Bread is one of the earliest, the most generally used, and the most important forms of food adopted by mankind. Nothing in the whole range of domestic life more affects the health and happiness of the family than the quality of its daily bread. With good bread, the plainest meal is a feast in itself; without it, the most elaborately prepared and elegantly served menu is unsatisfactory.
Bread-making is at once the easiest and the most difficult branch of culinary science, - easy, if only sufficient interest be taken to master a few elementary principles and to follow them always, using the judgment of the best authorities, until experience furnishes a sufficient guide; difficult, if there be any neglect to use proper care and materials. It should be regarded as one of the highest accomplishments; and if one tenth part of the interest, time, and thought which are devoted to cake and pastry and fancy cooking were spent upon this most important article of food, the presence of good bread upon our tables would be invariably secured.
Origin and Meaning of "Bread." - Bread is made from a variety of substances, - roots, fruits, and the bark of trees; but more generally from certain grains. The word bread is derived from the verb to bray, or pound, expressive of the old method of preparing the grain. Bread is therefore made of something brayed, as brayed wheat or brayed corn. But these brayed or ground materials are not property bread until they are mixed or moistened with water. Then the brayed grain becomes dough, from a word meaning to wet, or moisten. In primitive times this wetted meal or dough was baked at once in hot ashes, and made a firm, compact bread, exceedingly hard of digestion. Accidentally some one discovered that by letting the dough stand till it had fermented, and then mixing it with new dough, it raised, or lifted, the whole mass, and made it lighter and more porous. Thus we have our word loaf, from lifan, to raise, or lift up. The old dough - or leaven, as it is called - lifts up the dough. The raised mass is held in place by the heat in baking, and becomes the loaf of raised bread.
Bread is made principally from wheat flour. Rye and corn meal are sometimes used, but better results are obtained when there is a mixture of wheat with one or more of these grains. Rye used alone makes a close, moist, sticky bread; while corn meal alone makes too dry and crumbly a loaf.
Wheat is an annual grass of unknown origin, cultivated more extensively in the Northern hemisphere. There are over one hundred and fifty varieties of wheat. They are classified as red or white, in reference to the color of the grains; as winter or summer, - winter wheat being sown in the autumn, and summer wheat in the spring; as soft or hard, - soft wheat being tender and floury or starchy, and hard wheat being tough, firm, and containing more gluten.