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Breads And Leavening Agents

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

Bread has been called the staff of life because it is eaten at almost every meal. Good bread is a very valuable part of the diet. The principal grains used for bread in this country are wheat, corn, and some rye. When made of these grains bread contains some of all the food elements, but as it. is particularly rich in starch it is eaten with fat in the form of butter, gravy, or milk. Since it does not contain all the tissue building foods needed, meat, eggs, or cheese are also used with it. More nutriment is obtained for a given sum in good bread than in any other food.

Bread was one of the first cooked foods eaten by man. The savage soon learned to parch grain for food and a little later ground it and mixed it with water, then baked it on a hot stone or before the fire. The tortilla of the Mexicans is made in this way; the hoe cake of the South is another of these simple breads. In Puritan days the journey-cake, as it was called, was made in this manner and was carried by the pioneers on their expeditions. The term Johnny-cake is a corruption of journey-cake.

Bread may be divided into two great classes—leavened and unleavened bread. The word leavened means lightened.

Why Bread Is Leavened. Bread is lightened to make it porous so that it will be more thoroughly baked, and so that the digestive juices may reach it. A dense, heavy bread gets very hard and dry while being thoroughly cooked and is not palatable. It is leavened or lightened by a gas (carbon dioxide, produced by the growth of the yeast plant), which is formed by baking powder, or by soda and some acid, and by air incorporated by beating, or by steam.


EXPERIMENT I. Stir one-fourth teaspoonful of a cream of tartar baking powder into one-fourth glass of cold water. Note the fine bubbles that result. These are gas bubbles formed by substances in the baking powder that unite when they are moistened and give off a gas.

EXPERIMENT II. Repeat Experiment I, using hot water. In which glass did the bubbles form more quickly? The ingredients of the baking powder do not dissolve as quickly in cold water as in warm. This is a great help in mixing baking powder breads as the gas is not all formed before the bread is put into the oven.

EXPERIMENT III. Put a tablespoonful of vinegar into a glass and add one-fourth teaspoonful of soda. What happens?

EXPERIMENT IV. To one-half cup of thick sour milk add one-fourth teaspoonful of soda. Stir well and note the result.

In all of the experiments a gas was formed. In Experiment III, where vinegar and soda were used, the gas passed off so rapidly that it could not be conveniently used in making bread. What two substances were found in each experiment?

Baking powder is made of soda, cream of tartar, and corn-starch. The cornstarch has nothing to do with the forming of gas, as could be proved by mixing cornstarch and soda and wetting it. The cornstarch is added to keep the soda and cream of tartar from uniting before it is to be used. Cream of tartar is an acid obtained from the crystals formed on the sides of wine casks, and has a sour taste. (From what is wine made?) The milk used in the experiment was sour and so was the vinegar. In each mixture we had soda, which is' a mineral obtained usually from common salt. The soda gives off carbon dioxide when moistened and heated, or when mixed with an acid. An acid is used with it to destroy the taste. From this it is concluded that when soda and an acid are mixed and moistened a gas is produced. This gas is known as carbonic acid gas or carbon dioxide. What has been learned about this gas in the physiology lesson? When the gas is formed in bread it attempts to escape and in doing so it lifts the dough and lightens it.

EXPERIMENT V. Add one-fourth teaspoonful of soda to one tablespoonful of sour milk in a test tube. Stir, and as it effervesces bring the mouth of a test tube containing the lime-water near the first tube. What is the result?

EXPERIMENT VI. Heat the mixture in Experiment I in a test tube or small saucepan. When it effervesces briskly, hold a lighted match close over it. What is the result?

Carbon dioxide turns lime-water milky and extinguishes a flame. A sour substance like cream of tartar, sour milk,, or vinegar is called an acid.

A substance like soda is called a carbonate. Soda is also called an alkali.

There are some interesting experiments by which acids or alkalies can be determined. For this purpose paper that has been colored by a vegetable color is used. This is called litmus paper.

EXPERIMENT VII. Moisten a piece of blue litmus paper with vinegar. Is there any change? Try a piece of red. What is the result? Acids turn blue litmus red.

EXPERIMENT VIII. Dissolve one-half teaspoonful of soda in one-half glass of water. Test with both red and blue litmus paper. What is the result? Alkalies turn red litmus blue.

EXPERIMENT IX. Test the baking powder solutions in Experiments I and IL Is there a change? In a good baking powder the acid and the soda exactly balance each other and the paper shows neither acid nor alkali. Such a mixture is said to be neutral.

EXPERIMENT X. Test the vinegar and soda solution with litmus paper. Add more soda or vinegar, as indicated by the change in the litmus paper, until the mixture is neutral.

EXPERIMENT XI. Test the sour milk and soda solution with litmus paper. What is the result?

When sour milk and soda are used for bread, care must be taken that the acid and alkali are just balanced. Thick sour milk usually needs one teaspoonful of soda for two cups of milk. If the milk is thin, that is, not yet clabbered or formed into curd, less soda will be needed, as it is not so acid as *hen clabbered.

EXPERIMENT XII. Test sugar-house molasses with litmus paper. Is it acid or alkali? Molasses from a fresh can just opened has little acid.

EXPERIMENT XIII. To one-fourth cup of sugar-house molasses add one-fourth teaspoonful of soda dissolved in a tablespoonful of hot water. Stir well and note the result. Test with litmus paper. Is it acid, alkali, or neutral?

EXPERIMENT XIV. Test corn syrup with litmus paper. What is the result?

EXPERIMENT XV. Add soda solution as in Experiment XIII to the same quantity of corn syrup. What is the result? Judging by this could corn syrup be substituted for molasses in gingerbread recipe? What ingredient would have to be reduced in amount if corn syrup were used? Would the gingerbread be light enough without baking powder if corn syrup were substituted for molasses?

Kinds of Baking Powders. There are a number of baking powders in the market. They are sold under different names, but all may be classified as cream of tartar, acid phosphate, or alum powders.

Phosphate baking powder is made of calcium acid phosphate and soda with cornstarch. The cornstarch is generally used in greater quantities in phosphate baking powder than it is in cream of tartar powders. Phosphate baking powder does not keep well and should be purchased in small quantities. The alum powders contain soda, cornstarch, some form of alum, and various other ingredients. Repeat Experiment I, boil, and test for starch.

What does the pure food law say about the kind of baking powders that may be sold?. Read the label on your baking powder and see what its ingredients are. What are the ingredients of cream of tartar baking powder? Name some well-known cream of tartar baking powder. What kind do you use?

The Residue from Baking Powders. After the gas escapes from baking powder there is left a solid substance that may be injurious. Alum powders leave mineral salts that are considered very harmful. The solids from other baking powders are not injurious if used in moderate quantities. Buy a good quality of baking powder, in small quantities, as it loses its gas if kept long. Always keep it tightly covered.

If bread in which the acid does not balance the soda is used, the excess soda may interfere with the digestive juices. Soda and sour milk are far cheaper than baking powder, and if care-fully used are not any more harmful.

Home Made Baking Powder. Baking powder can be made at home very successfully. Buy pure cream of tartar and bicarbonate of soda from a reliable druggist.

lb. cream of tartar 3 oz. cornstarch 1/4 lb. bicarbonate of soda

Sift the soda and cornstarch together very thoroughly. Then shake in a covered glass jar until well mixed. Add the cream of tartar and shake well. Keep tightly covered. Use one teaspoonful to a cup of flour in biscuit and other quick breads. Use less in cakes where many eggs are used. For every egg added, deduct 1/2 teaspoonful of baking powder.


How many ounces of baking powder are made by the recipe given above? What did it cost? What is the price of a cream of tartar baking powder? How much is saved by mixing it at home? What per cent is saved? What is the price of a pure phosphate baking powder? What is the cost of some alum baking powder sold in your market? Note the various names given for alum on the labels of cheap baking powders. Is it economy to save money by using for food any substance that may be injurious?


Breads lightened by other means than yeast are sometimes called quick breads because of the short time needed for making and cooking them. As soft warm breads are usually imperfectly masticated, they should not be eaten frequently. Soda, either in baking powder where it may be combined with other minerals, or used with sour milk, leaves a residue that may be injurious. For these reasons it is much better to use well made yeast bread for your principal bread, and to eat the quick breads only occasionally.

Proportion of Liquid to Flour in Batters and Doughs. Quick breads are sometimes grouped as batters and doughs, according to their consistency or stiffness.

Pour batter 1 part liquid to 1 to 1 1/2 of flour

Drop batter 1 part liquid to 2 to 2% of flour

Soft dough 1 part liquid to 3 to 3 1/2 of flour

Stiff dough 1 part liquid to 4 or more of flour

EXPERIMENT XVI. Measure a cup of flour. Sift and measure another cup. Compare bulk. Always sift flour before measuring, then sift again (one or more times) to mix dry ingredients.

Eggs as a Leavening Agent. A few quick breads do not depend on baking powder or its equivalent soda and an acid for a leaven, but are made light by the air and confined steam. Eggs are used for these breads, because a film of egg will hold the dough up long enough for it to be cooked. In popovers or cream puffs a hollow shell is desired, so the whole egg is beaten into the mixture. Where a spongy structure is required, as in sponge cake or angel cake, the whites are beaten separately and very thoroughly.

Popovers and griddle cakes are typical of thin batters.

1 c. flour 1/4 tsp. salt

1 c. milk 1 or 2 eggs

Sift and mix flour and salt. Mix the eggs and milk and add to the flour gradually. Beat with a clover egg beater. Turn the mixture into very hot greased gem pans or earthen cups, and put them into a very hot oven (about 475° F.). Keep the door closed for ten minutes. If they are browning at the end of this time reduce the heat very slightly. They should be well puffed and a golden brown at the end of thirty minutes. Then the heat may be reduced, or the oven door opened, to dry the rim of dough around the sides. About forty-five minutes is required for cooking. Serve as muffins or with a pudding sauce for dessert. Is the popover mixture a drop or a pour batter? What is the proportion of flour to liquid? Why is the egg beaten directly into the batter for popovers? (Experiment II.) Divide the recipe and mix one-half without beating; beat the other according to directions. Compare the product after baking.

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