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weather and hydration question

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edh's picture
edh

weather and hydration question

Help!

I've seen reference in various threads to the effects of weather on dough, but this is ridiculous!

I set up my usual sourdough to rise last night; it's just an ersatz adaptation of no-knead,

1/2 cup whole wheat starter

1 5/8 cups water

3 cups white unbleached bread flour

1 tsp salt

 

So far it's worked a charm if I start it in late afternoon, fold 2 or 3 times, then leave it alone until the next morning. Fold again a time or two, shape, and rise in a cloth lined bowl, then bake in a preheated pot. It's a pretty slack dough, but the folding and stretching generally makes it behave nicely.

Now, I live in the Northeast (US), so yesterday's weather gave new meaning to the word sloppy; we started with 6 inches of snow on the ground in the morning, and it was all gone by evening in torrential rains. So to say the air was fairly high humidity would be fair.

When I started the dough last night it really didn't seem any different than usual, though the folding and stretching didn't make it firm up quite the way it usually does. This morning, on the other hand, I was greeted with what looked like the pancake batter I made with the extra starter. I had a puddle of goo staring at me from the counter when I took (pured) it out of the bowl.

So what do you do when it's that wet the next morning? Can you just dump in more flour and let it do another bulk ferment? I'm going to try to bake it as is, if I can get it out of the bowl and into the pot, but I'd love any advice anyone can offer!

Thanks,

edh

bwraith's picture
bwraith

edh,

I've spent a lot of time measuring and trying to understand indoor humidity. I have some hand crafted guitars with wood that will crack if the humidity gets too low or too high. In the winter in the northeast, inside humidity is usually very low, rather than high. For example, here in NJ we've had a lot of precipitation recently too. Outside, it's very damp, and the relative humidity is about 50% and I'm sure was much higher yesterday and the day before. However, my inside relative humidity is only 30% - quite dry. This happens because cold outside air in winter can't hold very much actual moisture. So, the relative humidity, which is how much moisture the air has relative to what it can hold at that temperature, may be high, but the absolute number of water molecules per unit of volume is very low. The inside air at room temperature can hold a lot more moisture in the same volume at the higher inside temperature, so even though the relative humidity is only at 30%, the number of water molecules per unit of air volume is actually higher than outside. In practical terms, what this means is that you need to humidify your house in the winter, even though the relative humidity outdoors may be quite high. I know this, because my humidifiers put about 20 to 40 gallons of water into my inside air everyday in the winter, yet the relative humidity indoors is hard to maintain much higher than 35% as long as the temperatures outside are below 40F.

Also, I don't know if the dough is covered or not, but if it is, it really doesn't matter too much what the humidity is, as the environment inside the covered bowl should stay moist.

So, having said all that, it makes me want to guess that something is different about the recipe. For example, that dough slackness has happened to me when I forgot the salt, which has a big effect on the stiffness of the dough. Or, maybe you put more water in it by accident. If you changed what flour you're using that could do it, too. Sorry, don't mean to say you've made a measuring mistake, but having done it myself more than a few times - especially forgetting the salt, just tossing out the possibility. You could try tasting the dough for salt. I have added salt late in the game, kneaded and folded a little, and just let it rise some more, although it depends how long it's been. Same with the flour. It can be pretty forgiving, though you might not get what your used to out of it.

Maybe that's way more than you ever wanted to hear about indoor vs. outdoor humidity. It's a constant issue for me here in NJ. In the summer, by the way, if you have air conditioning, that will dehumidify the house, or you could get very high indoor humidity levels.

I love the Maine coast, by the way. I usually am lucky enough to get in some sailing with friends in the spring and early summer along that coastline. It must be one of the most beatiful coastlines anywhere.

Bill

edh's picture
edh

Bill,

Thanks for your response; of course, I forgot to mention that we're also boiling sap down on the kitchen and wood stoves, so the house has a somewhat sauna-like quality at the moment. On the other hand, the dough was covered, as you said, so that really shouldn't have had an effect.

Your reference to ingredient quantities rings a far more pertinant bell; when I read your post to my husband, he started laughing, and reminded me of an unfortunate incident involving an angel food cake and a half-measure of sugar. It is more than plausible that the third cup of flour simply never made it into the bowl. How embarrassing.

By the way, baking it as is turns out to have been a not so good choice. It's ok; the driveway could use some paving stones...

Always glad to hear good things about Maine! It's a great place, though rather muddy at the moment...

edh

bwraith's picture
bwraith

edh,

Yes, I guess sometimes you just can't recover. I've had some that were not only hard, but nice and heavy, like the head of a sledge hammer.

It would get humid in the kitchen if you're boiling lots of water into the air. That's how one of my house humidifiers works. It just has a boiler that boils water away all winter in the basement and has a blower and a duct to push the steam up into the house. However, even then, if it's cold outside, unless your house is really airtight, all the moisture will escape before too long.

Enjoy Maine. I know what you mean about the mud in late winter/early spring.

Bill

 

 

mij.mac's picture
mij.mac

Hi edh,my first reaction to your post is that you over fermented your starter. When the acidity drops in your dough the the protein will rot turning it to 'glop', it then won't rise. If you just added too much water you should be having something like a ciabatta with nice open crumb not a paving slab. Here in the uk, actually I'm from the wettest part of the UK and I have never had to adjust a recipe even during the odd drought that we get. For me 60% always feels like 60% unless I change my flour. The second thing that I note is that you measure by cups. Cups are notoriously bad for measuring accurately. You have to make a big effort to be consistent, not to mention how easy it is to lose count. I strongly recommend anyone using cups to rely more on their judgement rather than the cups. Having said that I have some new scales that don't measure if you add ingredients very slowly. So annoying.

mac

edh's picture
edh

I started wondering about over-fermenting yesterday; when I looked at the dough in the morning after it's over-night rise, it was very bubbly, very gloppy, but it also seemed to have sort of sagged in the middle. I'd never seen it do that before. I'm wondering if it was too warm? Usually I just leave it on the counter and don't worry about the temp; if it takes longer, so what? That night it was so windy (a fact which tends to translate into the kitchen) and cold, I thought I'd leave it in the oven (gas with a pilot), which is about 79-80 degrees F.

I did bake the mess, and while it was nothing I'd want to repeat, it did have a surprisingly open crumb, though no one would call it a light bread by any stretch of the imagination! The taste isn't too bad either, just a bit more sour than I like (I'm with the milder flavor camp).

On a happier note; I started another batch last night, and it's exceedingly lively and well behaved. Rising in a cloth lined bowl (my poor-bakers imitation banneton) to bake later today.

I'm thinking of asking for scales for my birthday; anyone have any suggestions about brands? Also, definitely asking for a bread book; I'd love to hear some opinions about Bread Bakers Apprentice, Crust to Crumb, and Hamelmann's book.

Thanks!

edh

bwraith's picture
bwraith

Hi edh,

Looks like Mac had the right idea there.

Meanwhile, the ones you mention above are all good. At the risk of inflaming the passionate opinions about these various books, I'll toss out a couple of ideas. BBA is just great for getting started. It has lots of good pictures, and the explanations made a lot of sense to me when I was getting started. Hamelman's book is more technical, but it also had some of the best explanations of the tradeoffs in different approaches to mixing, and is probably a favorite reference for me. The overall recipes are stated in baker's math, so it's easy to work out variations. One you don't mention that is excellent, is Artisan Baking, by Maggie Glezer. It has many of the benefits of the BBA, good pictures, and clear explanations for beginners. The recipes are a little more complex, typically, than the BBA, and it seems to me it does a better job of explaining dough handling and what the consistency of the dough should be, which is such a key component of how breads turn out. Crust and Crumb has everything in it, but it's a little terse. It can be very useful in the same way as Hamelman, in that the overall formulas for classic breads are listed and explained with commentaries. Once you understand some baker's math, these books can help you get to a basic recipe and then improvise from there.

Now you'll probably hear all kinds of differing opinions about which one to get first. My solution to this problem is that over time, I've either been given or have acquired most all the books ever mentioned on this site. The BBA was given to me by a friend, and it really sent me off on a nice baking hobby - so much fun over the last couple of years. Therefore, I might recommend it as the first one to get. However, almost any of them will be very helpful. Maybe Maggie Glezer's book would be a good first one, too.

Bill

mij.mac's picture
mij.mac

Hi edh,I think that solves it then, from the other things you said I'd put money on it being over proofed. Getting the temps right when proofing can be tricky, if you prefer less sour then aiming for normal room temp is the way to go, that's what I do at least. Scales. I think the MyWeigh 7000i have had exceptional reviews. If you don't fancy these get some that are accurate to at least 2 grams, if you can test them put some paper on them piece by piece, if they read leass than when you add the whole lot in one go don't get them. They should go upto at least 5 Kilos too, though this sounds a lot don't forget you will be weighing the bowl too. So a TARE function is a must.Reinhart. If you want to spend the extra cash, get TBBA it's more interesting to read and follow the pictures but has pretty much the same info ans C&C.I don't have Hamelmans but he has nothing but good things said about him except someone said he was very technical, which could be a good thing for me at least.

mac

manxman's picture
manxman

 

My local french baker always looks at the weather before making his final mix

If you are using cups as a measure with all the variables you can get in a cup of flour then looking at the weather may not make much difference, unless you have a storm warning..