On October 9, I tried my first recipe from the 1911 Bovina cookbook. As I noted in the blog, I wanted some feedback from my friend (and former colleague) Pamela Cooley, who has a lot of experience working with historical recipes. She attempted to put a response in the comments field, but apparently it was too long, so I've made it a blog entry follow-up. Here's her response to my questions about the recipe:
"Despite your confusion, it appears from the look of your final product and comments from your family, that your (baking) instincts served you very well. Those rolls look beautiful! So as you requested, I’ll use the rest of my Comment to explain my thoughts about Ms. Scott's recipe.
"About the yeast: What Eva Belle was referring to when she listed 1/2 cup of yeast was what is called “starter” today. It is the yeasty flour and liquid mixture saved from the last batch of bread to start the next batch. And the type of bread made with starter is now usually called “sourdough bread.” I bet that Eva’s rolls, made with her starter, would have had a “sour” taste that yours lacked.
"That you dissolved a package of dry yeast in 1/2 cup of warm water was spot on, although another time if you wanted to make fewer rolls, you might try dissolving the dry yeast in a couple of tablespoons of warm water instead.
"About how wet the dough was for the first rise: This is fine, and typical of some bread recipes.
"About the amount of flour you eventually used: For 2 1/2 cups of liquid, I would expect that 6+ cups of flour is about right. Many early bread recipes leave the final measurement of flour up to the baker (i.e. “add enough flour to knead”). This is because of inconsistencies in the make up of different flours, the humidity on bread baking day, and other vagaries.
"About scalding the milk: You are right about not needing to scald the milk because milk is now pasteurized. If I understand correctly, something in raw milk (I’m not quite sure what) had a tendency to kill the yeast, and that “something” was killed in turn by the scalding. But, in this recipe, there was another advantage to using the scalded milk: it would have melted the butter and kept the temperature of the mixture warmer so the yeast would have worked more quickly.
"About the shape of a French Roll: I bet a different shape wouldn’t have made your rolls any tastier than they already were, but traditional French Rolls are shaped in a longish oval, scored on top lengthwise with a sharp blade, and placed on a sheet to bake so that they don’t touch each other and get crusty all round."
Thank you so much Pamela for your feedback.