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.
While completely guessing at quantity sizes, I made something that probably resembled sponge as outlined in my article, “My First Try at Making Bread Sponge.”
I made the dough “rather thick” as suggested by original writer of the recipe. “Rather thick” is an example of the type of descriptions found in early recipes that made perfect sense to cooks of the period but isn’t descriptive enough for current bakers.
So my thick dough ended up being too stiff. This became clear when I tried to mix it into a pumpkin bread batter.
This time a tablespoon of yeast was dissolved in ¼ cup hot water before adding it to the dough. These small changes made a world of difference in the elasticity of the sponge – both before and after rising. The appearance and feel vastly improved over the first batch.
The dough rose for two hours.
To maintain control over experimenting with the sponge, I again made the same pumpkin bread recipe. I added two cups of sponge. The first batch had to be combined using my hands; a wooden spoon and pastry blender easily blended the second batch.
Much encouraged by the differences, I baked the bread at 350 degrees for sixty minutes. When it was not done, I increased the temperature to 375 and baked another 25 minutes. Perhaps the oven should have been at 375 for an hour, so this is a difference encountered.
It didn’t rise at all during baking because I forgot to add baking powder and salt. Along with a flat top, the texture was twice as moist as bread made with dry flour. It tasted delicious. I also noticed one slice satisfied my hunger.
Making bread this way took about three hours longer than my normal recipe. The moist pumpkin dessert required an extra 25 minutes in the oven. The sponge affects the texture of the finished product.
The second attempt at making old-fashioned sponge and using it in a pumpkin bread recipe was far more successful than the first.
I’d love to hear from you, especially if you try this sponge in one of your recipes. Good luck!
-Sandra Merville Hart
Compiled from Original Recipes. Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping, Applewood Books, 2011.