Many bread recipes in old cookbooks say to “make a sponge and rise till morning,” I knew you used yeast to make bread rise, but I had never heard of a bread sponge.
AUNT SARAH’S WHITE BREAD (SPONGE METHOD)
Prepare the following “Yeast Sponge” at noon, the day preceding that on which you bake bread: Place in a bowl (after the mid-day meal) one quart of potato water (containing no salt), in which potatoes were boiled, two medium-sized, finely-mashed potatoes, 1 tablespoonful of sugar and when lukewarm, add 1 cup of good home-made or baker’s yeast.
Mix all well together, then divide this mixture and pour each half into each of two 1-quart glass fruit jars. Place covers tightly on jars and shake each jar well to mix yeast and potato-water thoroughly. Stand yeast in a warm place near the kitchen range over night. Jars should be covered only with a napkin. The sponge should become light and foamy. In the morning use this freshly-prepared yeast to set sponge for bread.
When preparing to set bread, place in a large bowl one pint of potato water, one tablespoonful of sugar, one pint of the yeast sponge, one-half teaspoonful of salt, and use about three pounds of sifted flour, well-dried and warmed.
Knead from 15 to 20 minutes until a stiff dough is formed. The dough should be fine-grained and elastic and not stick to the bake board. Place dough in the bowl to rise, which should take about four hours. When well-risen and light, knead down and set to rise again, about one and one-half hours. When light, mold into three large, shapely loaves. Place in pans and allow to stand one hour. When loaves have doubled in bulk, are very light and show signs of cracking, invert a pan over the top of the loaves, and place in a rather hot oven to bake. Brush melted butter over loaves of bread when set to rise, which will cause bread to have a crisp crust when baked. The old-fashioned way of testing the heat of an oven was to hold the hand in the oven, if possible, while one counted thirty.
When baking bread, the oven should be quite hot when bread is first placed therein, when the bread should rise about an inch. Then the heat of the oven should he lessened and in a half hour a brown crust should begin forming. During the latter part of the hour (the time required for baking an ordinary-sized loaf) the heat of the oven should be less, causing the bread to bake slowly. Should the heat of the oven not be great enough when the loaves are placed within for baking, then poor bread would be the result. This method of making bread will insure most satisfactory results, although more troublesome than ordinary methods.
The pint of yeast remaining in the jar may be kept in a cool place one week, and may be used during this time in making fresh “yeast foam.” This should always be prepared the day before baking bread. Always prepare double the quantity of “yeast foam.” Use half to set bread, and reserve half for next baking. Bread baked from this recipe has frequently taken first prize at County Fairs and Farmers’ Picnics.
BREAD SPONGE (Plain)
One quart warm water.
6 tablespoonfuls baker’s yeast.
2 tablespoonfuls lard.
2 tablespoonfuls white sugar.
1 teaspoonful soda.
Flour to make a soft batter.
Melt the lard in the warm water, add the sugar, then the flour by degrees, stirring in smoothly. A quart and a pint of flour will usually be sufficient if the quality is good. Next comes the yeast, lastly the soda. Beat up hard for several minutes. Cover lightly if the weather is warm, more closely in winter, and set to rise over night in a warm place.
RECIPE FOR FAMILY BREAD
2 quarts of flour.
2 tablespoonfuls of lard or butter.
2 teaspoonfuls of salt.
Enough sponge for a two-quart loaf of bread.
Mix with one pint of sweet milk.
Make into rolls and bake with very little fire under the oven.
NOTE: The recipe above is quite vague, but I included it because it accompanied the plain bread sponge recipe. This type of recipe is not unusual; many authors assumed you already knew how to bake bread, cakes, pies, and other baked goods, so they just gave the ingredients.
One pint buttermilk heated to scalding. Stir in, while it is hot, enough flour to make a tolerably thick batter. Add half a gill* of yeast, and let it rise five or six hours. If you make it over night you need not add the yeast, but put in, instead, a tablespoonful of white sugar. In the morning, stir into the sponge a tablespoonful of soda, dissolved in hot water, a little salt, and two tablespoonfuls melted butter. Work in just flour enough to enable you to handle the dough comfortably. Knead well, make into loaves, and let it rise until light. This makes very white and wholesome bread.
* 8 large tablespoonfuls are 1 gill.
* 2 gills are 1⁄2 pint.