Among all civilized people bread has become an article of food of the first necessity; and properly so, for it constitutes of itself a complete life sustainer, the gluten, starch and sugar which it contains representing ozotized and hydro-carbonated nutrients, and combining the sustaining powers of the animal and vegetable kingdoms in one product. As there is no one article of food that enters so largely into our daily fare as bread, so no degree of skill in preparing other articles can compensate for lack of knowledge in the art of making good, palatable and nutritious bread. A little earnest attention to the subject will enable any one to comprehend the theory, and then ordinary care in practice will make one familiar with the process.
The first thing required for making wholesome bread is the utmost cleanliness; the next is the soundness and sweetness of all the ingredients used for it; and, in addition to these, there must be attention and care through the whole process.
Salt is always used in bread-making, not only on account of its flavor, which destroys the insipid raw state of the flour, but because it makes the dough rise better.
In mixing with milk, the milk should be boiled - not simply scalded, but heated to boiling over hot water - then set aside to cool before mixing. Simple heating will not prevent bread from turning sour in the rising, while boiling will act as a preventative. So the milk should be thoroughly scalded, and should be used when it is just blood warm.
Too small a proportion of yeast, or insufficient time allowed for the dough to rise, will cause the bread to be heavy.
The yeast must be good and fresh if the bread is to be digestible and nice. Stale yeast produces, instead of vinous fermentation, an acetous fermentation, which flavors the bread and makes it disagreeable. A poor, thin yeast produces an imperfect fermentation, the result being a heavy, unwholesome loaf.
If either the sponge or the dough be permitted to overwork itself - that is to say, if the mixing and kneading be neglected when it has reached the proper point for either - sour bread will probably be the consequence in warm weather, and bad bread in any. The goodness will also be endangered by placing it so near a fire as to make any part of it hot, instead of maintaining the gentle and equal degree of heat required for its due fermentation.
Heavy bread will also most likely be the result of making the dough very hard and letting it become quite cold, particularly in winter.
An almost certain way of spoiling dough is to leave it half made, and to allow it to become cold before it is finished. The other most common causes of failure are using yeast which is no longer sweet, or which has been frozen, or has had hot liquid poured over it.
As a general rule, the oven for baking bread should be rather quick and the heat so regulated as to penetrate the dough without hardening the outside. The oven door should not be opened after the bread is put in until the dough is set or has become firm, as the cool air admitted will have an unfavorable effect upon it.
The dough should rise and the bread begin to brown after about fifteen minutes, but only slightly. Bake from fifty to sixty minutes and have it brown, not black or whitey brown, but brown all over when well baked.
When the bread is baked, remove the loaves immediately from the pans and place them where the air will circulate freely around them, and thus carry off the gas which has been formed, but is no longer needed.
Never leave the bread in the pan or on a pin table to absorb the odor of the wood. If you like crusts that are crisp do not cover the loaves; but to give the soft, tender, wafer-like consistency which many prefer, wrap them while still hot in several thicknesses of bread-cloth. When cold put them in a stone jar, removing the cloth, as that absorbs the moisture and gives the bread an unpleasant taste and odor. Keep the jar well covered and carefully cleansed from crumbs and stale pieces. Scald and dry it thoroughly every two or three days. A yard and a half square of coarse table linen makes the best bread-cloth. Keep in good supply; use them for no other purpose.
Some people use scalding water in making wheat bread; in that case the flour must be scalded and allowed to cool before the yeast is added - then proceed as above. Bread made in this manner keeps moist in summer much longer than when made in the usual mode.
Home-made yeast is generally preferred to any other. Compressed yeast, as now sold in most grocery stores, makes fine light, sweet bread, and is a much quicker process, and can always be had fresh, being made fresh every day.