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Is there a way to make sourdough bread without the long term commitment of feeding a starter?

My kids and I love sourdough bread, but I also work 2 jobs, so making bread is, sadly, a once in a blue moon type of thing. Taking good care of starter would get lost in the shuffle, and I don't want to waste/ruin/starve any starter. Essentially, I want to make sourdough bread once.

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I would recommend you find a (hobby) baker locally. Almost everyone who maintains a sourdough has some extra that they would otherwise discard. I have read about local Facebook groups etc. of people sharing their starters during the pandemic (when sourdough suddenly was “a thing” and weirdly enough yeast was hard to get at times), including contact-less drop-offs and similar. I have shared my starter(s) freely with everyone who asked for it in the past. Even repeatedly for one-time-bakers as you are planning to be.

The charm of this approach is that you can make new acquaintances that way and that the shared starter most likely will come with a bit of an explanation as to the specific culture’s temperament. They might even be willing to share a few favorite recipes and give you some hits that a generic recipe doesn’t have.

That said, if you have an established starter, it’s really not that much of a problem if you bake only once in a blue moon. Mine is parked in the fridge, sometimes for months on end, without further care. A bit of pampering and it’s as good as new, ready to climb out of the jar.

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    s/moths/months - at least I hope you don't have moths in your fridge. There was something faintly apocalyptic about cycling across a deserted city to swap surplus flour for sourdough starter just as things shut down round here 11 months ago.
    – Chris H
    Feb 4 at 9:04
  • @ChrisH ahhh, a brain flutter! And I bought a huuuuge sack of flour (instead of the usual 2.5 or maybe 5kg), as that was all my local mill had. Supermarkets were out of flour anyway. (Not to mention yeast.)
    – Stephie
    Feb 4 at 9:05
  • I never quite ran out of flour but had to use plain (all-purpose) for a few loaves and buy some overpriced flour repacked by a local expensive bakery. 1.5kg is the norm here, so I need nearly a bag a week
    – Chris H
    Feb 4 at 9:16
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It's really not that much of a time commitment. Once you get it going, there are ways to store it (fridge, freezer, dehydrated) so that you can keep it long-term, with limited upkeep. Of course, it will always need care and feeding to get it active again. Short of that, the solution to your problem is to find a friend with an active starter. It is easy to transfer an active starter to someone else for their use.

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    If you know someone with a starter, they can easily give you some. And that will be more reliable than making a starter from scratch every now and then
    – Chris H
    Feb 3 at 16:27
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    I keep mine in the fridge and sometimes it goes for weeks without being fed. I just have to remember to start breeding it 3 days before I bake.
    – RedSonja
    Feb 4 at 7:16
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    @RedSonja mine works pretty well with slightly less forward planning: I took it out of the fridge last night, fed it this morning, will make the dough this evening, prove in a cool room overnight and bake tomorrow morning - call it 36 hours. I typically use it once or twice a week. It's well-established, descended from one a friend has used for years
    – Chris H
    Feb 4 at 9:02
  • My starter lives constantly in the fridge. A day after feeding it bubbles along quite happily, and I've occasionally left it to starve for up to four weeks without having to even discard/feed before baking. YMVV, of course, but sourdoughs are rather hardy.
    – gustafc
    Feb 4 at 11:22
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There are prepackaged portions of sour dough starter available in most grocery stores. They have a shelf life of a few months and don't need to be fed if not opened. This is just one of a couple variants that are available in my next grocery store.

Prepackaged sourdough starter

As with every sour dough starter you can just feed it to grow the colony, then use half of it and keep the other half for later. It will last for at least a week without feeding when stored in the fridge, multiple weeks are also possible but it will probably need some time to recover.

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    They're labelled only in German, so I assume you're in Germany or Austria. I've never seen such a thing in British supermarkets (or French, but I don't bake when in France as I'm normally camping ) - and I was in the right place in a large UK supermarket today buying yeast. It may be common where you are, but not everywhere, and I don't know where the OP is. I could buy starter, but it would be wet and expensive
    – Chris H
    Feb 4 at 15:17
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    Careful - most (all?) of them are inactive starters and just provide flavor, while the leavening is based on additional yeast. For the product pictured, the manufacturer claims that it can be sort of propagated, but only for a few iterations, and all the recipes on their website add extra yeast. If you consider how a live starter grows and expands, it’s kind of obvious that the pictured product (which can be stored at room temperature for months) can’t be equal to that or the packaging would simply burst or the culture die.
    – Stephie
    Feb 4 at 15:53
  • Thanks for the feedback. As I've seen this kind of starter (it is wet and active) in pretty much every larger shop in Germany I've jumped to the conclusion these were widespread. But I guess that's what you get from living in the capital of bread. :) I've had a starter from this brand for about two years now, I'm feeding it regularly and make pizza out of it every other week without any troubles.
    – YPOC
    Feb 4 at 16:07
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    @YPOC yeah - but without yeast, a dough using the package alone will not behave the same way as with a truly active starter. So if the asker gets their hands on some of that, they might be disappointed. Seitenbacher suggests propagating via some ready dough - which then contains yeast according to their instructions.
    – Stephie
    Feb 4 at 16:11
  • @Stephie I never knew! Thanks
    – YPOC
    Feb 4 at 16:20
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You can make bread that has some of the properties of sourdough without the full "starter" treatment. It won't be the same, of course, but it might fit the criteria you're looking for.

One option is to use sour ingredients, like greek yogurt, such as in this recipe.

Another option is to use a poolish, which is sort of like a sourdough starter that you make a night or so before, but don't keep beyond this recipe. You usually make about half or so of your dough, ferment it for a day or so, and then make the rest. Here's one recipe for a classic French boule that uses the poolish method. Again, this isn't sourdough bread, but it has some of the same characteristics, and you don't need to do anything to maintain the starter - though it does take extra time, of course, since it has to sit for quite a while (but at least it's not active time).

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    Ooohh, now I am itching to start a batch! Not before the weekend... <sigh>
    – Stephie
    Feb 4 at 21:33

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