Victorian London - Publications - Etiquette and Advice Manuals - Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management, by Isabella Beeton, 1861 - Chapter 34 - Bread, Biscuits and Cakes

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    1668. AMONG the numerous vegetable products yielding articles of food for man, the Cereals hold the first place. By means of skilful cultivation, mankind have transformed the original forms of these growths, poor and ill-flavoured as they perhaps were, into various fruitful and agreeable species, which yield an abundant and pleasant supply. Classified according to their respective richness in alimentary elements, the Cereals stand thus:--Wheat, and its varieties, Rye, Barley, Oats, Rice, Indian Corn. Everybody knows it is wheat flour which yields the best bread. Rye-bread is viscous, hard, less easily soluble by the gastric juice, and not so rich in nutritive power. Flour produced from barley, Indian corn, or rice, is not so readily made into bread; and the article, when made, is heavy and indigestible.
    1669. On examining a grain of corn from any of the numerous cereals [Footnote: Cereal, a corn-producing plant; from Ceres, the goddess of agriculture.] used in the preparation of flour, such as wheat, maize, rye, barley, &c., it will be found to consist of two parts,--the husk, or exterior covering, which is generally of a dark colour, and the inner, or albuminous part, which is more or less white. In grinding, these two portions are separated, and the husk being blown away in the process of winnowing, the flour remains in the form of a light brown powder, consisting principally of starch and gluten. In order to render it white, it undergoes a process called "bolting." It is passed through a series of fine sieves, which separate the coarser parts, leaving behind fine white flour,--the "fine firsts" of the corn-dealer. The process of bolting, as just described, tends to deprive flour of its gluten, the coarser and darker portion containing much of that substance; while the lighter part is peculiarly rich in starch. Bran contains a large proportion of gluten; hence it will be seen why brown broad is so much more nutritious than white; in fact, we may lay it down as a general rule, that the whiter the bread the less nourishment it contains. Majendie proved this by feeding a dog for forty days with white wheaten bread, at the end of which time he died; while another dog, fed on brown bread made with flour mixed with bran, lived without any disturbance of his health. The "bolting" process, then, is rather injurious than beneficial in its result; and is one of the numerous instances where fashion has chosen a wrong standard to go by. In ancient times, down to the Emperors, no bolted flour was known. In many parts of Germany the entire meal is used; and in no part of the world are the digestive organs of the people in a better condition. In years of famine, when corn is scarce, the use of bolted flour is most culpable, for from 18 to 20 per cent, is lost in bran. Brown bread has, of late years, become very popular; and many physicians have recommended it to invalids with weak digestions with great success. This rage for white bread has introduced adulterations of a very serious character, affecting the health of the whole community. Potatoes are added for this purpose; but this is a comparatively harmless cheat, only reducing the nutritive property of the bread; but bone-dust and alum are also put in, which are far from harmless.
    1670. Bread-making is a very ancient art indeed. The Assyrians, Egyptians, and Greeks, used to make bread, in which oil, with aniseed and other spices, was an element; but this was unleavened. Every family used to prepare the bread for its own consumption, the trade of baking not having yet taken shape. It is said, that somewhere about the beginning of the thirtieth Olympiad, the slave of an archon, at Athens, made leavened bread by accident. He had left some wheaten dough in an earthen pan, and forgotten it; some days afterwards, he lighted upon it again, and found it turning sour. His first thought was to throw it away; but, his master coming up, he mixed this now acescent dough with some fresh dough, which he was working at. The bread thus produced, by the introduction of dough in which alcoholic fermentation had begun, was found delicious by the archon and his friends; and the slave, being summoned and catechised, told the secret. It spread all over Athens; and everybody wanting leavened bread at once, certain persons set up as bread-makers, or bakers. In a short time bread-baking became quite an art, and "Athenian bread" was quoted all over Greece as the best bread, just as the honey of Hyamettus was celebrated as the best honey.
    1671. In our own times, and among civilized peoples, 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 azotized and hydro-carbonated nutrients, and combining the sustaining powers of the animal and vegetable kingdoms in one product.
    1672. WHEATEN BREAD.--The finest, wholesomest, and most savoury bread is made from wheaten flour. There are, of wheat, three leading qualities,-- the soft, the medium, and the hard wheat; the last of which yields a kind of bread that is not so white as that made from soft wheat, but is richer in gluten, and, consequently, more nutritive.
    1673. RYE BREAD.--This comes next to wheaten bread: it is not so rich in gluten, but is said to keep fresh longer, and to have some laxative qualities.
    1674. BARLEY BREAD, INDIAN-CORN BREAD, &c.--Bread made from barley, maize, oats, rice, potatoes, &c. "rises" badly, because the grains in question contain but little gluten, which makes the bread heavy, close in texture, and difficult of digestion; in fact, corn-flour has to be added before panification can take place. In countries where wheat is scarce and maize abundant, the people make the latter a chief article of sustenance, when prepared in different forms.


    1675. PANIFICATION, or bread-making, consists of the following processes, in the case of Wheaten Flour. Fifty or sixty per cent. of water is added to the flour, with the addition of some leavening matter, and, preferably, of yeast from malt and hops. All kinds of leavening matter have, however, been, and are still used in different parts of the world: in the East Indies, "toddy," which is a liquor that flows from the wounded cocoa-nut tree; and, in the West Indies, "dunder," or the refuse of the distillation of rum. The dough then undergoes the well-known process called kneading. The yeast produces fermentation, a process which may be thus described:--The dough reacting upon the leavening matter introduced, the starch of the flour is transformed into saccharine matter, the saccharine matter being afterwards changed into alcohol and carbonic acid. The dough must be well "bound," and yet allow the escape of the little bubbles of carbonic acid which accompany the fermentation, and which, in their passage, cause the numerous little holes which are seen in light bread.
    1676. 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 flavours the bread and makes it disagreeable. A poor thin yeast produces an imperfect fermentation, the result being a heavy unwholesome loaf.
    1677. When the dough is well kneaded, it is left to stand for some time, and then, as soon as it begins to swell, it is divided into loaves; after which it is again left to stand, when it once more swells up, and manifests, for the last time, the symptoms of fermentation. It is then put into the oven, where the water contained in the dough is partly evaporated, and the loaves swell up again, while a yellow crust begins to form upon the surface. When the bread is sufficiently baked, the bottom crust is hard and resonant if struck with the finger, while the crumb is elastic, and rises again after being pressed down with the finger. The bread is, in all probability, baked sufficiently if, on opening the door of the oven, you are met by a cloud of steam which quickly passes away.
    1678. One word as to the unwholesomeness of new bread and hot rolls. When bread is taken out of the oven, it is full of moisture; the starch is held together in masses, and the bread, instead of being crusted so as to expose each grain of starch to the saliva, actually prevents their digestion by being formed by the teeth into leathery poreless masses, which lie on the stomach like so many bullets. Bread should always be at least a day old before it is eaten; and, if properly made, and kept in a cool dry place, ought to be perfectly soft and palatable at the end of three or four days. Hot rolls, swimming in melted butter, and new bread, ought to be carefully shunned by everybody who has the slightest respect for that much-injured individual--the Stomach.
    1679. AERATED BREAD.--It is not unknown to some of our readers that Dr. Dauglish, of Malvern, has recently patented a process for making bread "light" without the use of leaven. The ordinary process of bread-making by fermentation is tedious, and much labour of human hands is requisite in the kneading, in order that the dough may be thoroughly interpenetrated with the leaven. The new process impregnates the bread, by the application of machinery, with carbonic acid gas, or fixed air. Different opinions are expressed about the bread; but it is curious to note, that, as corn is now reaped by machinery, and dough is baked by machinery, the whole process of bread-making is probably in course of undergoing changes which will emancipate both the housewife and the professional baker from a large amount of labour.
    1680. In the production of AŽrated Bread, wheaten flour, water, salt, and carbonic acid gas (generated by proper machinery), are the only materials employed. We need not inform our readers that carbonic acid gas is the source of the effervescence, whether in common water coming from a depth, or in lemonade, or any aŽrated drink. Its action, in the new bread, takes the place of fermentation in the old.
    1681. In the patent process, the dough is mixed in a great iron ball, inside which is a system of paddles, perpetually turning, and doing the kneading part of the business. Into this globe the flour is dropped till it is full, and then the common atmospheric air is pumped out, and the pure gas turned on. The gas is followed by the water, which has been aŽrated for the purpose, and then begins the churning or kneading part of the business.
    1682. Of course, it is not long before we have the dough, and very "light" and nice it looks. This is caught in tins, and passed on to the floor of the oven, which is an endless floor, moving slowly through the fire. Done to a turn, the loaves emerge at the other end of the apartment,--and the AŽrated Bread is made.
    1683. It may be added, that it is a good plan to change one's baker from time to time, and so secure a change in the quality of the bread that is eaten.
    1684. MIXED BREADS.--Rye bread is hard of digestion, and requires longer and slower baking than wheaten bread. It is better when made with leaven of wheaten flour rather than yeast, and turns out lighter. It should not be eaten till two days old. It will keep a long time.
    1685. A good bread may be made by mixing rye-flour, wheat-flour, and rice-paste in equal proportions; also by mixing rye, wheat, and barley. In Norway, it is said that they only bake their barley broad once a year, such is its "keeping" quality.
    1686. Indian-corn flour mixed with wheat-flour (half with half) makes a nice bread; but it is not considered very digestible, though it keeps well.
    1687. Rice cannot be made into bread, nor can potatoes; but one-third potato flour to three-fourths wheaten flour makes a tolerably good loaf.
    1688. A very good bread, better than the ordinary sort, and of a delicious flavour, is said to be produced by adopting the following recipe:--Take ten parts of wheat-flour, five parts of potato-flour, one part of rice-paste; knead together, add the yeast, and bake as usual. This is, of course, cheaper than wheaten bread.
    1689. Flour, when freshly ground, is too glutinous to make good bread, and should therefore not be used immediately, but should be kept dry for a few weeks, and stirred occasionally, until it becomes dry, and crumbles easily between the fingers.
    1690. Flour should be perfectly dry before being used for bread or cakes; if at all damp, the preparation is sure to be heavy. Before mixing it with the other ingredients, it is a good plan to place it for an hour or two before the fire, until it feels warm and dry.
    1691. Yeast from home-brewed beer is generally preferred to any other: it is very bitter, and, on that account, should be well washed, and put away until the thick mass settles. If it still continues bitter, the process should be repeated; and, before being used, all the water floating at the top must be poured off. German yeast is now very much used, and should be moistened, and thoroughly mixed with the milk or water with which the bread is to be made.
    1692. The following observations are extracted from a valuable work on Bread-making, [Footnote: "The English Bread-Book." By Eliza Acton. London: Longman.] and will be found very useful to our readers:--
    1693. 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.
    1694. 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.
    1695. Too small a proportion of yeast, or insufficient time allowed for the dough to rise, will cause the bread to be heavy.
    1696. Heavy bread will also most likely be the result of making the dough very hard, and letting it become quite, cold, particularly in winter.
    1697. 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.
    1698. MILK OR BUTTER.--Milk which is not perfectly sweet will not only injure the flavour of the bread, but, in sultry weather, will often cause it to be quite uneatable; yet either of them, if fresh and good, will materially improve its quality.
    1699. To keep bread sweet and fresh, as soon as it is cold it should be put into a clean earthen pan, with a cover to it: this pan should be placed at a little distance from the ground, to allow a current of air to pass underneath. Some persons prefer keeping bread on clean wooden shelves, without being covered, that the crust may not soften. Stale bread may be freshened by warming it through in a gentle oven. Stale pastry, cakes, &c., may also be improved by this method.
    1700. The utensils required for making bread, on a moderate scale, are a kneading-trough or pan, sufficiently large that the dough may be kneaded freely without throwing the flour over the edges, and also to allow for its rising; a hair sieve for straining yeast, and one or two strong spoons.
    1701. Yeast must always be good of its kind, and in a fitting state to produce ready and proper fermentation. Yeast of strong beer or ale produces more effect than that of milder kinds; and the fresher the yeast, the smaller the quantity will be required to raise the dough.
    1702. 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 unfavourable effect on it.
    1703. Brick ovens are generally considered the best adapted for baking bread: these should be heated with wood faggots, and then swept and mopped out, to cleanse them for the reception of the bread. Iron ovens are more difficult to manage, being apt to burn the surface of the bread before the middle is baked. To remedy this, a few clean bricks should be set at the bottom of the oven, close together, to receive the tins of bread. In many modern stoves the ovens are so much improved that they bake admirably; and they can always be brought to the required temperature, when it is higher than is needed, by leaving the door open for a time.

    A FEW HINTS respecting the Making and Baking of CAKES.

    1704. Eggs should always be broken into a cup, the whites and yolks separated, and they should always be strained. Breaking the eggs thus, the bad ones may be easily rejected without spoiling the others, and so cause no waste. As eggs are used instead of yeast, they should be very thoroughly whisked; they are generally sufficiently beaten when thick enough to carry the drop that falls from the whisk.
    1705. Loaf Sugar should be well pounded, and then sifted through a fine sieve.
    1706. Currants should be nicely washed, picked, dried in a cloth, and then carefully examined, that no pieces of grit or stone may be left amongst them. They should then be laid on a dish before the fire, to become thoroughly dry; as, if added damp to the other ingredients, cakes will be liable to be heavy.
    1707. Good Butter should always be used in the manufacture of cakes; and if beaten to a cream, it saves much time and labour to warm, but not melt, it before beating.
    1708. Less butter and eggs are required for cakes when yeast is mixed with the other ingredients.
    1709. The heat of the oven is of great importance, especially for large cakes. If the heat be not tolerably fierce, the batter will not rise. If the oven is too quick, and there is any danger of the cake burning or catching, put a sheet of clean paper over the top. Newspaper, or paper that has been printed on, should never be used for this purpose.
    1710. To know when a cake is sufficiently baked, plunge a clean knife into the middle of it; draw it quickly out, and if it looks in the least sticky, put the cake back, and close the oven door until the cake is done.
    1711. Cakes should be kept in closed tin canisters or jars, and in a dry place. Those made with yeast do not keep so long as those made without it.


    1712. Since the establishment of the large modern biscuit manufactories, biscuits have been produced both cheap and wholesome, in, comparatively speaking, endless variety. Their actual component parts are, perhaps, known only to the various makers; but there are several kinds of biscuits which have long been in use, that may here be advantageously described.
    1713. Biscuits belong to the class of unfermented bread, and are, perhaps, the most wholesome of that class. In cases where fermented bread does not agree with the human stomach, they may be recommended: in many instances they are considered lighter, and less liable to create acidity and flatulence. The name is derived from the French bis cuit, "twice-baked," because, originally, that was the mode of entirely depriving them of all moisture, to insure their keeping; but, although that process is no longer employed, the name is retained. The use of this kind of bread on land is pretty general, and some varieties are luxuries; but, at sea, biscuits are articles of the first necessity.
    1714. SEA, or SHIP BISCUITS, are made of wheat-flour from which only the coarsest bran has been separated. The dough is made up as stiff as it can be worked, and is then formed into shapes, and baked in an oven; after which, the biscuits are exposed in lofts over the oven until perfectly dry, to prevent them from becoming mouldy when stored.
    1715. CAPTAINS' BISCUITS are made in a similar manner, only of fine flour.