Homey & satisfying with a subtle tang, sourdough biscuits are easy to make & a great way to use sourdough starter discard. Make some today!
[Side Note: a version of this post first appeared on my OutlanderCast column, June 26, 2019]
Biscuits are about as homey an item I can think of baking.
They take a minimum amount of time (not like baking bread, which requires time for the dough to rise) so they can be made at the last minute, almost as a whim.
And when you’re searching for ways to use the discard from feeding sourdough starter, having a recipe for Buttery Sourdough Biscuits in your back pocket is handy. They're great for a last-minute accompaniment to a family dinner…or breakfast…or lunch…or snack.
Drizzled with honey and slathered with butter or jam, these crumbly bits of portion-controlled bread heaven are comfort food that practically sings of family and home.
The hunt is always on
I’m always on the lookout for ways to use my weekly sourdough starter discard. Thinking up ways to use that unfed sourdough starter requires a little creativity, and a healthy dose of willingness to experiment.
Actually, most any recipe can be adapted to use sourdough starter discard, if you know its hydration level (a fancy term meaning the ratio of water to flour in the starter itself).
My sourdough starter is made from equal parts, by weight, of flour and water (100% hydration), so adapting a recipe just means I reduce the amount of flour and liquid in any given recipe by half the weight of the starter I plan to use.
For example, if I take out 8 oz of starter from my crock to discard, I have the equivalent of 4 oz each flour and water (which translates to about 1 cup of flour and ½ cup water). I’d just reduce the flour and water in a recipe by those amounts.
Presto change-o, I can use my sourdough starter discard and not waste it. (Sorry about the math diversion, but hey, I like math!)
The usual suspects (plus or minus a couple)
Sourdough Biscuits have the same ingredients that you'd expect in a normal biscuit recipe (with the addition of the starter, of course). The list is very similar to shortcakes and scones, minus the sugar.
My Buttery Sourdough Biscuit recipe uses less salt than most standard biscuit recipes because the sourdough starter discard already has a…er…sour flavor that salt provides. You can, of course, adjust the salt to your tastes (and your starter).
Although it doesn't seem like it from first glance, sourdough biscuit ingredients follow the same 3-1-2 flour-fat-liquid recipe ratio by weight as shortcakes and scones. Remember that sourdough starter is 50% each flour and water, and that starter is fully hydrated so less water is required.
Start by making the dough in the usual way. Mix your dry ingredients, cut in the butter with a pastry blender, then add in the chilled liquid.
Actually, it's a good practice to slowly add the starter to your flour mixture and work it in before adding more. That way you're only adding enough to make a cohesive dough that isn't too wet.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and gently pat it into a 1-inch thick round.
Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 15 to 20 minutes. You’re just firming up the butter after working it. The dough should be pliable but not stiff.
Use a sharp 2½-inch round cookie cutter to cut rounds, cutting them as close to one another as possible.
Here's a useful biscuit baking tip...be sure to press straight down with the cutter. Don't twist or the biscuits won't rise as much. Pat any scraps together, and cut additional biscuits.
If rolling and cutting dough seems like too much work, I’ve also included instructions for sourdough drop biscuits in the recipe notes. They’re a bit less work as no rolling out is required.
And don't forget, biscuits go from good to great when you give them a “butter bath” by brushing the tops before baking them.
Warm and buttery from the oven
My whole apartment smells wonderful as these are baking…buttery sourdough bread comes to mind.
Sourdough biscuits have a very mild sourdough flavor, and they're more buttery. The texture is slightly crunchy, and not quite as flaky as traditional Southern-style biscuits.
My theory is that sourdough discard biscuits are less airy since the flour in the discard is fully hydrated. The remaining (non-hydrated) flour in the recipe may not be enough to fully coat the butter chunks. It’s this flour-coated butter that turns to steam as it melts that creates those extensive flaky layers.
If you have a different explanation, I'd love to hear it. Just leave it in the comments below.
For you experienced biscuit bakers, just be aware that your Sourdough Biscuits may be a little more cake-y than flaky, and you’ll be good to go.
So who’s down for some last-minute Buttery Sourdough Biscuits made by using up something that would otherwise be wasted? Great!
I’ll meet you in the kitchen, and I’ll bring the honey and jam.
Slainté! L’chaim! Cheers!
Recipes using sourdough starter discard
When you maintain a sourdough starter, you have a dilemma. What do you do with your unfed sourdough starter discard? I've got lots of suggestions for sweet and savory ways to use your fed sourdough starter and the sourdough starter discard. Here are a few samples...
Sourdough Starter Maintenance
Here's all you need to know about feeding your sourdough starter. Whether you're new to sourdough or just need a refresher, this is the place to start!
Last Minute Buttery Sourdough Biscuits
For the dough
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- ¾ tsp kosher salt
- ½ cup unsalted butter, cold
- 1 cup sourdough starter discard, unfed, chilled
For the topping
- 1 to 3 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted (optional)
- Combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Using a pastry blender (or 2 forks), work the butter into the flour until the mixture is unevenly crumbly (called “cutting in” the butter).
- Add the sourdough starter discard slowly and work it in before adding more. That way you're only adding enough to make a cohesive dough that isn't too wet.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and gently pat it into a 1-inch thick round. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 15 to 20 minutes. You’re just firming up the butter after working it. The dough should be pliable but not stiff.
- Use a sharp 2½-inch round cookie cutter to cut rounds, cutting them as close to one another as possible. Be sure to press straight down with the cutter. Don't twist or the biscuits won't rise as much. Pat any scraps together, and cut additional biscuits.
- Place the biscuits onto the prepared baking sheet and brush with melted butter, if desired.
- Bake the biscuits in the upper third of the oven for 20 to 23 minutes, until they're golden brown.
- Remove the biscuits from the oven, and serve warm. Or cool completely, wrap in plastic and store at room temperature for several days. Freeze, well-wrapped, for longer storage.