In mixing bread, we put the yeast into warm (not hot) water; this we mix with flour, thus supplying the moisture and nourishment required. We put this mixture in a warm place to force the growth of the plant. When the dough has become sufficiently inflated we put it into the oven and raise the heat to a degree which kills the plant and fixes the air cells, and our bread is done.
One cake of compressed yeast is equal to one cupful of liquid yeast.
Baking-powder is a mixture of soda, cream of tartar, and cornstarch, or rice flour.
Use one level teaspoonful of baking-powder to each cupful of flour.
Use one even teaspoonful of soda and two full teaspoonfuls of cream of tartar to a quart of flour.
When sour milk is used, take one even teaspoonful of soda to a pint of milk, and omit the cream of tartar.
When molasses is used, omit the cream of tartar, and use one teaspoonful of soda to each cupful of molasses.
Mix powders with the flour, and sift them together, so as to thoroughly mix them.
Mix dry materials in one bowl and liquids in another; combine them quickly, and put at once into the oven.
The oven for baking bread should be hot enough to brown a teaspoonful of flour in five minutes. For biscuits it should brown in one minute.
Rolls brushed with milk just before baking will have a brown crust.
Rubbing the crust with butter just before it is taken from the oven will make it crisp.
Bread is often mixed the night before it is to be baked, and left to rise from eight to ten hours; but the whole process of bread-making, from the mixing to the serving, can be done in two and a half hours if sufficient yeast is used. In hot weather it is desirable to complete the work in a short time, in order to prevent fermentation or souring, which occurs if left too long a time. Four hours and a half is ample time for the whole process, using the ordinary amount of yeast; two hours for the mixing and rising of the sponge or dough; one half hour for the kneading and molding; one hour for the loaves to rise in the pans, and one hour for the baking.
A thin batter called a sponge may be made at night, and the rest of the flour added in the morning, or the dough may be mixed and kneaded at night and only molded into loaves in the morning; but a better way, especially in summer, is to set the bread early in the morning and have it baked by noon. It needs to rise twice, once either in the sponge or in the dough, and again after it is molded into loaves. The old way of letting it rise three times is unnecessary, and increases the danger of souring. If the dough gets very light before one is ready to work it, it should be cut away from the sides of the pan and pressed down in the center with the knife. This liberates some of the gas and retards the fermentation. This can be done several times. If it rises too high it will collapse, which means souring, but before that it loses its best flavor, and so should not be allowed to more than double its bulk.
The proportions of flour, liquid, and yeast cannot be exactly given, as flour of different qualities and degrees of dryness will absorb more or less liquid, and the amount of yeast to be used depends both upon the time allowed and the temperature.
Two cupfuls of liquid will take six to seven cupfuls of sifted flour, and this will make two small loaves. One half a compressed yeast cake will raise this amount in two hours if kept in a warm place. The other ingredients for this quantity are one teaspoonful of salt, one tablespoonful of sugar, and one tablespoonful of butter, lard, or cottolene, if shortening is desired.
Bread made with milk instead of water, and with shortening, is more tender than when water alone is used. Boiled potatoes are sometimes added, and give a more moist bread.
Dissolve the yeast in a part of the tepid water; in the rest of the water mix the salt, sugar, and butter, add the dissolved yeast, and then stir in enough flour to make a soft dough which will not stick to the hands. If the flour is cold warm it. If milk is used, scald it, then allow it to become tepid before mixing it with the yeast. Place the pan in a warm place free from draughts. When the dough is to be made into rolls or fancy forms, it needs to be a little stiffer than for loaves.
A sponge is a thin batter made by mixing only a little flour with the other ingredients. This is left to stand until filled with large bubbles. The rest of the flour is then added, to make the dough.
When bread is to be made in a short time, it is better to set a sponge instead of making a dough at first; for in this way the second rising will be a little quicker.
When a dough is mixed and set aside to rise, cover the pan with several thicknesses of cloth to exclude the air and so prevent a crust forming on the top. It helps also to keep the dough at an even temperature. If a crust forms it is difficult to mix it in so thoroughly that it does not leave hard spots and lines in the bread. There is a bread-pan made with close-fitting cover, which is recommended.
When the dough is made, it should be kneaded for twenty to thirty minutes. Turn it from the pan onto a board, and work it by drawing it forward with the fingers and pushing it away with the balls of the hands, turning it all the time. This stretches the gluten and changes it from a sticky paste to a smooth, elastic substance. Use as little flour on the board as possible, and work it until it no longer sticks. The more it is worked the finer will be the grain, and the less flour used the better will be the bread.
When dough is made at the first mixing, return it to the pan after it is kneaded and let it rise to double its size (not more), and then work it down, mold it into loaves, and let it rise a second time in the baking-pans. When a sponge is made, knead the dough when the flour is added to the sponge, and put it at once into the baking-pans.
Divide the dough evenly and shape it to the pans as well as possible, filling the pans only half full. Cover and set them in a warm place free from draughts. When they have doubled (not more) in size, put them in the oven. The loaf rises a little more in the oven. If it is too light, it is likely to fall, which means it has soured, and for this there is no remedy. The loaf in the pan should rise in one hour.
Care in baking is even more essential than care in mixing and raising the bread. Test the oven by putting in a teaspoonful of flour. If it browns the flour in five minutes the heat is right. Have the fire prepared so it will not need replenishing during the hour required for the baking. The bread rises after it goes in the oven, and is likely to rise unevenly if the oven is hotter on one side than the other; therefore it should be watched and turned carefully if necessary. At the end of ten to fifteen minutes the top should be browned, and this will arrest the rising. If the oven is too cool, the bread is likely to rise so much as to run over the pan, or to have a hole in the center. If the oven is too hot it will make a crust too soon, the centre be underdone, and the crust be too thick. One hour is the time required for baking the ordinary sized loaf.
When the bread is taken from the oven turn it out of the pans and support the loaves in such a way that the air will reach all sides. If the loaves stand flat the bottom crust will become moist. If wrapped in cloth it will do the same and give a soft crust, which, however, some prefer to have. It should not be put in the bread-box until entirely cold.
For baking rolls the rule is different from that for bread. Rolls should rise, to be very light, more than double their original size, and the oven be hot enough to form a crust at once. It should brown flour in one minute and bake the rolls in fifteen to twenty minutes.
The ordinary white flour of best quality is nearly all starch, the nourishing parts of the wheat having been mostly all removed by the bolting to make it white. The whole wheat flour makes a much more nourishing and health-giving bread, and when the habit of eating it is once formed, bread made of the white flour is no longer liked.
There is a variety of bread-pans giving loaves of different shapes to be used for different purposes. Besides the square tin which gives the ordinary square loaf, there is a sheet iron rounded pan open at the ends. The dough for this pan is made into a long roll a little thicker in the middle than at the ends. It gives the shape of the Vienna loaf. After the bread has risen cut it across the top in three diagonal slashes with a sharp knife; when it is nearly baked brush over the top with a thin boiled cornstarch, and it will further resemble the Vienna loaf. For dinner bread, there is a pan a foot long of two flutes, about two inches each across and open at the ends; for this roll the dough long and round, or make two smaller rolls and twist them together; bake in a hot oven like biscuits. This gives a long, round crusty loaf like the French bread. A pan of small flutes is used for dinner sticks or finger rolls, giving a pencil of bread three quarters of an inch thick and five inches long. Bread made in different shapes gives a pleasant variety and often seems like a different article when baked so as to give more or less crust.