All of a sudden, everyone is making sourdough. Cooped up and anxious from shelter-in-place orders, we turned to bread-making in such numbers that yeast has become impossible to find. I went to Costco the other day and the only flour that was available to purchase was a 30-pound bag! Even that was too much for my breadmaking heart to handle.
This may be hard to hear, but the truth often is: It’s okay not to make sourdough. This feels like a controversial take in the midst of the current sourdough stress-baking craze, but I mean it. Despite what your high school friends are saying in their IG lives, you don’t have to make sourdough. You can make great bread without making sourdough at all.
As an avid baker who has churned out a few loaves of sourdough myself, I understand the urge to want to bake along with others. After all, the sense of community that comes from baking with or for others is one of the best parts of the process, and when so many of us are trying to feel closer to our people, baking feels like a way to display affection from a distance. But all of those warm and fuzzies aren’t null and void just because you’re not making actual sourdough.
What even is sourdough, exactly? These naturally-leavened bread (meaning, no baking powder, baking soda, or store-bought yeast) get their distinct tanginess from the starter, the combination of flour and water that becomes the home for a colony of wild yeast. The process of nurturing the starter and then harnessing its power to bake is a sensitive one that requires a lot of time, patience, and flour. Success hinges on the starter’s health—and about a million other factors. That’s why many other breads use commercial leaveners to churn out consistent results. If you can find these (I know yeast is hard to come by these days), it’s totally okay to take advantage. Sourdough bread isn’t the only bread. Here are some of my favorites, no starter involved:
If you’re looking for something that will deliver a feeling of huge accomplishment, consider turning to this no-knead focaccia. Although it requires yeast to deliver that fluffy, pillowy texture, it’s still less labor-intensive than many other recipes. Once you’ve mastered the recipe, you can start experimenting with toppings. To do so, you’ll want to partially bake (a.k.a. par-bake) your dough. Pull it out of the oven after 20 to 25 minutes, add what you’d like— personally, I love adding cherry tomatoes, chunks of mozzarella, and shaved ribbons of zucchini—and return it for the remainder of the cooking time.
Classic beer bread channels the carbonation and flavor of beer to transform flour, sugar, and butter into a fluffy, slightly malty loaf. It’s an ideal choice for those looking to cut down on the effort of sourdough while still getting a final product with a more complex flavor profile. To make it, all you have to do is mix the ingredients together and transfer the dough into a buttered loaf pan. (If you’re looking for a recipe, I like this one from Half Baked Harvest.) And while the ingredient ratios are pretty consistent, the recipe is forgiving enough to accommodate some slight tweaking.
Flatbreads are a perfect alternative to more time- and ingredient-intensive recipes. Their beauty lies in how straightforward and almost foolproof they are. Because many are made without yeast (thanks, baking powder!), they come together quickly. Start with this caramelized zucchini flatbread and swap in whatever produce you might have on hand. You can even shower it with your favorite blend of herbs and spices to accompany any dinnertime dip situation.
A “soda bread” gets its lift from, you guessed it, baking soda. It can be a simple combination of baking soda, flour, buttermilk, and salt, or it can include sugar, butter, dried fruits, and seeds.