How to Select Flour For Making Bread.Bread made from the entire wheat is looked upon with far more favor than formerly, and it is no longer necessary to use the crude products of the grain for its manufacture, since modern invention has worked such a revolution in milling processes that it is now possible to obtain a fine flour containing all the nutritious elements of the grain.
How to Select Flour For Making Bread.
The first requisite in the making of good bread is good flour. The quality of a brand of flour will of course depend much upon the kind of grain from which it is prepared—whether new or old, perfect, or deteriorated by rust, mold, or exposure, and also upon the thoroughness with which it has been cleansed from dust, chaff, and all foreign substances, as well as upon the method by which it is ground. It is not possible to judge with regard to all these particulars by the appearance of the flour, but in general, good flour will be sweet, dry, and free from any sour or musty smell or taste. Take up a handful, and if it falls from the hand light and elastic, it is pretty sure to be good. If it will retain the imprint of the fingers and falls and a compact mass or a damp, clammy, or sticky to the touch, it is by no means the best. When and knead a little of it between the fingers; if it works soft and sticky, it is poor. Good flour, when made into dough, is elastic, and will retain its shape. This elastic property of good flour is due to the gluten which it contains. The more gluten and the stronger it is, the better the flour. The gluten of good flour will swell to several times its original bulk, while that of poor flour will not.
In buying white flour, do not select that which is pure white with a bluish tinge, but that which is of a creamy, yellowish-white tint. While the kinds of flour that contain the entire nutritive properties of the wheat will necessarily be darker in color, we would caution the reader not to suppose that because flour is dark in color it is for that reason good, and rich in nutritive elements. There are many other causes from which flour may be dark, such as the use of uncleansed or dark varieties of wheat, and the large admixture of bran and other grains; many unscrupulous millers and flour dealers make use of this fact to palm off upon their unsuspecting customers an inferior article. Much of the so-called Graham flour is nothing more than poor flour mixed with bran, and is in every way inferior to good white flour. Fine flour or made from the entire wheat may generally be distinguished from a spurious article by taking a small portion into the mouth and chewing it. Raw flour made from the entire grain has a sweet taste, and a rich, nutty flavor the same as that experienced in chewing a whole grain of wheat, and produces a goodly quantity of gum or gluten, while a spurious article tastes flat and insipid like starch, or has a bitter, pungent taste consequent upon the presence of impurities. This bitter taste is noticeable in bread made from such flour. A given quantity of poor flour will not make as much bread as the same quantity of good flour, so that adulteration may also be detected in this way. Doubtless much of the prejudice against the use of whole-wheat flour has arisen from the use of a spurious article.
As it is not always possible to determine accurately without the aid of chemistry and a microscope whether flour is genuine, the only safe way is to purchase the product of reliable mills.
It is always best to obtain a small quantity of flour first, and put it to the test of bread-making; then, if satisfactory, purchase that brand so long as it proves good. It is true economy to buy a flour known to be good even though it may cost more than some others. It is not wise to purchase too large a quantity at once unless one has exceptionally good facilities for storage, as flour is subject to many deteriorating influences. It is estimated that a barrel of good flour contains sufficient bread material to last one person one year; and from this standard it can be easily estimated in what proportion it is best to purchase.
To Keep Flour.—Flour should always be kept in a tight receptacle, and in a cool, dry, well-ventilated place. It should not be allowed to remain in close proximity to any substances of strong odor, as it very readily absorbs odors and gaseous impurities. A damp atmosphere will cause it to absorb moisture, and as a result the gluten will lose some of its tenacity and become sticky, and bread made from the flour will be coarser and inferior in quality. Flour which has absorbed dampness from any cause should be sifted into a large tray, spread out thin and exposed to the hot sun, or placed in a warming oven for a few hours.
Deleterious Adulterations of Flour.—Besides the fraud frequently practiced of compounding whole-wheat flour from inferior mill products, white flour is sometimes adulterated—more commonly, however, in European countries that in this—with such substances as alum, ground rice, plaster of Paris, and whiting. Alum is doubtless the most commonly used of all these substances, for the reason that it gives the bread a whiter color and causes the flour to absorb and retain a larger amount of water than it would otherwise hold. This enables the user to make, from an inferior brand of flour, bread which resembles that made from a better quality. Such adulteration is exceedingly injurious, as are other mineral substances used for a similar purpose.
The presence of alum in flour or bread may be detected in the following way: Macerate a half slice of bread in three or four tablespoonfuls of water; strain off the water, and add to it twenty drops of a strong solution of logwood, made either from the fresh chips or the extract. Then add a large teaspoonful of a strong solution of carbonate of ammonium. If alum is present, the mixture will change from pink to lavender blue.
The Journal of Trade gives the following simple mode of testing for this adulterant: “Persons can test the bread they buy for themselves, by taking a piece of it and soaking it in water. Take this water and mix it with an equal part of fresh milk, and if the bread contains alum, the mixture will coagulate. If a better test is required, boil the mixture, and it will form perfect clot.”
Whiting can be detected by dipping the ends of the thumb and forefinger in sweet oil and rubbing the flour between them. If whiting is present, the flour will become sticky like putty, and remain white; whereas pure flour, when so rubbed, becomes darker in color, but not sticky. Plaster of Paris, chalk, and other alkaline adulterants may be detected by a few drops of lemon juice: if either be present, effervescence will take place.
Chemistry of Bread-Making.—Good flour alone will not insure good bread. As much depends upon its preparation as upon the selection of material; for the very best of flour may be transformed into the poorest of bread through improper or careless preparation. Good bread cannot be produced at random. It is not the fruit of any luck or chance, but the practical result of certain fixed laws and principles to which all may conform.
The first step in the conversion of flour into bread is to incorporate with it a given amount of fluid, by which each atom of flour is surrounded with a thin film of moisture, in order to hydrate the starch, to dissolve the sugar and albumen, and to develop the adhesiveness of the gluten, thus binding the whole into one coherent mass termed dough, a word from a verb meaning to wet or moisten. If nothing more be done, and this simple form of dough be baked, the starch granules will be ruptured by the heat and thus properly prepared for food; but the moistening will have developed the glue-like property of the gluten to the extent of firmly cementing the particles of flour together, so that the mass will be hard and tough, and almost incapable of mastication. If, however, the dough be thoroughly kneaded, rolled very thin, made into small cakes, and then quickly baked with sufficient heat, the result will be a brittle kind of bread termed unleavened bread, which, although it requires a lengthy process of mastication, is more wholesome and digestible than soft bread, which is likely to be swallowed insufficiently insalivated.
The gluten of wheat flour, beside being adhesive, is likewise remarkably elastic. This is the reason why wheat flour is much more easily made into light bread than the product of other cereals which contain less or a different quality of gluten. Now if while the atoms of flour are supplied with moisture, they are likewise supplied with some form of gaseous substance, the elastic walls of the gluten cells will become distended, causing the dough to “rise,” or grow in bulk, and at the same time become light, or porous, in texture.
This making of bread light is usually accomplished by the introduction of air into the dough, or by carbonic acid gas generated within the mass, either before or during the baking, by a fermentative or chemical process.
When air is the agency used, the gluten, by its glue-like properties, catches and retains the air for a short period; and if heat is applied before the air, which is lighter than the dough, rises and escapes, it will expand, and in expanding distend the elastic glutinous mass, causing it to puff up or rise. If the heat is sufficient to harden the gluten quickly, so that the air cells throughout the whole mass become firmly fixed before the air escapes, the result will be a light, porous bread. If the heat is not sufficient, the air does not properly expand; or if before a sufficient crust is formed to retain the air and form a framework of support for the dough, the heat is lessened or withdrawn, the air will escape, or contract to its former volume, allowing the distended glutinous cell walls to collapse; in either case the bread will be heavy.
If carbonic acid gas, generated within the dough by means of fermentation or by the use of chemical substances, be the means used to lighten the mass, the gluten by virtue of its tenacity holds the bubbles of gas as they are generated, and prevents the large and small ones from uniting, or from rising to the surface, as they seek to do, being lighter than the dough. Being thus caught where they are generated, and the proper conditions supplied to expand them, they swell or raise the dough, which is then termed a loaf. (This word “loaf” is from the Anglo-Saxon hlifian, to raise or lift up.) The structure is rendered permanent by the application of heat in baking.