The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Lesson Five, Number 7: The Wetter, The Better

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Lesson Five, Number 7: The Wetter, The Better

I'd bet that the most common mistake inexperienced bakers make when tackling rustic breads is that they keep the doughs too dry.

"You should be able to knead and handle them easily, right?"

WRONG!

Rustic breads require very high levels of hydration, anywhere from 60% to 75%. That means for every pound or kilogram of flour you use, expect to use almost 3/4ths of a pound or kilogram of water.

A dough this wet is quite difficult to handle and knead. The autolyse method I mentioned in the previous tip can cut down on the amount of kneading you need to do significantly. A stand mixer can, obviously, keep your hands from getting so messy, as can keeping your hands wet and using a bench scraper to remove the dough from your work surface. But when you are making doughs this wet you simply need to resign yourself to the fact that you are going to lose some dough when it gets stuck to the bowl, your hands, or the work surface.

"How can you possibly expect to shape a dough that wet?" you ask. That takes us to our next trick...

Tip 6: Folding.

Comments

JohnnyX's picture
JohnnyX

I made my french bread recipe last weekend and tried utilizing some of your tips here. I made a autolyse, I think maybe Kept it way too slack. It was slack enough that it kinda spread out in the bowl.I let it rest for 20 minutes, added my poolish, and kneaded. I did notice that my kneading time was greatly reduced. Again, my dough was very slack, it spread out in the bowl. I did add another fold than I usually do.My dough just did not tighten up like it usually does. I did my final rise in a couche, and baked them. The crumb on the outside of the loaf was ok, but it seemed to get denser in the middle. Do you think I didnt let them rise long enough? Or is there such a thing as having my dough too wet? I also seem to get large "bakers houses" in my loafs sometimes. Should i score deeper or add more cuts? Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

Floydm's picture
Floydm

There certainly is a point where you dough is too slack, but I think it is pretty difficult to reach it if you nail everything else. That said, maybe you did.

I get the "baker's houses" too, at times. I believe I've read that that is due to insufficient surface tension. When I am able to shape the loaves tightly before the final rise, I rarely see them.

JohnnyX's picture
JohnnyX

Thank you for the advice. I am still not very good at shaping yet. I'm always too worried about degassing my dough. I will try to get alot more surface tenson on my next bake. I also won't add quite so much h20.
Happy Baking,
~JohnnyX

Floydm's picture
Floydm

I'm still working on finding the right amount of degassing to do.

I used to really punch down and remove all the gas, but if you do that you typically end up with a very even, tight crumb. Then I went through a phase of not degassing at all and I would find my loaves would run out of steam and not spring at all in the oven. For example, take a look at this photo:

The one in the back is one I was very gentle with. The other two I degassed more and shaped more tightly. Of the three, it rose the least. It also had an unattractive pallor; as I said, it really felt like it had already gasped its last breath before it went into the oven.

I heard a quote something along the lines of "A baker should have an iron hand in a velvet glove." It really seems to be true: there are times to be extremely delicate, but other times to treat your dough roughly. Knowing when to apply the right amount pressure appears to be something that requires much experience to figure out.

sailorwannab's picture
sailorwannab

Well, I guess that's what makes horseraces.


What I've read says that the main differences between French bread and Italian bread is the the French dough is dryer and baked in a steamy oven whereas the Italian dough is sweeter and baked in a dry oven.

helend's picture
helend

helend
I am fascinated please explain!

Floydm's picture
Floydm

Those spaces near the top of the loaf you get when you don't have good surface tension. You can see a little bit of one here:

See how the crumb is much more open at the top than the bottom? It can be even more pronounced than that, where the top surface of the loaf is almost detached from the rest of it. There is a saying something about it being "the place where the lazy baker sleeps." Under-kneading or poor shaping are the culprit, I believe.

Synclepitica's picture
Synclepitica

After performing mortal combat with my Poolish baguettes during kneading (66% hydration), I thought I was losing my mind.  Thank you so much for these tips.  I'll definitely try the autolyse in the future and see if it can reduce some of this slack.