-This is taken from a book published in 1839 The Good Housekeeper -
A large family will, probably, use a bushel of flour weekly; but we will take the proper quantity for a family of four or five persons.
Take twentyone quarts of flour, put it into a kneading trough or earthen pan which is well glazed, and large enough to hold double the quantity of flour. Make a deep, round hole in the centre of the flour, and pour into it half a pint of brewer's yeast, or the thick sediment from home-brewed beer--the last if good, is to be preferred. In either case the yeast must be mixed with a pint of milk-warm water, and well stirred before it is poured in. Then with a spoon stir into this liquid, gradually, so much of the surrounding flour as will make it like thin batter; sprinkle this over with dry flour, till it is covered entirely. Then cover the trough or pan with a warm cloth, and set it by the fire in winter, and where the sun is shining in summer. This process is called "setting the sponge." The object is to give strength and character to the ferment by communicating the quality of leaven to a small portion of the flour; which will then be easily extended to the whole. Setting sponge is a measure of wise precaution--for if the yeast does not rise and ferment in the middle of the flour it shows that the yeast is not good; the batter can then be removed, without wasting much of the flour, and another sponge set with better yeast.
Let the sponge stand till the batter has swelled and risen so as to form cracks in the covering of flour; then scatter over it two table spoonfuls of fine salt, and begin to form the mass into dough by pouring in, by degrees, as much warm water as is necessary to mix with the flour. Twenty-one quarts of flour will require about four quarts of water. It will be well to prepare rather more; soft water is much the best; it should in summer be warm as new milk; during winter, it ought to be somewhat warmer, as flour is a cold, heavy substance.
Add the water by degrees to the flour, mix them with your hand, till the whole mass is incorporated; it must then be worked most thoroughly, moulded over and over and kneaded with your clenched hands, till it becomes so perfectly smooth and light as well as stiff, that not a particle will adhere to your hands. Remember that you cannot have good bread, light and white, unless you give the dough a thorough kneading.--Then make the dough into a lump in the middle of the trough or pan, and dust it over with flour to prevent its adhering to the vessel. Cover it with a warm cloth, and in the winter the vessel should be placed near the fire. It now undergoes a further fermentation, which is shown by its swelling and rising; this, if the ferment was well formed, will be at its height in an hour--somewhat less in very warm weather. It ought to be taken at its height, before it begins to fall.*
Divide the dough into seven equal portions; mould on your paste-board, and form them into loaves; put these on well floured tin or earthen plates, and place immediately in the oven.
The oven, if a good one and you have good dry wood, will heat sufficiently in an hour. It is best to kindle the fire in it with dry pine, hemlock furze or some quick burning material; then fill it up with faggots or hard wood split fine and dried, sufficient to heat it--let the wood burn down and stir the coals evenly over the bottom of the oven, let them lie till they are like embers; the bricks at the arch and sides will be clear from any color of smoke when the oven is sufficiently hot. Clean and sweep the oven,--throw in a little flour on the bottom,--if it burns black at once, do not put in the bread, but let it stand a few moments and cool.
t is a good rule to put the fire in the oven when the dough is made up--the batter will rise and the former heat in about the same time.
When the loaves are in the oven, it must be closed and kept tight, except you open it for a moment to see how the bread appears. If the oven is properly heated, loaves of the size named, will be done in an hour and a half or two hours. They will weigh four pounds per loaf, or about that--thus giving you twentyeight pounds of bread from twentyone quarts (or pounds) of flour. The weight gained is from the water.
It is the best economy to calculate (or ascertain by experiment) the number of loaves of a certain weight or size, necessary for a week's consumption in your family, and bake accordingly. In the winter season bread may be kept good for a fortnight; still I think it the best rule to bake once every week. Bread should not be eaten at all till it has been baked, at least, one day. When the loaves are done, take them from the oven, and place them on a clean shelf, in a clean, cool pantry. If the crust happen to be scorched, or the bread is too much baked, the loaves, when they are taken out of the oven, may be wrapped in a clean, coarse towel, which has been slightly damped. It is well to keep a light cloth thrown over all the loaves. When a loaf has been cut, it should be kept in a tight box from the air, if you wish to prevent its drying.
*There are three processes in fermentation--the vinous, which makes the dough light and white--the acetous, which turns it sour and rather brown--and the putrefactive, which utterly spoils it.--The only good bread is made by baking the dough when the vinuous fermentation is exactly at its height. As soon as the acetous commences, the dough is injured. It it may be in a measure restored by mixing diluted pearlash or sal?ratus, and working it thoroughly with every portion of the dough--then baking it quickly.