The Essential Ingredients for a Loaf of Bread
Flour - Primarily wheat flour is used in bread, but rye, corn and oats are also used in 18th century baking. The grain was ground on millstones to a fine flour and bolted to separate the various parts of the wheat kernel. Whole wheat flour contains the endosperm (full of carbohydrates and proteins), germ (the vitamins and nutrients of the grain) and the bran (the fibrous outer husk). Bolting or sifting the whole wheat flour and separating out the dark husk made for whiter and finer flour. The proteins needed to produce gluten to make bread rise are in the endosperm and so bread made with white flour is less dense than bread made with the whole wheat.
To reproduce flour of the 18th century you have several options. White whole wheat flour can be found at specialty stores and when sifted to remove some of the bran approximates soft wheat flour. 1 Another option is to use unbleached bread flour and add 2 tablespoons of whole wheat flour and 1 tablespoon of wheat germ per cup. 2
Water - In old recipe books the term “liquor” was used to describe a liquid of some sort that is needed to make a leavened loaf of bread. Water is the most common but can be substituted in part with milk, eggs, beer, or wine. The liquid should be around 80° to keep the yeast and the dough at an optimal temperature for good fermentation. The amount of liquid should always be adjusted to the type of flour being used, for every type of flour will tolerate and absorb a different amount of liquid.
Yeast - This living organism makes bread rise by consuming fermentable sugars in the flour and releasing carbon dioxide as a byproduct. This gas is trapped in the dough and expands the loaf, causing bubbles and pockets in the bread. The optimal temperature for yeast is around 75°-colder and dough will rise slowly or not at all, warmer and the yeast can “burn out” of energy or the gases in the bread can overstretch the gluten and the bread will collapse.
Salt - The chemicals in salt assist in binding the gluten strands of dough and help maintain the shape of the bread, help control fermentation, and affect the color and crust of bread. Salt also gives bread flavor! A basic rule of thumb is 1 teaspoon of salt per cup of liquid in a bread formula.
Steps and Hints to Making a Loaf of Bread 3
Mixing the ingredients - Mix leaven or yeast, some flour and some water to make a paste. Develop gluten by stretching this soft dough batter and gradually add more flour and water until a pliable dough is formed. It is better to maintain your desired amount of flour for a recipe and adjust the quantity of water then to add too much flour. Knead dough for 10 minutes, adding salt at the final minute. Don’t forget to add the salt!
First rising - Place dough in a warm place and let rise until doubled. With traditional leaven this can take 2-4 hours.
Knocking back - Flatten dough to expel gases and reshape the dough. Rise again until doubled, usually about half the time as the first rise.
Scaling the loaves - Separate and round the dough into the number of loaves the recipe makes.
La détente - “the relaxing of tension” A rest for the dough that lasts for 15 minutes.
Shape the loaves - Knock back the dough to expel gas and then form into desired shape.
Final Proofing - The loaves rest undisturbed to achieve their last rise. Depending on the density of the bread dough, temperature, humidity and yeast activity the final proof can take from 45 minutes to several hours. The bread is ready to go in the oven when it has doubled in size and springs back slowly when you lightly touch the loaf with your finger.
Slash and Bake - To control where the bread will “bloom” or open up, slashes are made on top of the loaf. Otherwise it may burst unpredictably on the bottom or sides. The bread is done baking when it sounds hollow when you thump it on the bottom.
Now you can better understand an18th Century Recipe -
A Reciept for Making Bread Without Barm by the Help of a Leaven
Take a lump of dough, about two pounds of your last making, which has been raised by barm, keep it by you in a wood vessel, and cover it well with flour; (this is your leaven); then the night before you intend to bake, put the said leaven to a peck of flour, and work them well together with warm water; let it lie in a dry wooden vessel, well covered with a linen cloth and a blanket, and keep it in a warm place: this dough kept warm will rise again next morning, and will be sufficient to mix with two or three bushels of flour, being worked up with warm water and a little salt; when it is well worked up, and thoroughly mixed with all the flour, let it be well covered with the linen and blanket until you find it rise; then knead it well and work it up into bricks or loaves, making the loaves broad, and not so thick and high as is frequently done, by which means the bread will be better baked; then bake your bread.
Hannah Glasse, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, 1747 4
To appreciate the quantity of bread being made in this recipe, the 18th century peck equaled 14 lbs. and a bushel equaled 56 lbs 5. The leaven would be 2 lbs. of old dough plus 14 lbs. of flour and about 1 gallon of water to make a sponge. Two or three bushels would be between 112 -168 lbs. of flour and would need 8-12 gallons of water to make a dough. The recipe calls for “a little salt,” which should be about 3 lbs. of salt to make this dough.
1 Kelleher, Tom, Food History News. Vol. V1, No. 2. Pgs 1-4.
2David, Elizabeth, English Bread and Yeast Cookery. New York: The Viking Press, 1980. Pg 118.
3 Oritz, Joe, The Village Baker. Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 1993. Pgs 38-57. (My favorite book on bread baking.)
4Glasse, Hannah, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy. London: Prospect Books, 1983. (1747 edit.)
5 David, Elizabeth, English Bread and Yeast Cookery. London: Viking, 1980, pg. 238.