Shortcuts In Moderation

When I started learning to bake bread, I used active dry yeast. It was easy and with the right recipe, I could get reasonably good results without all the complications of a sourdough starter. But I always aspired to make bread with the starter, and for a while, I believed that using a starter was the only real way to make bread. I also thought that once I moved to using a starter, I would never make bread the “easy way” again.

Eventually, I did learn how to make sourdough bread. But some recipes work better when I use active dry yeast, and sometimes I want to make a loaf without needing to plan a day ahead (like this morning). Sometimes, the recipe I’m making needs a bit of extra lift, so I use both (like many of the excellent recipes in Tartine Bread, which I think started the current artisanal baking trend).

Is it cheating to use active dry yeast? Is it inauthentic?

From 2010 to 2016, my answer would have been yes. I would have said the modern obsession with convenience poisoned our food and destroyed our health, so of course modern shortcuts are just expressions of our diseased society (I was lots of fun back then).

Now, I don’t think there’s anyone keeping score. If the bread comes out well and the timing of the recipe suits my life, then it’s a win. I made a good loaf that I can enjoy and share with my neighbors. I feel like the joy of simple pleasure outweighs any negative health effects of using modern methods, and the anxiety of worrying about every little health impact would undo the benefits (I’ve been down that road).

A common refrain in the historical costume YouTube community is that these folks love the fashion of times gone by, but that doesn’t mean they don’t prefer the modern world with its (better) social equality, indoor plumbing, and climate control. Some of them insist on using authentic, historical sewing techniques (always, or when it suits them), and some of them use modern tools and methods while still constructing historical silohouttes and styles. They do what suits their lifestyles and actually gets the dresses made.

I like that we can get the best of both worlds: old country loaves in a day, or lovely Regency fashion without oppression of women. Shortcuts in moderation aren’t always a bad thing, as long as we are mindful of the effects they have on the final product, which don’t have to be negative. If something has been done a particular way for a long time, and it’s a pain, I would like to first understand why, and then find a better way that doesn’t break stuff.