The first requisite in making good bread is to use good flour. Good flour should not be pure white in color, but of a creamy, yellowish-white shade. If it feel damp, clammy, or sticky, and gradually form into lumps or cakes, it is not the best. Good flour holds together in a mass, when squeezed by the hand, and retains the impression of the fingers, and even the marks of the skin, much longer than poor flour; when made into a dough, it is elastic, easy to be kneaded, will stay in a round puffy shape, and will take up a large amount of water: while poor flour will be sticky, flatten, or spread itself over the board, and will never seem to be stiff enough to be handled, no matter how much flour is used. Haxall flour has a fine granular consistency, and runs easily through the sieve or the fingers like fine meal; while good St. Louis flour feels soft and oily. It is extravagant to buy poor or even doubtful flour. But, should it have every appearance of being good flour, and yet not make good bread, do not condemn the flour without a fair trial; and be sure the fault is nowhere else.
Every experienced cook has her own tests for flour, and some of them are amusing, if not reliable. The best way is to buy a small quantity at first, and make it into dough; then, if satisfactory, purchase whatever amount is required, and buy this same brand as long as it proves of uniform quality. The names given to flour are not a sure criterion of the quality. The flour may come from the same growth of wheat, and be ground in the same manner and at the same mill, and yet the miller or the wholesale dealers will brand it differently. And the same brand will vary in quality from year to year. Some of the varieties sold in Boston, and known to be good by personal trial, are Pillsbury's, Washburn & Crosby's, Swan's Down, Taylor's Best, Brown's Best, Marguerite, etc.; the same flour may be known in other cities under different names. There are others equally good, and every year some new brand is announced. It is estimated that one barrel of flour will last one person one year; which gives a rule of proportion by which to buy. Most good housekeepers agree that flour is not improved by long keeping, though flour dealers think differently. Flour should be kept in a cool, dry place, as the least dampness causes it to absorb moisture; the gluten loses its tenacity, becomes sticky, and the bread made from it is coarser and less light.
For small families it is better to buy whole-wheat flour by the bag or half-barrel; Haxall, for bread, by the barrel; and the best St. Louis flour for cake and pastry, by the bag, as a much smaller proportion is needed (or should be) for these indigestibles, than for the "staff of life."