So much flour is now imported that we always have a good supply. If one country fails, another succeeds. In bygone times, when there was little or no foreign corn, if the corn sprouted in shock there was bad bread for the community until a better season came round, for sprouted corn and bad flour cannot be made into good bread, even with all the skilful manipulation of the modern baker.
Good Flour is Dry, and does not lose more than 12 per cent, in weight when heated in an oven. To grind corn damp, and so increase its weight, is not an uncommon practice. Every cook knows that the same weight of flour will not always mix with an equal quantity of water, and that the better the flour the more water it takes up. It should be white, with a yellowish tinge, household flour being always less white than "firsts," or fine Hungarian, used for pastry, adherent, so that a handful squeezed keeps its shape; neither acid, nor soon becoming acid; and it should, above all, make a good loaf. This last is the best of all tests, and before buying any large quantity of flour it is always wise to apply it on a sample. From 1 sack of flour (280 lbs.) from 90 to 100 (4-lbs.) loaves may be made. The average is about 95. If the flour is remarkably good and dry, a greater weight of water is taken up, and consequently a larger number of loaves are made from the same amount of flour. Cloths are sometimes thrown over bread hot out of the oven to retain the steam and prevent the loaves from becoming dry.
Loss of Weight in Baking.—Dough loses about 1⁄6 of its weight in baking. Potato is sometimes added in small quantities with no evil intent, because yeast acts more quickly on potato starch than that contained in the flour; but of late years Malt Extract has largely superseded the use of potatoes, as being more cleanly, a true yeast food, and more adapted to modern processes. The skill of the baker is applied so to mix the flour that it may produce the best bread, as regards its colour, flavour, and keeping quality. It is usual to use strong American flour for setting the sponge, and afterwards to knead in some of the sweet flour grown in our English counties. About ⅔ of our flour comes from abroad, and it is generally used to mix in with and fortify our home supply, though every one who has tried new English flour, grown in a good season and on good soil, will agree that none can equal it for sweetness.
Daily Consumption of Bread.—It is usual to allow 1 lb. of bread per diem to each person. Two people would eat a half-quartern loaf between them. This is an ample allowance, even if there is not a very abundant supply of other foods, and if more than this is used in an average household there is probably some waste going on. The poorer housekeepers, who fetch their bread, get it weighed, and receive an extra slice thrown in if the loaf is under weight, but bread brought to use is not weighed by the baker. Fancy bread is never weighed, brown bread is usually made and sold as fancy bread, it is consumed as a luxury.