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Country Loaf with Discard Sourdough Starter

Country Loaf with Discard Sourdough Starter

This is not a post for people who have never made sourdough bread before. If that’s you, and you’re interested in learning to make sourdough bread, I recommend Tartine Bread, which is the book that really got me started on my sourdough adventure. Indeed, the method and instructions described below are based on the Basic Country Loaf recipe in Tartine Bread. (I created my starter using the instructions on the King Arthur Flour website, which is also a great resource if you’re new to sourdough baking.) If you already have some familiarity with sourdough baking, though, you at some point have probably wondered what to do with your excess starter–the starter that is “discarded” with each feeding. If you work outside your home, perhaps you’ve also wondered if there is a way to bake sourdough bread during the work week. Those two dilemmas–the inevitable accumulation of discard starter and the quest to find a way to bake sourdough during the week–inspired me to experiment a bit. Ultimately, I discovered that if I dramatically reduced the inoculation percentage (i.e., the amount of starter), and dramatically extended the bulk fermentation time, I could make delicious bread using only discard starter for leavening. And, because fermentation is slower with this method, I could allow the dough to rise while I was at work, and thus make bread during the week.

My results have been really great. Here are some of my sourdough discard loaves:

Sourdough discard loaf
Sourdough discard loaf.
Sourdough discard loaf
Sourdough discard loaf: crumb shot.
Sourdough discard loaf
Sourdough discard loaf.
Sourdough discard loaf
Sourdough discard loaf.
sourdough discard loaf

The method below can basically be reduced to three changes to the Tartine recipe: (1) replace the leaven with a much smaller percentage of discard starter, (2) use fridge-cold water in the dough, and (3) after 2-3 stretch-and-folds, allow the dough to finish its bulk rise undisturbed for 10 hours or more.

Reducing the Inoculation Percentage

There are a couple of reasons for reducing the inoculation percentage: First, discard sourdough starter is seriously sour. To keep the bread from being overly sour, you need to use a smaller amount of discard than you would of levain–I never go above 10% inoculation when I’m making a discard loaf. Second, a smaller inoculation percentage means that it will take longer for the dough to rise. Often, people have the opposite goal–they want the dough to rise faster. Here, though, the slower rise is your friend, because it means that you can leave the dough at home, undisturbed all day while you are at work.

Using Cold Water to Mix the Dough

The reason for this change is simple — it’s just another way to slow down the bulk fermentation. I use bottled spring water straight from the fridge. (I use bottled water because the tap water where I live is heavily chlorinated. You may be able to use tap water where you live.)

Extending the Bulk Fermentation

This change naturally follows from the previous two adjustments. I want to slow the dough’s rise because I can’t come home in the middle of the day to shape my loaves if the bulk fermentation is done in 4-6 hours. For me, 10-12 hours (from the time I transfer the dough to a clear container for the bulk rise) is what I’m going for.

Final Thoughts

Admittedly, I have not yet reduced my method to a science. Sometimes the dough rises less than I expect, sometimes more. I suspect this results from changes in room temperature, and/or from my discard starter having been “refreshed” more or less recently. I’ve also found that the greater the quantity of dough I am making, the longer the bulk fermentation takes. This is likely because it takes the larger amount of dough longer to warm to room temperature.

That all said, I’ve also discovered that there’s a lot of flexibility in how long I can push the bulk fermentation. For example, while Tartine Bread indicates that you should look for a 30% increase in volume, I’ve made some perfectly nice loaves with dough that had more than doubled in volume by the time I got home from work. Generally, I’ve found that I have good results with a volume increase anywhere from 60% to 90%. I suspect that I’m able to get away with such a large increase in volume during the long bulk rise because the discard starter is not super active.

These thoughts are meant to be a rough guide, and to inspire you to experiment on your own. If you have additional insights about baking with discard starter, or extending the bulk rise, please do share them! One of the many things I love about sourdough baking is that it is a constant learning process, and I enjoy every new discovery.

sourdough discard loaf
4.78 from 9 votes
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Country Loaf with Discard Sourdough Starter

A classic country loaf made with discard sourdough starter. Adapted from Tartine Bread.

Ingredients

  • 450 g all-purpose and/or bread flour preferably King Arthur
  • 50 g whole wheat flour or another whole grain flour (see notes)
  • 50 g discard sourdough starter or less (see notes)
  • 375 g cold spring water, divided or more (see notes)
  • 10 g table salt or fine sea salt

Instructions

  1. Pour 350 g cold spring water into a large wide mixing bowl, and add the discard starter, mixing to disperse the starter a bit.

  2. Use your hands and/or a bowl scraper to mix in the all-purpose flour (or bread flour) and whole wheat flour until no dry bits of flour remain.

  3. Allow the flour/water/starter mixture to rest for 25-30 minutes.

  4. Add the salt and the remaining 25 g cold spring water to the bowl, working it in with your hands.

  5. Transfer the dough to a large, clear, well-insulated container and cover the container with plastic wrap. Allow the dough to rest for 30 minutes.

  6. After the 30-minute rest, complete three sets of stretch-and-folds, separated by 30 minutes. (In other words: if you do the first stretch-and-fold at minute zero, you’ll do the second at thirty minutes, and the third at the end of the hour.)

  7. Leave the dough in the covered container at warm room temperature (approx. 75 F) for 10-12 hours. You’re looking for a 60% to 90% increase in volume. If you get home from work and the dough has not increased in volume, place the container in a turned-off oven with the pilot light on to speed the end of the bulk rise. For those who need a visual, here is my dough right after I transferred it to the bulk rise container–you’ll see that it doesn’t  quite reach the 1 L mark; I generally wait until the dough has risen to about halfway between 1 L and 2 L before shaping.

  8. Turn the dough out, pre-shape it, and allow it to rest for 15-30 minutes.

  9. Shape the loaf as desired, and transfer it to a cloth-lined banneton that has been dusted with a mixture of white rice flour and all-purpose or bread flour.

  10. Cover the banneton (I use a plastic shower cap), and leave it in the refrigerator overnight.

  11. To bake the bread in a pre-heated dutch oven: In the morning, place your cast iron dutch oven (with lid) in the oven, and pre-heat the oven to 500 F.

    When the oven has reached temperature, remove the banneton from the refrigerator, dust the top of the dough with white rice flour, and turn the loaf out onto a piece of baking parchment. Dust the loaf with flour (or not), and score as desired.

    Using the parchment, carefully transfer the loaf to the pre-heated pot Replace the lid, and immediately place the pot in the oven.

    Bake the loaf covered at 500 F for 20 minutes, then remove the lid, reduce the oven temperature to 450 F, and continue baking for another 25-35 minutes–until the crust is sufficiently dark for your taste.

  12. To bake the bread with a cold start: In the morning, remove the banneton from the fridge, turn out the loaf onto a piece of parchment and score it as above. Place the scored loaf with parchment in an unheated dutch oven. Replace the lid, and transfer the pot to a cold oven.

    Heat the oven to 500 F. Once the oven temperature has reached 500 F, bake the loaf in the covered pot for 20 minutes more. After the loaf has baked in the covered vessel for 20 minutes at 500 F, remove the lid, reduce the oven temperature to 450 F, and bake for 25-35 minutes uncovered.

  13. Allow the loaf to fully cool on a wire rack before slicing. 

Recipe Notes

  1. This recipe makes enough dough for one large (approximately 1.75 lb) loaf. To make a smaller loaf, just halve the quantities. To make two loaves, double the quantities. Keep in mind that, with this method, the amount of dough may affect the speed of the bulk rise, since a larger amount of dough will take longer to warm to room temperature.
  2. If your room temperature is moderately warm (74-75 F), the quantity of dough in this recipe, made with cold water, should rise sufficiently in 10-12 hours after you transfer the dough to the bulk rise container. However, if your kitchen is on the cool side (as mine has been lately), you’ll need to (1) allow for additional time, (2) mix the dough with warmer water, or (3) raise the temperature of the dough, and speed the fermentation, by heating the room or placing the container in a turned-off oven with the pilot light on.
  3. The one thing you should NOT do is increase the amount of discard starter–I’ve found that inoculation with more than 10% discard starter results in overly sour flavor.
  4. On the flip side, if your kitchen is quite warm, and/or you are working with a very small quantity of dough and your room is moderately warm, you can further reduce the inoculation percentage. I’ve gone as low as 5%.
  5. Tartine Bread specifies all-purpose flour, but I’ve used bread flour or a mixture of all-purpose and bread flour with fine results, always King Arthur.
  6. While I think including some whole grain flour is what gives this loaf great flavor, it doesn’t have to be whole wheat. I’ve used rye, spelt, and a mixture of whole wheat and spelt, all with great results.
  7. The recipe above specifies 375 g of water, total, or 75% hydration. However, you should feel free to experiment with increasing the hydration percentage. I’ve gone as high as 80%. Go with your instincts.
  8. I’ve included instructions both for baking in a preheated dutch oven (or combo cooker or similar vessel), or baking in a dutch oven with a “cold start.” I’ve used both methods, and while there may be a *tiny* bit more oven spring when I bake my loaves in a preheated pot, the difference really is barely discernible. 



42 thoughts on “Country Loaf with Discard Sourdough Starter”

  • 5 stars
    Thank you so much for sharing this recipe and all of your experimentation notes! I am very new to sourdough bread making and one of the first concerns I’ve had is all of the discarding of starter. In fact I’m experimenting with a zero waste, no discard starter method. However making actual sourdough bread with discard starter sounds like a really great option as well. I look forward to trying this out!

    • I’m glad you found the post helpful, or at least, of interest! 🙂 Good luck with the sourdough baking — it’s been such a wonderful adventure for me, and it’s such a delight when I hear about other people’s experiences.

  • 5 stars
    Hi, I made this today and I thought it was a great recipe. I’m very pleased with the loaf and will definitely make it again. Instructions were easy to follow. Thanks for your post.

  • This recipe looks amazing! Just wondering at what stage should the discard be when mixing it with the water. Should it be straight up unfed/old starter? Thanks so much for your post!

    • Hi! So, I’ve done this method both with starter that has not been “refreshed” in days, and starter to which I recently added excess 12-hour old levain. The longer it has been since you’ve “fed” the discard starter, the more sour it will be, so you may want to use an inoculation percentage of even less than 10%. The older, less recently refreshed discard starter will probably also be less active, i.e., the dough will take longer to rise. Hope that helps.

      • My dough has been resting for 19hrs and it has not risen. It is maybe a half size more than when it started. Can it be used?

        • If it has increased by 50%, it’s probably okay – but I’m really surprised it has been 19 hours. Was it resting at room temperature? (70-75 degrees F?) Did you check it at 9, 10, 12 hours? I think it is theoretically possible that it over-proofed – that is, rose so much it deflated on itself. But, if your starter has not been fed in a very long time, you were using less than 10% inoculation, and/or your room is very cold, I suppose 19 hours is possible. I see you posted this last night. What did you end up doing?

          • I ended up throwing it out. I’ m feeding my yeast now and will consistently for the next 3 days before I try again. I kind of wonder if it got too warm. My mom got involved and insisted on warming the oven quickly and turning it off. I checked it later and the “batter” was super hot to the touch. I think my yeast is ok. It smells like beer and is very bitter to the taste.

  • This looks great! If I opt to proof it in the banneton at room temp, rather than overnight in the refrigerator, how long would you recommend (assuming room temp is around 75 F)?

    • I’ve never done a full proof at room temperature, but I would guess probably 2-3 hours. However, you’ll probably need to experiment. A lot depends on how active the starter is, how consistent the room temperature is, etc.

  • 5 stars
    Very good. Thank you. I had hopes. I
    ‘m very new to bread baking and found your recipe. My dough after a night’s rest hadn’t risen and was way too loose for pre shaping. Is there any solution?

    • How many stretch and folds did you do during the bulk rise? You likely needed to help the gluten develop more during the bulk rise. As for why it didn’t rise after a night’s rest – it could be that your starter isn’t very active, or that the room was chilly. When I’m using a sluggish starter, it can take up to 14 hours for my dough to rise in a 65 F kitchen.

      • Thanks so much for your response. Yes my discard was young and probably not very active. As for stretching And folding I did as recommended. And the kitchen is warm. I really have to discard the whole thing now I guess. And try again.

  • I am new to sourdough and I just made this…. awesome!!
    I would like it more sour though, how much starter could i use to get this to happen. Is there a trick? My starter is really sour and this is what my husband is looking for….. but the bread just doesn’t have the bite he is looking for.
    Thank you 🙂

    • Hi Karna! If you use a greater percentage of discard starter (like 15% instead of 10%), the bread will be more sour. It will also probably rise faster. If you’re using more recently fed starter, a starter fed about 12 hours before making the bread will make it more sour than a 6-hour-old starter.

  • I would like to make English Muffins. Do you think I could use this recipe? If so, what changes do you recommend? This is the first recipe that gave me enough info to make the bread the consistency that I was looking for. Thank you!

    • English muffins are very different. They’re an enriched dough (containing some milk and/or butter), and are cooked on the stove top usually. I tried the King Arthur Flour English muffin recipe this weekend, which uses both sourdough discard and commercial yeast, and the result was tasty. I recommend searching the internet specifically for English muffin recipes!

  • 4 stars
    Worked perfectly. Impressed by detail of your instructions. Decided to make only one loaf–very small. Nest time will do full recipe to see if your “large” is same as mine! Used mostly bread flour plus 20g whole wheat & 5 g spelt, sea salt. Thanks!

  • 5 stars
    We are baking our second loaf of this bread as I type!
    I have a question about the Banneton.
    Mine came with a removable linen liner.
    Would you recommend washing the liner after each use or just leaving a layer of flour in it for repeated usages?

    • Hi Julie! So, I tend to wash the liner every 4-5 loaves or so. I find that the loaves actually tend to stick less when the liner is a little bit, um, “crusted” with flour. What I do is let the liner (still in the banneton) dry out a bit while the bread is baking, and then pop the liner in a ziploc freezer bag and keep it in the freezer until I make my next loaf.

  • 5 stars
    So I am NOT a seasoned sourdough girl, nor am a baker…. my husband says I bake hockey pucks 🤣
    But!!!!!!
    I attempted this, screwed it up in multiple places, and had to go look up Benetton basket …. I used the strainer piece out of a Tupperware cooker… I wish I could leave a pic here because it actually looks like bread! Maybe next time I’ll cut pretty designs… this time it got 3 straight lines ….
    Looking forward to browsing the rest of your recipes!
    Thanks for sharing!

  • My dough seems to be very sticky and doesn’t hold shape. Should I try add more flour ? It has been about 12 hours since I started, and room temperature is probably around 65F.

    • This dough can withstand a very high hydration. If you started with 75% hydration, using 90% unbleached AP flour and 10% whole wheat, you should be able to develop the gluten sufficiently to avoid stickiness. A couple possible issues: Your room temperature is quite cool. At that temperature, it might take up to 16 hours for the bulk fermentation, depending on how recently you refreshed the discard/how active it is. The other issue is likely that the gluten needed to be more developed through additional working of the dough – i.e., stretch-and-folds. While 2-3 stretch-and-folds is usually sufficient for the recipe above, if you use a higher hydration, or a large amount of lower gluten flour (like rye or spelt), you may need to repeat the stretch-and-folds a couple more times. A final possibility is that you’re overworkin the dough – as you do each stretch-and-fold, you should feel the dough getting stronger. One turn every thirty minutes (2-3 times), should be enough – it’s not like kneading the dough for 5 minutes each time or something like that.

  • I am attempting my first Sourdough Starter and I am on Day 6. I did nothing to my starter on Day 5, when it was technically ready for use. Can I still use this? I tasted it and it tastes just like bread *mind…. blown* lol. I have always wanted to make bread but I am not an experienced baker; seems to be the time to start given the current state of our lives.

    I think I need to discard and feed my starter but would also like to use the discarded portion. As I am NOT experienced, Do I weigh my starter in order to know how much I discard (i.e. half) or eyeball it?

    When I feed my starter to maintain it, do I use the normal 4oz flour & 4oz water?

    I am sure I have many more questions but I’ll ask these for now 🙂

    Thank you for your time and your recipes!

    • Hi Kelly – Yes, when feeding your starter to maintain it, you should generally use the same ratio you use to build the starter. (For me, that was 1:2:2 — for example, 20 grams starter, 40 grams flour, 40 grams water.) There are a few recipes on my blog that use discard starter! Including the country loaf recipe, and a recipe for sourdough discard crackers. The King Arthur Flour website has some more good ideas for using discard, as does the blog The Perfect Loaf. As for when you starter is ready for use–It generally takes about 2 weeks (from setting the flour and water out for the first time) for a new starter to be strong enough to raise dough.

      • Thank you so much for your reply!

        My starter is now on Day 8 (4/1/20) and hasn’t been fed since Day 4 and not been refrigerated at all. Can I feed it today and continue with it or do I need to start over?

        Do I have to discard it if I’m not ready to use the discard?

        Again, thank you for your responses!

        • I would probably start over – the starter really needs to be fed daily (or even twice or three times a day) if it’s not refrigerated. The problem is that, if its not fed the starter basically starts to feed on itself, and then the pH gets messed up etc. So I would advise starting over. The King Arthur Flour website has really good instructions for creating and maintaining a starter.

  • 5 stars
    Great recipe and technique, thank you! After shaping, I put my dough into an 8×4″ loaf pan and covered with plastic before an overnight rest in the fridge. Baked it about 12 hours later following your baking instructions above, covering the pan with a 9×13 pan for the first 1/2. Final product is tasty and nicely shaped for sandwiches. Next time I will try to add a little steam in the oven with a pan in the bottom and hot water. Thank you!

    • It is scored using a bread lame (basically, a razor). Before the bread goes in the oven, it’s dusted with flour and then is cut with the lame. The designs open in the oven.

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