You Can Make Sourdough Starter With a Packet of Yeast
It seems like everyone is back to making bread (especially the no-knead kind) these days. It makes sense. Now that much of the country—heck, much of the world—is back under some version of self-isolation or quarantine orders yet again thanks to highly-contagious variants of the coronavirus, cooking projects that take a long time can be a welcome distraction. As has been well-documented, the shortage of yeast in grocery store shelves has driven bakers to sourdough recipes, since sourdough starter replaces the need for commercial yeast in many bread recipes and with a bit of flour every week or so, is endlessly self-replenishing.
It's great, if you have a starter on hand, whether through a friend, ordered online, or nabbed from a local bakery. If you don't it can be a little tricky getting a starter, well, started. The usual method, which captures the yeast that exists in the air and in the flour itself, requires a lot of patience, and up to a week or more for it to be strong enough to bake with. If you're hoping to bake sooner than that, and you have a small amount (just a quarter teaspoon!) of store-bought yeast on hand, then there's good news—you can make your very own sourdough starter..
You only need a quarter teaspoon of active dry yeast for it to work, so it's actually far less than what's typically in one packet. You can reserve the rest for another baking project. Mix the yeast with a cup of bread flour and a cup of water. Then let it sit out overnight until things get bubbly and start smelling fruity. That's it—you've got starter. Proceed to feed it and bake with it as you would with any other sourdough starter. Basically that means measuring out roughly equal amounts of flour, starter, and lukewarm water, mixing it together in a fresh container, and either sticking it back in the fridge (if you're not baking right away) or leaving it on the counter to bubble (if you're using it more quickly.)The advantage of this method is that it's quicker, and you're effectively extending the life of one tiny bit of commercial yeast ad infinitum, as long as you keep feeding and caring for the starter. It can last years and years, or at least get you through to the other side.