the rivet marks have disappeared. It’s definitely growing.

Now, start preheating your oven to 350°F.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly greased work surface; a silicone rolling mat work well. Fold it over a few times to gently deflate it, then shape it into a rough rectangle.

Score it once lengthwise, and five times crosswise, to make 12 pieces.

Gently cut the dough into pieces; you don’t want to cut into the silicone mat, if you’re using one.

Cover the dough with plastic wrap, so it doesn’t dry out as you’re working with the individual pieces.

Roll each piece of dough into an 18″ rope. Keep the finished ropes covered, so they don’t dry out.

You may find it easiest to roll all the ropes partway, then go back and roll them the rest of the way. That way, each has a chance to rest (and the gluten to relax) as you’re working on the other ropes.

Now we’re going to shape pretzels.

First make a loop.

Then grab both ends, and bring them over…

…then tuck them under.

For an extra twist, make the loop…

…twist its ends…

…and bring down and under.

Place the shaped pretzels on two parchment-lined (or lightly greased) baking sheets. Once they’re on the sheets, gently tug them into as nice a shape as you can.

You’re going to bake the pretzels right away, so don’t bother covering them – unless it’s taking you a REALLY long time to shape them.

Dissolve 1 tablespoon non-diastatic malt powder (or sugar) in 2 tablespoons lukewarm water.

Brush this solution onto the pretzels; it’ll help them brown.

Why don’t we use baking soda dissolved in water, as so many recipes do?

Because darned if we could ever get the baking soda to fully dissolve, no matter what we tried. And the resulting solution gave the pretzels a splotchy, messy look.

Sprinkle the pretzels with coarse pretzel salt, if desired.

Bake the pretzels for 25 to 30 minutes, until they’re a light golden brown.

Remove them from the oven, and brush with melted butter, if desired.

I desired. There’s nothing quite so satisfying as hot bread and butter.

Hot, chewy, golden pretzels and butter? I’m there.


Read, bake, and review (please) our recipe for Sourdough Pretzels.

Print just the recipe.

PJ Hamel

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!


  1. Wendy Dembeck

    I tried these this morning but had to add more flour to make the dough. I followed the recipe exactly. Any idea what could have gone wrong. The pretzels are tasty, but I’m sure I added almost a cup more of flour.

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi there, Wendy! We’re glad to hear that you enjoyed these pretzels but are sorry that you had a bit of trouble with your dough. It sounds like maybe your sourdough discard was a little bit thinner than expected — when discard sits for a while it continues to ferment and becomes more liquidy. On your next sourdough pretzel adventure, we suggest only putting in about a 1/2 cup of the water called for and then adding the remaining 1/4 cup slowly if needed. We hope this helps and happy baking! Morgan@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      You’re welcome to give it a try, Rob! Rise times could potentially take hours longer so keeping an eye on the dough rather than the clock will be key to successful pretzels. Keep in mind this dough doesn’t rise much anyway, so letting it rise in something in which you can accurately view the growth will help a lot, like a large glass measuring cup covered with plastic wrap. Annabelle@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      You’re welcome to try giving these pretzels a water bath if you prefer, Regina. We like the way brushing the pretzels reduces the amount of topping we end up pouring down the drain, but if you’re a fan of the water bath approach, feel free to use it. If you opt to take this route, consider using the water bath portion of a recipe from one of our other pretzel recipes, like our Classic Pretzels. The water bath uses baking soda, which will give your pretzels both shine and flavor. Enjoy! Kye@KAF

  2. Emilie

    I do not have dry milk. Can I substitute fresh milk for the water instead? I do this for my breads but want to make sure it’ll work here.

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Emilie, you can use 3/4 cup (170 grams) of lukewarm milk and omit the dry milk powder if you wish. The pretzels may rise just the slightest bit less, but the final results should still be delicious. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Laurie, in recipes that contain baking soda or baking powder, swapping out the dry milk powder for dry buttermilk may change the texture and rise of your baked goods. However, since this recipe uses yeast and a sourdough starter to get its lift, you should be just fine to make the swap. You could also use lukewarm milk in place of the water in the recipe to get a similarly delicious result. Happy pretzel making! Kye@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      If you throw pretzels away, you’ll have some very sad people who wish they could have eaten them when they were fresh from the oven! (We might be missing your question here—feel free to give the Baker’s Hotline a call to clarify: 855-371-BAKE(2253). Kye@KAF

  3. Andrea

    These are the best. Making double batch again tomorrow. Some to bake. Some to freeze. Freeze right after you pretzel twist them. Take out of freezer. Thaw on cookie sheet. Once room temp them do the soda water boil, salt and bake. Perfect like fresh. I use less flour. Start with 2 1/2 cup flour. To dry first time and had to add water. Still Delish. I use saracha salt. Also honey instead of malt or sugar.

  4. Marah

    Will these freeze well? I’m wanting to give them as Christmas gifts and need to cook ahead. Also, how long would they keep after I take them out if the freezer if that’s an option?

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Marah, one of the benefits of baking with sourdough is that it helps extend the shelf life of your baked goods, so these pretzels will stay tasty if stored in an air tight container at room temperature for about 4-5 days. Reheating to serve is recommended to help make them more delicious. You can also certainly freeze the baked pretzels in a ziplock bag for 1-2 months. Pretzels that have been frozen will last for about 2-3 days after they’re taken out of the freezer, and again, warming before serving is recommended. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

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