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 working for me! (EDIT: I've since successfully made a sourdough starter and I'm obsessed with using it! Lots more sourdough in the future!). While you're making a sourdough starter, you end up with a ton of sourdough discard that is either waste or can be used in other recipes. So in an effort to keep my discard from going to waste, I made Sourdough Discard Pretzels!
These are delicious to serve with Honey Mustard Dipping Sauce or your other favorite dips!
Why you'll love this recipe
- Sourdough Discard Pretzels are easy to make and great for beginner bakers or making with kids and family!
- Pretzels freeze well so you can enjoy some now and save some for later.
- If you're not baking with eggs, you can easily replace the egg wash with melted butter or even water.
- This recipe is very adaptable; you can easily top with cinnamon sugar, cheese, or your other favorite topping. Also try these Sourdough Discard Pretzel Bites!
As long as you have sourdough discard, you likely have everything you need!
- Sourdough discard: You will need unfed sourdough discard unfed and at room temperature for this recipe. This recipe is designed for a sourdough starter with a 1:1:1 ratio (when you feed your sourdough starter, it's with 1 part starter, 1 part flour, 1 part water). If your starter uses a different ratio, you may need to modify some of the ingredients in this recipe.
- Active dry yeast: Even though we're using sourdough discard, you still need to use a leavening agent (in this case, yeast) to ensure the dough rises predictably. Don't worry, the pretzels will still have a sourdough tang!
- Dark brown sugar: This is to feed the yeast. You could also substitute this with light brown sugar, granulated sugar, or honey. The dark brown sugar gives a nice depth of flavor.
- All-purpose flour: This is the base of our pretzel dough and will make a nice, soft pretzel.
- Flaky sea salt: Maldon Salt is my favorite flaky sea salt for finishing the pretzels. You can also use pretzel salt!
See full recipe below for detailed directions.
This is a very adaptable recipe and there are a few simple substitutions you can make:
- Use active sourdough starter: If you'd like to use active sourdough starter instead of discard, you can! To do so, omit the yeast. You may need to adjust the rise times as well, so keep an eye on the dough as it's rising.
- Omit the eggs: If you're not baking with eggs, you can use melted butter or even water in place of the egg wash. The purpose here is to help the salt stick to the pretzels.
- Use different toppings: Flaky salt is the classic pretzel topping, but you could also top these with everything bagel seasoning or another topping of your choice!
- Make the pretzels larger or smaller: To make mini pretzels, divide the dough into 16 pieces, rather than 8 for full-size pretzels. If you wanted to make jumbo pretzels, try dividing the dough into 4 or 6 pieces.
I have not tested this recipe with other variations, but if you do, let us know how it turns out in the comments! I always love to hear how you're adapting these recipes and use those as ideas for future recipes as well!
How to make Sourdough Discard Pretzels
These Sourdough Discard Pretzels come together in just a few easy steps.
Combine warm water, brown sugar, and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer. Let sit for 5 minutes until the yeast is foamy (if it doesn't foam, your yeast is dead and you'll need to start over with fresh yeast).
Add the sourdough discard, flour, salt, and water and mix until well combined. Change speed to medium and knead until dough is smooth, 4-5 minutes. You can also knead by hand here.
Transfer dough to a large, oiled boil and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise 60-90 minutes, or until doubled in size.
Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces (this doesn't have to be precise).
On an ungreased work surface (you'll need some traction), roll each piece into a rope, approximately 18-24 inches long.
Create a U shape with the dough.
Fold the ends of the rope over like a heart, make one twist, the press the ends into the bottom of the pretzel.
Boil each pretzel for 20-30 seconds on each side and transfer to a parchment paper-lined baking sheet with a slotted spoon or spatula.
Brush each pretzel with egg wash.
Sprinkle with flaky sea salt and bake until golden brown.
Let the pretzels cool fully on a drying rack before serving (if you can resist!).
Hint: The egg wash helps give the pretzels their signature color, but also helps the salt to stick to the pretzel. Be careful, though, if you brush too much egg wash on the pretzel and it starts to pool, that will become an eggy spot (it will taste like eggs). Not a terrible thing, but something to watch for!
Variation: Sourdough Discard Pretzel Bites
An easy variation of this recipe is to make Sourdough Discard Pretzel Bites.
Instead of shaping the dough into the classic rounded pretzel, follow the below directions for delicious pretzel bites.
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.
Expert Baking Tips
- Make sure to knead the dough long enough! If your pretzels are looking shaggy or not smooth, it's likely you didn't knead the dough until it was completely smooth.
- Be patient with the rise. Rise times will vary depending on the temperature of your room. If your room is warmer, you may need less rise time. If your room is colder, you may need more rise time.
- Press the ends of the pretzels into the bottom of the U when shaping. You don't want to just lay the dough on top of itself - this will unravel. Really press the ends of the pretzel into the bottom of the pretzel shape.
- Make sure the pretzels pass the float test. When you boil the pretzels, they should float. If they do not, cover the unboiled dough with plastic wrap and let rest for 10 minutes, then try again.
- Pretzels might float immediately, or they may initially sink, then rise to the top to float. Either way, this is floating!
- If the pretzel sinks to the bottom and does not come up, or sticks to the bottom, they need more time to rise.
- Serve with your favorite dips, like this Honey Mustard Dipping Sauce!
What is sourdough discard?
Sourdough discard is what is leftover after you feed your sourdough starter. You can either literally discard this (compost or throw away), or you can use it in sourdough discard recipes like this one!
Make sure your sourdough discard is unfed and at room temperature for this recipe. This recipe also uses yeast to ensure that the dough rises predictably. Don't worry, it will still have a sourdough flavor!
I like to make the dough in a KitchenAid 5-Quart Stand Mixer, but this is optional. You can also make this recipe with a large bowl and a wooden spoon, then knead the dough by hand.
You'll need a large pot (I use a Staub Cocotte) for boiling the pretzels, a slotted spatula or spoon, and two half-sheet baking pans lined with parchment paper. Let the pretzels cool on a cooling rack.
Room Temperature Storage: 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 about 30 seconds to make them soft and warm again.
Freezer Storage: Once fully cooled, transfer the pretzels to a freezer-safe bag or container and freeze for up to 3 months. When you're ready to reheat, place them in the microwave for about 60 seconds or until they're soft and warm again.
This recipe is designed to be made with sourdough discard. Without it, you would need to modify several ingredients. You can also make this recipe with active sourdough starter. To do so, omit the yeast; you may also need to adjust the rise time.
Every sourdough starter is different. You may need to adjust the flour or water content of the recipe to reach the right dough 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.
You can use pretzel salt, too (of course!), but regular kosher salt or table salt is too fine and will melt right into the dough.
If you don't knead your dough long enough, it will look like it's not completely smooth. That will lead to shaggy-looking pretzels.
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.
Sourdough Discard Pretzels
For the Dough
- 1 cup + 2 Tablespoons warm water
- 1 Tablespoon dark brown sugar
- 1 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast
- 200 grams (about ¾ cup) sourdough discard unfed, at room temperature
- 567 grams (about 4 cups) all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 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 warm water (1 cup + 2 Tbsp) and brown sugar 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, salt, and butter, and mix using the dough hook attachment until well-combined. Change to medium speed and continue to knead until a smooth dough forms, about 4-5 minutes (you can also knead by hand if preferred).
- If needed, add more flour or water (1 Tablespoon at a time) to reach your desired consistency. The dough should be fairly sturdy, smooth and not sticky.
- Oil a large bowl and transfer the dough in a ball to the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 60-90 minutes, 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*. 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 20-30 seconds on each side. The pretzels should float (called "passing the float test"); if not, see notes section below. Remove the pretzels from the water using a slotted spatula and return to the baking sheet. Brush each pretzel with egg wash and sprinkle with flaky sea salt**.
- Bake until golden brown, approximately 13-15 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack to cool fully. Serve with a mustard or your favorite dipping sauce.