Sponge is the First Step in Making Good Bread


Making homemade bread from scratch is a lost art for most of us. I make a variety of fruit breads like banana, pumpkin, cranberry orange, but rely on my bread machine for homemade white bread and rolls.

I’ve always wanted to learn how to make bread from scratch like colonial women did. Writing historical novels increases my desire to place myself in my heroine’s shoes and cook with the same challenges and knowledge she does.

A cookbook from 1877 teaches that the first step in making delicious bread is the sponge.

Sponge was made with flour, yeast, and warm milk or water. Some bakers added mashed potatoes. The cookbook author cautioned these early cooks to consider both the weather and the time of time when preparing the sponge.

In the summer, the sponge shouldn’t be set before eight or nine at night. Thick batter was made with lukewarm liquids. Scalding the milk and allowing it to cool first prevented it from souring.

In the winter, liquids were added at “blood warmth.” The temperature was determined by the baker’s finger and made as warm as the cook could stand. Adding the flour cooled the liquid enough for the yeast. The sponge was stored, covered,  in a warm area to rise.

The author suggested placing a clean, folded blanket over the cover.

A small tea-cup of yeast and three pints of “wetting” made four ordinary loaves. (My guess is that the “wetting” referred to is the flour and milk mixture since yeast was always added last.)

Bakers used this sponge in their bread, but it also worked well on the griddle for breakfast cakes or in muffins.

I’ll have to guess at the measurements, but plan to try this sponge in muffins, pancakes, or fruit breads. I’ll let you how it turns out. If you try the recipe, I’d love to hear about it.

-Sandra Merville Hart



Compiled from Original Recipes. Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping, Applewood Books, 2011.

“Lukewarm,” Thesaurus.com, 2015/06/09  http://www.thesaurus.com/browse/lukewarm.



2 thoughts on “Sponge is the First Step in Making Good Bread

  1. Enjoy your articles like these, Sandra. If I had time I’d love to try the recipe. Enjoyed the bit about cast iron skillets a few weeks ago also. Once I began using an iron skillet on a regular basis I realized the difference in taste just can’t be repeated, meat and vegetables rule in cast iron! I’ve wanted to try sourdough starters and such for a few years. Maybe one of these days I’ll have the time and room to do some baking the old fashioned way. Thank you for sharing.


    • Thank you, Joanna, for your comments. I’ve been interested in learning the differences between the way we cook and bake from our ancestors. This has been a lot of fun – though with a huge learning curve! 🙂 I appreciate you coming along on the journey!


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