Two weeks ago I decided to try to make my own sourdough starter from scratch. If you've ever attempted your own, you know that it's a miserable experience. Just kidding, but honestly, it just wasn't for me! You also end up with a ton of discard that is either waste or can be used in other recipes (within 1 week). So in an effort to keep my discard from going to waste, I made Sourdough Discard Pretzels!
As always, I do include a few affiliate links in this post for products I truly use and love. This just means that if you make a purchase after clicking one of those links, I'll earn a little money (at no cost to you) to keep the kitchen up and running, which I promise to use to create more fun content like this! One of those affiliates is with Amazon, which requires a very clear disclosure: as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. If you have any questions about affiliates, please reach out!
As long as you have Sourdough discard, you likely have everything you need!
- Sourdough Starter Discard: this recipe is not meant to be made with active Sourdough Starter. Make sure you're using the unfed discard! Room temperature is perfect. This recipe is also designed for discard that is made with 50% water and 50% flour. If your starter uses a different ratio, you may need to adjust this recipe.
- Active dry yeast: since you're mixing with water, you'll want to use active dry yeast (rather than instant yeast)
- Dark brown sugar: to feed the yeast. You could also substitute this with granulated sugar, or honey. The dark brown sugar gives a nice depth of flavor.
- All-purpose flour: the base of our pretzel dough
- Unsalted butter: butter in the dough helps the pretzels become crispy
- Water and baking soda for boiling the pretzels before they're baked (to make a nice crust)
- Egg wash and a sprinkle of flaky sea salt (Maldon Salt is my favorite) for finishing the pretzels
- Mustard, or another dipping sauce of your choice!
Equipment you'll need to get started
You'll likely have everything you need in your kitchen, but a few things I like to use:
- KitchenAid Stand Mixer from Amazon. If you don't have a stand mixer, you can also make this with a large mixing bowl and a wooden spoon.
- Dutch Baby from Great Jones (for boiling the pretzels) or any other large pot.
- Nordic Ware Sheet Pans from Amazon
- Silpat Mats from Amazon (you can also use parchment paper)
- Cooling Racks from Amazon
Working with sourdough discard
Every sourdough starter is different. You may need to adjust the flour or water content of the recipe a little to get the right consistency. If your dough is too wet, add 1 Tablespoon of flour at a time, mixing thoroughly, until you reach the desired consistency. If your dough is too dry, add 1 Tablespoon of water at a time, mixing thoroughly, until you reach the desired consistency.
Shaping the pretzels
Shaping the pretzels is very easy, but you can also get creative here! To make a standard pretzel shape, roll your dough to approximately 24in. long. Create a U shape, then cross the ends over each other (as if you're making a heart). Twist the two ends and use your thumbs to push into the bottom of the U. You can push quite hard here - this is what will help your pretzels keep their shape. Remember: they do not have to be perfect! Part of the beauty of pretzels is when they're a little irregular. So don't worry if they aren't all exactly the same.
If you want to get creative with the shaping, you can always make a twist, a braid, a knot, or anything! Just remember if the dough is thicker (like a knot, where the dough is more so in a ball), it may need to bake for a longer time).
For my sourdough discard pretzels, I wanted them to be a little more like a bun. I rolled my dough out to be a bit shorter (12-15in. long) and kept the pretzel fairly tight.
Making Sourdough Pretzel Bites
An easy variation of this recipe is to make Sourdough Pretzel Bites. Instead of shaping them into the classic rounded pretzel, follow the below directions.
Roll each piece of dough into an 18-24 inch rope.
Use a sharp knife to cut each rope into 1-inch pieces. They don't have to be perfect!
Boil the pieces for 30 seconds.
Transfer the boiled pieces to a lined baking sheet and separate into individual pieces. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with flaky sea salt.
You will bake the pretzel bites in the same way as the regular pretzels. Just keep an eye on the time as they may not need quite as much baking time.
Top Tip: If you don't separate the pieces of dough, they will start to stick to each other as they're baking. It's not a bad thing and they'll be delicious, but they will clump together, so try to spread them out so they have some room on the baking sheet.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I use active sourdough starter?
This recipe is designed to be made with discard; I do not recommend using active starter.
My dough seems too wet / dry. What should I do?
Every sourdough starter is different. You may need to adjust the flour or water content of the recipe to get the right consistency. If your dough is too wet, add 1 Tablespoon of flour at a time, mixing thoroughly, until you reach the desired consistency. If your dough is too dry, add 1 Tablespoon of water at a time, mixing thoroughly, until you reach the desired consistency.
What if I don't have flaky sea salt?
You can use pretzel salt, too, but regular kosher salt or table salt is too fine and will melt right into the dough.
My finished pretzels are looking a little shaggy - what happened?
If your dough isn't completely smooth, you didn't knead long enough.
My pretzels unraveled - help!
If your pretzels unravel when you boil them, you didn't press the ends into the bottom of the U enough when shaping them (you can press hard!). After they're boiled, you can still shape and press them together.
How should I store Sourdough Discard Pretzels?
If you're going to eat them quickly (the next day or so), keep them in a paper bag at room temperature. If they harden, you can put them in the microwave for 30 seconds to make them soft and warm again.
Alternatively, you can put them in a ziplock bag and freeze them. When you're ready to reheat, place them in the microwave for 1 minute or until they're soft and warm.
Below is my recipe for Sourdough Discard Pretzels. Enjoy!
Sourdough Discard Pretzels
- 1 cup warm water
- 1 Tablespoon dark brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast
- 1 cup sourdough starter discard unfed, at room temperature
- 20 ounces all-purpose flour
- 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter melted
- 10 cups water
- ⅔ cup baking soda
- 1 egg yolk beaten with 1 Tablespoon water to make an egg wash
- Flaky sea salt for topping
- Combine the water, sugar, and kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Sprinkle the yeast on top and let sit for 5 minutes or until the yeast begins to foam.
- Add the sourdough discard, flour, and butter and mix using the dough hook attachment until well-combined. If needed, add more flour or water 1 Tablespoon at a time to reach your desired dough consistency. Change to medium speed and continue to knead until the dough is smooth, 4-5 minutes.
- Oil a large bowl and transfer the dough in a ball to the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 1 hour, or until doubled in size.
- Preheat the oven to 450°F. Line 2 half-sheet baking trays with parchment paper and set aside. Bring 10 cups of water and ⅔ cup baking soda to a boil in a large pot.
- In the meantime, turn the dough out onto a smooth, dry work surface (no need to flour or oil, you'll want some traction). Divide into 8 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a 24-inch rope. If you want to make Sourdough Pretzel Bites, see notes section below. Make a U-shape with the rope, then cross the ends of the rope over each other like a heart. Twist the ends together and push down at the bottom of the U. Place on the parchment-lined baking pan.
- Place the pretzels in the boiling water, one by one, for 30 seconds each. Remove them from the water using a slotted spatula and return to the baking sheet. Brush each pretzel with the egg wash and sprinkle with flaky sea salt.
- Bake until golden brown, approximately 13-15 minutes. If your oven heats unevenly (like mine!) you may want to rotate and switch the pans halfway through so they all get even color. Transfer to a cooling rack to cool. Serve with a mustard or your favorite dipping sauce.