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. Beth Bliese

    Yeast Beasties!! Betty, What a hoot! Made me chuckle.

    Everyone’s so worried about their sourdough starter. I agree with PJ, just relax and use it.

    I’m trying to figure out what dipping sauce to use with these pretzels.

    I’m not real crazy about the “taste” of the boiled dough flavor so will make these per directions not to mention a little more work.

  2. Ally

    I am new to creating my starter and we are on day 5. Still not what I would call “very active” or ready for the fridge though I do see some bubbles at each 12 hour feeding. I am happy to keep going along this way until the starter is ready. But, can I still use some of the discard from a feeding for a recipe such as this? We are anxious to try it out!

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      If you starter is rising happily in its container (about doubled in volume) and is showing some signs of beginning to head back down (fragile to the touch), your starter is ripe, active and ready to be used as a “fed” starter. If it takes longer than 5 days to get here, take 2-5 more. It can take that long to get to know your starter, sometimes. Oh yes, please do use the unfed (discard) starter in recipes, such as this one. Absolutely! Elisabeth@KAF

  3. Regina

    These pretzels were delicious and quite easy to make. However, once they cooled, the crust turned very hard. Is this normal? Are these supposed to be eaten right out of the oven?

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Regina, pretzels are one of those treats that really are best eaten soon after baking, as they do tend to get hard as time goes on. That being said, they should still be soft on the first day, even when cooled, so perhaps they were slightly over-baked, or maybe there was a touch too much flour in the recipe. Make sure to weigh your ingredients, that will help ensure consistent and delicious baked goods each time! Bryanna@KAF

  4. Woodworker

    A snowy day in the New Mexico mountains; too cold to work in the shop, but a great day to bake. My first attempt at pretzels and they came out great, even if I did make a few changes. I used bread flour, and since I didn’t have any dry milk, I used 2% instead of the water. I took my discard starter out of the fridge just before our electricity went off, so it sat out for a few hours and actually started to work. As a result, I had a good rise in about 20 minutes. Brushed with the sugar water and sprinkled with coarse sea salt. The tops didn’t get as brown as I expected, so I might try the baking soda boil next time. Great recipe, Thanks!

  5. Vivian

    My KAF non-diastatic malt powder became hard as a rock and unusable. I do have some barley malt syrup. Would I be able to substitute for the powder? I wonder how much, and should the other liquids be reduced a little? Thanks! This looks lovely!

    1. Susan Reid

      Hi, Vivian. Yes, barley malt syrup is fine. Up to a tablespoon, with a decrease of 1 tablespoon of the water, and you should be all set. Susan

  6. g quinn

    Just baked my first pretzel sourdough batch with my excess starter (that would have gotten thrown in the bin)…they came out lovely! Soft and chewy. Recipe was easy to follow and not a bother. Will definitely do again! Thanks for the recipe.

  7. SW

    Great recipe! Just FYI, there is a pin on Pinterest that has stolen your photo for a gluten-free, low carb pretzel recipe. You may want to report the copyright infringement to Pinterest. Send me an email and I can forward you the image and pin URL.

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      SW – Hello, thank you for letting us know our picture may be used in ways not intended. We would appreciate it if you could send us an email to our Customer Service Team with the link so we can further investigate. Thank you! Elisabeth@KAF

  8. Karen

    I followed the recipe exactly, and was very impressed with the results. They turned out beautifully

    The only thing I didn’t like was the Kosher salt on top. how does the pretzel salt differ? Also what difference does the non-diastatic malt do for the recipe?

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Pretzel salt doesn’t dissolve as easily when it is applied to the top of the dipped pretzels. Non diastatic malt simply acts as a sugar and adds to flavor and browning. You can also substitute brown sugar, but it won’t taste quite the same. Happy baking! Laurie@KAF

  9. Tonia

    I actually let these do a long, cool rise; then shaped and let rise overnight in the ‘fridge; then boiled them in molasses spiked water and then sprinkled with coarse sea salt and baked. Turned out very good! 🙂

  10. Julie

    I made these and boiled in baking soda. Kind of fun –I felt like a witch( a good one) at her cauldron. The baking soda boil(10-15 seconds) yielded a beautiful rich brown pretzel color.


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