Understanding Baking: How to Produce Popular Pies, Cakes, Cookies, Rolls, and Breads

Joseph Amendola, Donald E. Lundberg | Medalist Publications

SKU: 429-UND


Bread is the most widely eaten food in the western world today and has been a staple food over the centuries. A painting on one of the walls of an Egyptian pyramid shows men kneading dough by trampling in it with their feet while maintaining their balance with the aid of a stick. Ancient Greece understood the art of puff pastry. Public bake shops appeared in ancient Rome even before the time of Christ.

During the Middle Ages dining, like so many of the arts of fine living, became quite simple. At that time food was served on a trencher, and the trencher was a piece of thick bread placed on the plate. Other foods were piled upon it and the trencher soaked up the fats and juices from the various meats, poultries, and game placed on the trencher.

The trencher was eaten last.

With the Renaissance, the Italians in the northern city states again developed keen interest in food. In the 16th century, Catherine de Medici was married to the Crown Prince of France, the Dauphin, (later Henry Il) and brought with her to Paris a brigade of chefs and bakers.

Catherine is credited with stimulating the French to take an interest in finer food preparation. Her bakers brought with them the recipes and skills for baking such items as cream custards, eclairs, tarts, macaroons, and cream puffs.

A school of baking was opened in Paris in 1780. About the same time, pastry baking became a specialized art and the pastry bakers set themselves up in business apart from the bread bakers.

In this country, wheat flour was at a premium during the Colonial period since wheat did not grow well in New England or along the eastern seaboard. Corn was the staple food of the colonial settlers. By the time of the American Revolution, bread again was an important part of the diet and Christopher Ludwig, as superintendent of the bakeries for the Continental Army, did much for the morale of the troops.

George Washington grew wheat at Mt. Vernon and found milling an honorable profession. Mt. Vernon flour was famous for its high quality.

As settlers moved into the Middle West and wheat was grown over large areas, white flour became available to nearly everyone. The leavening agent for the bread made at the time came from several sources: the simplest was the fermentation of bacteria and wild yeast that could be made to grow in dough. A cowboy cook made his starter by mixing flour and potato water in a keg and leaving it in the sun to ferment.

He often took it to bed with him to keep it warm through the long, cold nights, 

Another starter involved commeal, water, and sugar which was allowed to ferment over night. This was blended with flour, salt and other ingredients to yield "salt rising" or "sour dough" bread. Commercial yeast, a by-product of the brewing industry, became available in 1868.

Another leavening agent much used in the 19th century was baking soda.

It combined quickly with the lactic acid in sour milk or butter milk to release carbon dioxide which helped expand and raise the pro-duct. If a recipe called for sweet milk, cream of tartar could be added to get the chemical reaction going. Baking powder, a combination of baking soda and an acid, came along in 1856 and served the same pur-All that was needed to start the reaction was to add water, salt and heat. Baking powder and commercially available yeast were great steps forward in the history of baking.

Much of history can be traced in the movement of a baked item from country to country. The croissant or crescent roll dates from the year 1686 when it was created in Budapest. The Ottoman Turks were besieging the city and had tunneled under the city walls into the heart of the city.

Bakers who worked during the night heard the sounds of the Turks digging and gave the alarm. To reward the bakers who had saved the city, the privilege of making a crescent roll was granted to them since the crescent was the emblem which decorated the Turkish The croissant is widely popular as a breakfast item in France

today. Strudel, the marvelous paper-thin dough product, had a similar history. Apparently thin layered dough was first used in the Near East to make baklava.

Baklava is made up of paper-thin sheets of dough piled in layers and filled with honey and nuts. This dessert moved westward with the Turks as they came into Hungary. Later it was carried from Hungary into Germany and Austria when Hungary became a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

The move to convenience in the bake shop came about the turn of the century. Self-rising flour that contained baking powder was available prior to 1900. Pancake flour was developed during World War I. By the early thirties a biscuit mix became available to the housewife and doughnut mixes began being used by the baker. The first cake mix, that for gingerbread, was sold in the mid thirties. Soon after, pie crust mixes and corn muffin mixes appeared.

Cake mixes were marketed before World War II but during that war there was a shortage of sugar and shortening. Cake mixes which included these items did not require ration points. Many housewives were at work in industry and the mixes were popular. Today few home baked cakes are made from "scratch". Only eggs and water are added to most cake mixes now bought in the store.

Condition + Era

Good - Has more visible surface wear such as small chips or deeper scratches.