In my post from a week ago “Cooking With Ida” we were guided through the process of making homemade yeast bread–an essential task for rural farm women in the 1920s. My husband’s mother, born in 1925, was an avid bread baker as well while raising her family of seven children from the 1950s through the 1970s. My husband recalls her baking four loaves of bread twice a week. She even ground her own wheat. Happily, for her, it was an electric grinder. She made homemade bread sandwiches every school day for the kids’ lunches. My husband’s favorite snack was an inch thick slice of bread spread generously with butter and honey.
My mother on the other hand was a recreational bread baker. For her, it was a creative and therapeutic experience not done on a regular basis. We loved it when the mood would strike and we would come home from school to the smell of freshly baked bread. We would thickly spread each slice with home-canned apricot jam.
Although baking bread has been a creative outlet for me as well, I did it with some regularity. When my six children were at home I would bake four large loaves a week or two loaves and a batch of cinnamon rolls. Posted below is my tried and true recipe of thirty-five years.
There are several differences between my bread recipe and the recipes of my mother and mother-in-law with the most noticeable being that I baked my bread in rustic round or oval loaves as opposed to baking it in traditional bread pans (that was the creative part). The other difference was the type of wheat flour that I used. A friend introduced me to hard white wheat (as opposed to hard red wheat that is most commonly used). At that time a home baker would have to search for a mailorder source for the white wheat which would then need to be ground into flour. It was worth the effort though as it produced a milder tasting lighter loaf of bread with nutrition equal to that of hard red wheat. Luckily for home bakers of today, King Arthur Flour offers white wheat flour on their website HERE. They also offer SAF Instant Yeast HERE which is recommended for homemade yeast bread not made in a bread machine.Recipe and photos below:
In a large mixing bowl combine water, oil, brown sugar, powdered milk, and salt; blend with an electric mixer or whisk. Add 2 cups of white wheat flour and the yeast; stir for three minutes. Add two cups of all-purpose or bread flour and mix an additional three minutes or knead by hand. Add the final cup or two of all-purpose or bread flour a little at a time and mix for three minutes or knead for ten minutes.
Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover tightly with a lid or plastic wrap. Allow dough to rise in a warm place until double in bulk (about 1-1/2 hours). Gently punch down and shape into two round/oval loaves and place on a half sheet baking pan or divide into three loaf pans. Allow bread to rise an additional 30 to 45 minutes in a warm place.
Bake bread in a preheated 350-degree oven for 20 to 30 minutes. (Baked bread will sound hollow when tapped on top). For a tender crust, brush the top with butter if desired. Cool bread for 15 minutes, remove from pan, and place directly on a wire rack until completely cool.
The Whole Loaf
Once upon a time
There was a woman
She longed to paint, to make fine music.
But her life was cast in other lines.
Disappointment embittered her soul.
“Shall I live forever in a dream of what I cannot be?” she said.
“Because my time must be given to homely tasks and the care of children, shall I never express beauty?”
She visited a gallery.
She saw a picture—a perfect thing.
Fruit arranged in a basket, and some garden flowers.
And nearby another—a quaint bowl of milk—a loaf of bread and a blue-eyed child.
“I have fruit, and a basket covered with dust,” she said.
It was time to feed the Littlest Child.
He was blue-eyed.
There was a handsome loaf.
On the top shelf was a quaint bowl.
She put it before him—filled with milk.
The scales fell from her eyes—
She had the Whole Loaf.
Hello, again History Lovers!
In today’s post, we are once again Cooking With Ida. The information below comes from two of Ida’s books Woman’s World Calendar Cook Book 1922 and Cooking Menus Service 1924 in which she walks the home baker through the requiredsteps in making yeast bread. The yeast that our foremothers would have used in their baking was either compressed cakes of yeast or the granulated version called Active Dry Yeast (ADY). The granulated variety is available today and our mothers and grandmothers may still be using it however, modern home bakers generally opt for a newer faster rising version of ADY–Instant or Rapid-Rise. (King Author Flour recommends Rapid-Rise Yeast for use in bread machines and SAF Instant Yeast for hand-made bread and baked goods).
By the way, the charming poem The Whole Loaf at the top of this post was printed at the beginning of the chapter on Yeast Breads in Cooking Menus Service. Sadly there is no credit given to the poet. Although there are a number of poems included in this cookbook I am quite certain that Ida was not the poet as none of her other cookbooks include poetry.
Yeast Bread Making 1920s
“The exact science of bread making is a chemical one, consisting of the proper blending of flour, liquid, salt, and yeast into a dough which is raised by the growth in it of the yeast fungi. During that raising the action of the yeast converts part of the starch into a form of sugar and the yeast cells, feeding on this, activates fermentation; and as the dough is fermented and raised, thousands of little cells or pockets are formed in it. During the baking, however, the fermentation is stopped by the heat, the result being the light, porous bread with which we are familiar.”
Proper Kind of Ingredients
“What are the necessary ingredients for making bread? Flour, salt, liquid, and yeast. These four we must have; some variations are possible. The flour may be of more than one variety, but some wheat flour we must have for good bread. The liquid may be plain water, the water in which potatoes have been cooked, or milk, or two of these in combination. The yeast may be compressed or dry yeast according to convenience. Other ingredients may be potatoes, shortening, and a little sugar or syrup.”
Methods for Making Bread
“There are two methods of bread making—(a) the sponge method, and (b) the straight dough method.”
The Sponge Method
At first glance, one might mistake the Sponge Method for the “proofing” process in which the viability of yeast is tested by mixing yeast with a little water and a pinch of sugar and allowing it to “proof” for several minutes to see if the mixture becomes active. A 1920s home cook may well have proofed her yeast before beginning to mix her bread sponge if she had concerns about the freshness of the yeast. The preparation of the sponge required mixing yeast, salt, sugar, and some of the flour into the liquid resulting in a thick batter. The batter was then set away in a warm draft-free place to rise for an hour or longer. At that point, the remaining flour was kneaded into the sponge and the dough was set away again to rise. The advantage of this method was that it required less yeast thereby making a less yeasty-tasting loaf as well as making a fluffier loaf of bread. The drawback was that the dough required two rises before shaping and a third after shaping and prior to baking resulting in a longer bread-making process. Ida continues:
“By the sponge method, a thick batter is made, using all the required liquid, yeast, salt, and enough flour to give the batter the desired consistency—it should be about the thickness of a muffin mixture. A very little sugar or sugar solution may be added to hasten the process of rising. A smaller amount of yeast may be used in bread made by the sponge method than when the straight dough is employed, as yeast rises more rapidly in a semi-liquid mixture than in one which is firm.
After the sponge has become light, that is, after the yeast has become thoroughly “active” and the mixture is filled with consequent gaseous bubbles, the remainder of the flour is added and the mixture kneaded to an elastic dough, either by hand or in a bread mixer, from which point it is treated the same as for a straight dough.”
The recipe below is an example of a bread recipe using the Sponge Method. Interestingly White Bread recipes took precedence in Ida’s book Cooking Menus Service 1924 probably due to the fact that white bakery bread was all the rage so home bakers desired white bread as well.
“A straight dough is one in which the ingredients are all blended at one time, kneaded, and the dough set aside to rise. By using a larger amount of yeast, bread may be quickly made by the straight-dough method, or it may be allowed to rise for a longer period and less yeast is used. The ingredients after blending must be kneaded until smooth and elastic, then set aside to rise as in the case of bread made by the sponge method.
Whereas the methods of making bread by both dry and compressed yeast are practically identical, the process when making it with dry yeast is facilitated if a soft sponge is first made, so that the little yeast plants may have all possible assistance in their growth. It is also advisable to make such a sponge when preparing coffee cake or rolls, or whenever a fine-textured result is desired, or when rich ingredients are being used, no matter what kind of yeast is chosen (Be aware that this is outdated informationand is no longer necessary with the ADY we use today). Success in bread making consists of the use of a reliable recipe; care in keeping the rising dough at a temperature of not less the 70 degrees F., nor more than 95 degrees F.; shielding the dough from draughts and the proper baking”.
The Necessary Equipment
In all of her cookbooks, Ida was a proponent for anything that would help make a housewife’s work easier and more efficient so it was no surprise that she would promote the acquisition and use of a piece of equipment called a bread mixer (photos below). I’m not sure cranking a handle was any better than kneading bread by hand. It would certainly not have been as therapeutic.More from Ida:
The use of a bread mixer facilitates bread making, obviating kneading by hand and actually saving a fourth of the flour. As these mixers may be obtained in both small and large sizes, they are practical for use in every family.”