Use none but good yeast and flour for making bread.
The new brands of flour vary very much; and some, though equally good, require more wetting than others. Notice the first baking; if too stiff, put in a little more water the next time, and remember exactly how much you used.
The flour should be Rifted, and put in a warm, dry place several hours before mixing. This is particularly important in cold weather, as the bread will rise much better for having the chill taken off the flour.
To mix bread, put in all the dry things first, then the shortening, then the yeast (which must be shaken hard before it is taken from the bottle or jar). Lastly, add the water. This should be strictly tepid; for if cold, the bread will not rise well, and if hot, there will be danger of scalding the yeast, which spoils its efficacy.
When intending to set bread, be sure that the kettle is boiling, so that you can have the water of any temperature desired. The best time to mix bread is about seven o'clock in the evening, in cold weather; and ten o'clock in hot weather. It rises faster then than in winter, and if left standing too long, it will sour. When the ingredients are thoroughly mixed, either beat hard with a strong, long-handled spoon, or, if you find this too hard work, knead, in the pan, with floured hands. The objection to the latter is, that one is apt to work in too much flour. The softer the dough, the better.
Remove the spoon, and cover the pan, which must of course be a large one, to give room for the dough to rise. Set it in a pretty warm place, and where no draught will strike it; not on a chair, as many do, but nearer the ceiling ; for instance, on top of a closet, or the heater of the range, for the upper part of a room is less liable to sudden changes of temperature in the night. Let it rise till morning.
The first thing in the morning, see whether it is light. If it is, and you cannot attend to it, check the further rising, by setting it in a cool place, to wait until you can do so. If not light enough, set it in a warmer place to rise more rapidly.
To judge whether the dough is light, tip the pan. If it looks bubbly or spongy all through, it is light; and the bread should be made out into loaves as soon as possible. If it rises too long, it will become sour or tough. If it is sour, mix in half a teaspoonful of soda (dissolved) before taking it from the pan.
When you are going to make out the bread, have everything ready before you put your hands in the dough. Place the bread-board on the table, with a pan of flour and a knife. Grease the baking-pans, which should be deep and square. Scatter flour thickly on the board, and then turn the dough upon it. With the knife, well-floured, chop rapidly the entire surface of the dough, having previously scattered flour thickly over the top.
With floured hands turn and double over the edges of the dough, repeating the chopping. Do this until the entire mass has been thoroughly chopped. You will have to put more flour on the board to prevent the dough from sticking, but the less flour used the better. Experience will soon teach how to handle the dough rapidly, without using much flour.
Then knead all the dough a few times, working it and turning it thoroughly. Strength and dexterity are the chief requisites for good kneading. Every part of the dough must be thoroughly manipulated. Thrust your fists, first one and then the other, quickly and with force into the dough, directing your strokes towards the centre of the mass. As it flattens out, fold it again and again.
Repeat the striking and the folding for twenty minutes, until every part has been beaten and worked.
Thorough kneading shows itself in the fineness and events
ness of the grain of the bread. Careless kneading will produce holes and an uneven texture.
A good rule for telling when the dough has been kneaded enough, is to give it a hard blow with the knuckles; if it returns to its place, and is elastic like a hollow rubber ball, it has been worked enough, and may be cut into portions, and made into loaves.
N. B. Many persons omit the chopping, and simply knead longer. But this is both fatiguing and tedious.
To make the loaves, simply shape the dough as nearly as you can to fit the pans. Fill them less than two thirds full if the dough is soft; half-full if stiff, for there is then more body to rise. Press it well into the corners of the pans. Cover with a cloth, and set in a warm place to rise. This may take an hour.
(N. B. If the dough is soft, as it should be, it will rise more quickly than if a great deal of flour has been worked in in the kneading. In the latter case it may take more than an hour to rise.)
When light, it will be nearly up to the top of the pan, and will look spongy at the sides. It should then be put into the oven at once, or it will become sour by rising too long, and will also be in danger of running over the top of the pans when in the oven. Prick the top of each loaf with a fork, and wet the surface with your hand dipped in cold water, to make it brown well, and to prevent the crust becoming hard.
When baked take it out at once; stand it up on end against the wall in such a way that the bread will rest on an edge, not on one of its flat surfaces, which would make it soggy. Lay a wet cloth over it, with a dry one outside to soften the crust.