I Don’t like very stale bread — do you? My reason for disliking it is very much the reason why I don’t like Dr. Fell; your reason is really the same, but you probably cheat yourself into the belief that it is something else, namely because the bread is “so dry.” Allow me to undeceive you. No bread is dry; bread just baked is nearly half water; and the stalest of stale loaves has not lost more than a hundredth part of this water.
The fact that bread contains nearly half its weight of water is surprising, but not so surprising as that your own body contains a considerably larger proportion — nearly three-fourths. It is “water, water everywhere, and (often) not a drop to drink.” The flour from which bread is made is dry enough, containing not more than sixteen per cent. of water; but it has a great tendency to absorb water, and in the process of baking it absorbs it rapidly. The gum, which is produced from the starch of the flour in baking, holds this water firmly; and the gluten, which forms a coating round every little hollow in the bread, steadily resists evaporation. Thus bread becomes moist, and keeps moist, let it be never so stale.
But if stale bread be not dry bread, what is it? What makes that familiar difference between the soft, plastic, spongy crumb, and the harsh, crumbling morsel of six days old? That it is no difference of moisture, has been experimentally verified; every cook, or baker, could have told us that there is no use in placing bread in a moist cellar to prevent the evaporation of its water, since the bread will assuredly become stale as the hours roll on.
On the other hand, every baker and every cook could tell us, that if a stale loaf be placed in the oven again for a few minutes, it will come out having (for a time, at least) all the characters of new bread. Yet in the oven it must necessarily have lost some of its water, and comes out dryer than it went in—dryer, but not by any means so stale. Further: who does not know the effect of toasting a slice of stale bread? The fire scorches the outside layers, and renders them completely dry; but, especially if the slice be not too thin, we find the interior layers deliciously soft, plastic, and palatable.
An experiment made by the eminent chemist, M. Boussingault, proves in a convincing manner that the amount of water in the bread has nothing to do with its newness. He took a loaf six days old, weighing 3 kilogrammes, 690 grammes (a kilogramme is something more than 2 pounds, a gramme is about 154 grains). This loaf was placed in the oven for an hour; on removing it, a loss of 120 grammes of water was found to have taken place; yet, in spite of this loss, amounting to | per cent., the bread was as new as that just made.
It is the water in the bread which prevents the loaf becoming all crust. In an oven with a temperature of 500 degrees Fahrenheit, the loaf gets roasted outside, and the crust is formed; but the inside crumb never has a temperature above 100 degrees; the water which is there, and which cannot evaporate through the crust, keeping the temperature down. If this crumb is thus slow to heat, it is also slow to cool. Every one knows how long the crumb of a roll continues warm, even on a cold winter morning; and the loaf which was taken from the oven at three in the morning, comes warm to the breakfast-table at ten. M. Boussingault has also experimented on this.
He placed a loaf, hot from the oven, in a room the temperature of which was 66 degrees. The law of equilibrium, by which a hot body loses heat until it is no hotter than the surrounding objects, instantly came into operation; but, although all bodies give off their heat to bodies that are colder, they do so with varying degrees of rapidity —some being very tenacious of the heat they have got hold of, and others being the most prodigal of spendthrifts; and thus the loaf, although it began to cool as soon as it was taken from the oven, did not reach the temperature of the surrounding air until twenty-four hours had elapsed—and then it was stale.
Does it not seem, then, that the difference between new bread and stale bread is only the difference between hot bread and cold bread? It does seem so, when we reflect that we have only to warm the stale bread in an oven to make it new again. But there is this fact which stands in the way of such an explanation: the bread which has been re-baked, although undistinguishable from bread which has been recently baked, is only so for a very short time—it rapidly becomes stale again. Were this not the case, we need never have to complain of stale bread: it could always be made new again in a few minutes. The conclusion drawn by M. Boussingault from his experiments is, that the staleness depends on a peculiar molecular condition of the bread; and this condition is itself dependent on a fall of temperature.
But new bread, if more palatable, is very unwholesome, because very indigestible to those whose peptics are imperfect. The peculiarity of new bread, that it forms itself into a paste, is an obstacle to its digestion. But this is only true of the lumpish, pasty, doughy, obstinate, irrational bread baked in our favoured island. No dyspeptic trembles at the new bread of Paris or Vienna. In Vienna they bake — or used to bake, when I lived there—three times a day, and perfectly fresh rolls were served up with each meal. No one complained; every one ate these rolls so alarming to the dyspeptic mind, and would have stormed at an unhappy waiter who should by accident, or philanthropy, have brought yester
But let weak and strong beware how they trifle with the new half-quarter n, which, in unshapely, uninviting, and well-founded modesty, stands on the breakfast-table of the British mother. The hot bread may tempt her inconsiderate boy—perhaps the more so because he is assured it is “bad for him.” Boys have a very natural suspicion, founded on ample experience, that what parents and guardians declare to be “good for them,” is certain to be odious. They are birched for their good, they are bolussed for their good, they are hurried off to bed for their good,—and of course they like to try the bad, because it isn’t for their good. But, except these young gentlemen, no one with a stomach more delicate than that of a ploughman or a fox hunter should venture on hot bread in England.