There's a lot of confusion over how and when to use a sourdough starter, why we compost so much of it, and it's general stages of activity. The following is a more expanded explanation and understanding of activity levels in starters and how to use it in recipes.
If your starter has been in the fridge for a week (or more), it's very cold, sluggish and hungry. This means that there is no leavening power left. To revive your cold, sluggish and hungry "fridge starter", you must feed it and let it ferment at room temperature to return it to its active state before using it in most recipes.
ACTIVE SOURDOUGH STARTER
About 6-8 hours after you feed your starter, it should be at its peak activity level, nearly doubled in size, bubbly, and ready to use in lots of recipes. We refer to this stage as active but it's also referred to as mature or ripe starter in other recipes. Note: 6-8 hours is an average and your starter may take longer if it's colder, or if it hasn't been used in awhile. It also may be faster in warmer temperatures, and/or depending on the flour you use. It's always best to record your activity and use your starter when it's at it's individualized peak.
But with every feeding, you discard the majority of your starter. What can you do with all that excess discard?
You can simply compost the leftover inactive starter (ie: discard) OR consider incorporating it into un-leavened recipes or substituted in baked goods where you'd like to impart a more sour flavor profile. Below is an expanded version of ideas to make use of discard:
Use sourdough discard to make our un-leavened sourdough crackers recipe.
Use sourdough discard in other baked goods that utilize another leavening agent (ie: baking soda or dried bakers yeast) like muffins, cookies, and more, to add a pleasant sour flavor to them. To free-style a recipe, be sure to adjust or remove some of the flour and water (or other liquid) from the original recipe to account for the new addition of sour batter.
Dehydrate your sourdough discard, and grind it up into a powder. Sprinkle in some "sour flour" into any recipe you desire a hint of sour flavor. Adjust your "flour" quantity accordingly.
Make use of all of your starter (and compost nothing) by feeding all of it and use it in a recipe about 6-8 hours later. If you feed all of your starter however, you must follow the recommended feeding guidelines. Our recommended feeding regimen is a ratio: 1 part starter, 3 parts flour and 3 parts water. Take note: following our regimen after just one feeding you'll have 6 times the amount of starter than you started with (which is why we rarely recommend feeding all of your starter). But, feeding a larger portion of your starter is great to use in recipes like focaccia, pancakes, english muffin and naan breads which call for large amounts of starter.
What are your favorite ways to use sourdough discard? Email us to share your favorite recipes!