The essential ingredients in bread making are yeast, liquid, and flour; the proportions may be varied according to conditons.
Sugar and shortening are commonly used, but if they were omitted wholly it would be possible to have palatable, nutritious bread. Salt is essential to suit the taste of most persons, but as bread is usually combined with salted butter its absence would be less noticeable, and bread might be made without it. Fermentation is hindered by the presence of salt, a small amount of sugar hastens the process.
Sugar in large quantities makes the dough dense and the yeast cannot expand so readily. An excess of shortening has much the same effect. If a dough is made stiff with flour it rises more slowly. A stiff dough usually has small air cells and is finer grained than when the dough is made softer.
The liquid may be milk, whole or skimmed, or water, or half of each. The milk supplies some sugar, fat and nitrogenous matter and produces a more nourishing loaf than that which is made with water. Mashed potatoes or sifted squash or cooked cereals are sometimes added to a bread dough for variety, but the process is not changed by such additions.
The best bread flour is made from spring wheat and pastry flour from winter wheat, though they may be used interchangeably if necessary. The spring wheat flour contains more gluten and less starch, so that less of the bread flour is required to produce a dough of a given consistency.
The entire or whole wheat flours provide more bone making materials than white flour, otherwise there is little difference in the nutritive value of the better grades of each.
The presence of gluten makes wheat the favorite flour for yeast dough. Gluten is adhesive when moistened and thus retains the gas bubbles formed by the yeast in somewhat the same way that egg-whites hold air when they are beaten.
Old recipes for mixing yeast bread usually give directions for rubbing shortening into the flour and then adding the other ingredients with liquid to make a dough that can be kneaded. The best authorities today reverse the order, thus saving time and energy and producing a better result.
The liquid is warmed that the fat, sugar, and salt may readily blend with the other ingredients and that the dough may rise more rapidly. When it is below 100 F, or cool enough to avoid cooking the yeast, that is added and well mixed through the liquid. Sufficient flour then is mixed in to give the desired consistency for kneading-.
At first the mixture may be stirred with a spoon, but as it becomes stiffer a knife will more easily serve to produce a smooth dough.
The process of mixing bread may illustrate the batter and drop batter or muffin mixture as well as the dough. To make a sponge, half the quantity of flour to be used is mixed with the liquid and this allowed to rise till foamy, when the remainder of the flour is added. The advantages of this double process are that a trifle less flour is required since the first has time to expand before the second is put in, and that the process is somewhat shortened because in the first stage there is less resistance for the yeast to overcome and the whole sponge becomes full of yeast for the second stage.
Sometimes it is more convenient to use a small portion of yeast and allow the dough to rise for a longer time, and again to use more yeast and thus do the work more quickly. Until the scientists decide which is really the better method, the housekeeper will find it desirable to vary the quantity of yeast according to her conditions. Time, temperature, and quantity of yeast must be considered, - if one must be diminished, the others should be increased.
For common use, a short process is to be preferred to the old custom of letting the dough rise oversight-
Amount of Yeast
When it rises by day we can regulate the temperature and stop the process at the right time. One yeast cake to one pint of liquid and about three pints of flour, will make two medium-sized loaves of bread, which can be completed inside of six hours.
When necessary, a dough well risen and ready to shape may be cut down and put in a refrigerator or other cold place and thus held in check for several hours without injury. Sometimes half the bread may be shaped in a loaf and the remainder in rolls and the pans containing the latter set away in a cool place for several hours before baking that they may be hot for a later meal.
When first mixed, dough is kneaded just enough to blend all ingredients, then it is put back in the bowl, brushed over with water or with melted fat and covered while it is rising. Such precautions aid in preventing the formation of a dry crust caused by the evaporation of the water on the surface during the process of rising. The bowl containing the dough may be set in a pan of warm water which is changed often enough to keep the temperature even. When the dough must stand over night in a cool kitchen, the bowl may be wrapped in a blanket to prevent the escape of heat.
Much time is doubtless wasted in kneading doughs, though it seems to be agreed that this process works all ingredients together and thus give a better texture to the bread. To knead work the edges of the dough little by little toward the center, pull it over, press down into the mass and press it away with one hand while turning the whole around with the other. When the dough is smooth, elastic, and rises quickly when pressed and does not stick to the hand then it is done.
After the dough is double in bulk it should be kneaded enough to redistribute the air bubbles which have run together and formed larger ones, and to shape it for baking. At this stage no flour should be added, for here much time would be required to work in a little flour, and that is why long kneading has been thought necessary. Dip the fingers in soft fat if the dough inclines to stick, as one would do when pulling candy.