It’s the baking gift that keeps on giving.

I have been maintaining a sourdough starter for several years, and very happily (and deliciously). But now, as we all maintain serious social distancing in response to the spread of novel coronavirus, I find myself in a new role: sourdough starter pusher. What this means is that my porch has become a contact-free pickup zone where my neighbors take home bits of starter to, well, start their own sourdough starters.

In admittedly trying times, it’s still a great thing to witness happening. For one, baking bread (of any kind) is a great activity during this period of enforced staying at home: It fills time and is an activity that requires both physical and mental focus, making it a great stress reliever overall. Further, bread in the oven makes your house smell amazing (another mood elevator!), and suddenly you can find yourself supplying your own bread-related items for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (hello, homemade croutons).

Why sourdough? Let me count the ways.

Of course, everything sourdough is delicious. That’s pretty much a universal truth. But further (and importantly right now during stresses on local markets as people keep their pantries stocked), sourdough bread doesn’t require yeast. You’re growing the good-bacteria goods right there in your container, so any shortage at your local markets is irrelevant. A sourdough baker is a self-sufficient baker! Flexed muscle emoji!

How to start your own… starter

If you don’t have a pal with a piece of an established starter to gift you, here are three versions: a classic version, a potato flake variation, and one with yogurt. In the mood to up your sourdough game? Invest in a few key items (while ordering online, of course).

Time to bake some bread

Starter up to snuff? Start with this simple basic recipe for sourdough bread and once you get comfortable, you can branch out into pretty much any bread recipe you want to create. You can also make wonderful sourdough versions of some of your favorite baked goods like biscuits.

And it doesn’t stop there: Converting an existing recipe into one using sourdough is simple. Since your starter is essentially half flour and half water, plus wild yeasts, assume you will need about 1 cup of active starter to rise a regular loaf of bread. Replace the yeast in your recipe with this amount of starter, and then be sure to reduce the amount of flour in that recipe by half a cup, and the water or other liquids also by half a cup. You can also use this techniques for other baked goods like English muffins.

Even more uses for your starter

The material you remove when you feed your starter, referred to as discard, is a wonderful ingredient to play with. Since the yeasts have already risen and fallen, you can use the discard to make crackers and flatbreads, by replacing about a third to half of the flour called for in recipes with your discard. These cheese crackers work really well with a half a cup of discard swapped in for a half cup of the flour.

And any recipe that calls for buttermilk can be boosted by the natural tang of sourdough. You can replace a portion of the buttermilk and a portion of the flour with your sourdough discard for a delicious new take. Try a sourdough version of buttermilk pancakes and tell me you haven’t just had the best breakfast of your life… quarantine or no quarantine.