This section is from the book "A Treatise On Flour, Yeast, Fermentation And Baking Together With RecipesFor Bread And Cakes", by Julius Emil Wihlfahrt. Also available from Amazon: A treatise on flour, yeast, fermentation and baking, together with recipes for bread and cakes.
In setting sponge before doughing the process of fermentation is lengthened and, therefore, today, in nearly all the large bakeries straight dough process is employed. But, the same as the straight dough process has its advantage for the large bakery, so the sponge system, too, has advantages for the small baker, as it enables him to make all different kinds of breads from one sponge.
In general, the sponge bread is lighter and whiter than the straight dough process bread, but the latter has a better flavor after the bread is baked.
In small bakeries, where often different kinds and shapes of bread are required, they can be easily taken from the sponge; also, should it be necessary to cut down the amount of bread from what was first intended when sponge was set the sponge may be taken younger and less water lifted on, or, if the sponge is of age, less water and more salt added. Also, if the sponge is too old, it can be regulated by either the addition of more salt or water; but the sponge with too much age - one that is over ready - if no precautions are taken, will make a small and pale loaf, and care should be taken to handle and mix such a sponge as little as possible, so as to save the small amount of strength remaining.
In such a case a slack dough is good, and the addition of a little extra sugar and lard, with a hot oven, will improve color, flavor and appearance of crust. A green or young sponge must be worked just the opposite; a tighter dough of higher temperature, less sugar and a cooler oven will bring better results in such a case. A sponge can be set to meet the requirements of time when it should be ready, as through the use of ice water or a small amount of salt, they can be kept in good condition from 5 to 8 hours.
The regular time for a sponge under normal conditions is from three and a half to four hours. Two pounds and a half of strong flour to one quart of water will make the average stiffness required for sponge.
In selecting flour for sponge bread, the points of relative flavor, strength and color should be considered. For sponge, stronger flour should be used than for doughing, and the proportion is as follows:
Out of ten points consider for sponge, five for strength and the other five equally divided in flavor and color. For doughing, take two points for strength, three for color and five for flavor.
For such a blend use half of water for the setting of sponge and lift the other half on for doughing. When sponge is broken down and mixed with water, lifted on for doughing, the mixture will then represent half of its bulk in water.
This means that if a baker wishes to make, for instance, 15 pounds of graham bread from the white bread sponge, he will dip six quarts of this diluted sponge into another vessel. The 6 quarts represent 3 quarts of water; and, since 1 quart of water on the average represents 5 pounds of pan bread, or 43/4 of Vienna, the advantages to make the different kinds of bread by dipping out sponge and adding other ingredients than used for plain bread can be easily seen, since a batch can be just as well calculated as if a straight dough is made.
A sponge has its different stages of ripeness and should never be set too soft. The stiffness of the bread sponge should be regulated by the strength of the flour used.
A sponge set medium stiff, that has risen and begins to recede, is ready for Vienna bread. For water-bread it should have its first drop, that is when the sponge drops back about two inches. The sponge at this stage will give more crust to the bread.
For rolls and sweet rolls the sponge should have its first drop, but, if a bread of a very large expansion and hard crust is desired, a stronger flour must be used for sponge and the same allowed to come up again after first drop, and the water lifted on as soon as it commences to recede the second time.
This will show the following: A green or young sponge will make a closer-grained loaf, with better flavor and lighter crust, while age in sponge means expansion, lightness and whiteness of loaf and a heavier crust.
Too much age in sponge will influence the color of the bread too much by making a pale loaf; but this can be partly remedied by washing the bread before baking with a dilution of egg-water or boiled cornstarch thinly diluted with water.
An over-ripe sponge will make a heavy and often sour loaf of bread. Therefore, if a sponge gets ready too quick through change of temperature of the shop, the water and salt should be added to the sponge and the sponge broken down fine. In this manner it can be delayed considerable time without injurious results to the bread.