An 1877 cookbook compiled from original recipes teaches that the first step in making delicious bread is the sponge. My earlier article, “Sponge is the First Step in Making Good Bread,” gave the recipe and suggested that sponge worked nicely for breakfast-cakes and muffins.
The jury is still out on that claim, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Since measurements weren’t supplied, I began by scalding four cups of milk. After that, it took about an hour before it cooled to lukewarm temperature.
Then I measured four cups of all-purpose flour into a mixing bowl and added a little milk at a time to figure out how much was required. The author stated that the sponge should be “rather thick” when using for breakfast cakes.
The recipe called for a “small teacup of yeast” for three pints of “wetting.” Three pints is six cups; that seemed like a lot of dough for my experiment. I compromised with 1 tablespoon of yeast, which I mixed directly into the dough.
The stiff dough was covered tightly with a plate. I followed the original cook’s suggestion to place a blanket over the covered bowl.
An hour later the dough had barely risen. There were no guides given on how long to allow the dough to rise so I recovered it and waited another half hour before starting the pumpkin bread.
My plan for replacing flour, baking powder, and baking soda with the sponge didn’t work as well as I hoped.
It started out well.
Once the sugar and butter were creamed, the eggs, pumpkin, and cinnamon added, I measured two cups of the sponge – the amount of flour required by the recipe.
That may have been too much sponge.
The dough had risen almost twice the original size and smelled like pizza. It also didn’t mix well with the pumpkin mixture. I finally resorted to using my fingers to combine the ingredients.
The texture was completely different from my original bread recipe when combined. It baked fifty minutes. When cooled, my husband and I ate a slice.
The pumpkin bread tasted good but had a strange consistency so I did something wrong.
Then I remembered a friendship cake that made the rounds a few years ago. Friends passed around “starter” dough for a friendship cake. Each person used part of the dough for a cake, added to the original dough, and passed it on to the next person.
That “starter” dough was wetter and thinner than mine. Maybe the sponge should be somewhere in between the two.
We’ll see what happens with the next batch when using more milk and yeast in the sponge.
-Sandra Merville Hart
Compiled from Original Recipes. Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping, Applewood Books, 2011.