Have any of you mixed and cultivated your own sourdough starter–and then given it up? I have. Much as I loved baking bread it began to feel like a burden. I just couldn’t keep up. But what I didn’t consider was that sourdough starter didn’t require bread baking to be useful. There are all sorts of other baked goods you can make with it.

There’s also another option. If you haven’t cultivated starter, you need to know that it requires regular feeding with equal parts flour and water–but before you add the new you have to discard much of the old. The Friendship Bread Project, also known as Amish friendship bread, encourages people to share their discarded starter with friends–like a benign chain letter.

But what if on a given week you don’t have anyone to share it with and you don’t want to just throw it away? I did some research and found that there are lots of ways to use discarded starter: pancakes and waffles, cakes, quick breads, muffins, crackers, and crepes. Some you can use with just the weakened starter. For others, like the English muffins I tried that were an epic fail, I learned you need to feed first. My friend Joanne Sherif, who owns San Diego’s Cardamom Cafe & Bakery, has been using hers for cornbread and banana bread, which you can buy at the bakery.

Initially, when I decided to use up my discards before the weekly feeding, I had a limited range of options,  but only because of simple quantity–my first discards were limited to half a cup. When I fed the starter I added four ounces each of King Arthur white whole wheat flour and water. (And note, I add ingredients by weight, not volume.) Unless I need more starter for a big baking project, I’ll add two ounces of flour and water each in the future, let it sit on the counter for several hours until it bubbles up, then store it in the fridge. I put a line on the see-through container that shows the starting point so I can see how much it grows (I still find that hugely exciting). Because it’s being refrigerated I only need to feed it weekly. If left on the counter, it would need daily feeding. I don’t think I have enough interested friends to share discards from that or the time to use it up daily.

As I scoured online resources I came across a site I wasn’t familiar with but that I discovered, along with the ever-reliable King Arthur Flour, is hugely informative: Cultures for Health. The site has an entire section devoted to how to use discarded starter. And from there I found my recipe: Chocolate Sourdough Snack Cake.

Yes, I was lured by biscuits, including biscuits with cheddar cheese, and pretzels, and English muffins… but I didn’t have enough starter. Curious about a sourdough dessert, and honestly getting a little desperate, I clicked on desserts and found this cake. Bingo! It sounded divine–and only needed half cup of starter.

This recipe is super simple and yields a deep chocolate brownie-like consistency. It calls for baking in a cake pan, but I fiddled around with measurements and decided to use a loaf pan instead–and it worked just fine. I also didn’t have non-alkalized cocoa powder and worried that since the recipe called for baking soda there might be an issue. But no, it all turned out well. (I’ve since found–and ordered–natural cocoa powder for when this comes up again.)

I actually didn’t taste much of a sour/tangy flavor from the starter, but the cake benefitted in moistness and richness. And, oh, how wonderful it is with a cup of coffee or tea.

And, really, the point of this bake was to demonstrate to myself that I could relax a bit about having a starter again since the pressure is off to bake bread at a pace I can’t keep up with. In fact, the following week I did  bake crackers–something you could do for clients you’re making appetizers for if you’re catering a dinner party or event.

And, if anyone in San Diego would like my discards, let me know. I’m happy to share when I feed on Sundays.

Chocolate Sourdough Snack Cake
From Cultures for Health

Ingredients

1 cup unrefined cane sugar
1/2 cup butter or coconut oil
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 Tbsp. cold, strong coffee
1/2 cup fresh sourdough starter
1 cup flour
1/4 cup unsweetened, non-alkalized cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup chopped nuts or naturally sweetened mini chocolate chips

Instructions

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Line an 8-inch baking pan with parchment paper; lightly butter and set aside.
3. Mix unrefined sugar and butter together in a large bowl until sugar is thoroughly incorporated into butter. Beat in egg, vanilla, coffee, and sourdough starter.
4. In a separate bowl, stir together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt.
5. Blend dry ingredients into wet ingredients just until batter is mixed through.
6. Fold in nuts and chocolate chips. Do not overmix.
7. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake 30 to 40 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
8. Cool on a rack and serve plain or frosted.

Do you keep a sourdough starter? What kinds of treats do you make with it?

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