The Fresh Loaf

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Weighing flour ...are you sure it makes sense?

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tananaBrian's picture
tananaBrian

Weighing flour ...are you sure it makes sense?

I have a question that I hope someone can answer... The one thing that bugs me about weighing flour is that it seems counter to producing a consistent hydration.  I live north of Fairbanks, Alaska and the range of relative humidities in the house from one season to the next is extreme ...a direct result of the house being ventilated with air that ranges from 80-something and 90% humidity during summer rain, down to 50-below and 10% humidity during an arctic cold snap in winter.  Flour kept in paper bags varies in how much moisture is absorbed in the flour.  Making bread during the winter requires using up to 20% less flour than the same recipe would require in the summer.


Here's a simple example that is not even a bread recipe:  If I weigh 1 pound of "more humid summer flour" and add it to 1 pound of water, you would say that I've achieved a 100% hydration mix ...but it's actually wetter than that due to the additional water that has absorbed into the flour during the summer.  The 1 pound of 'flour' contains less flour and more water than 1 pound of flour in dry winter conditions.  If I then weigh 1 pound of "very dry winter flour" and add it to 1 pound of water, then I very likely have produced something that is very close to 100% hydration ...but not equal to "100% hydration" out of someone's cookbook since they are likely measuring in an environment more humid than our winter environment.  Obviously summer versus winter baking produces entirely different results.


So shall I assume that all these baker's percentages that you see running around are not used exactly?  Even by a professional bread making company?  I can imagine using experience and intuition to adjust recipes at home, but do professionals also judge and vary the flour or water?  Or do they just weight everything and off they go ...accept the variance in outcome as normal?  For us, that can't work ...bread fails miserably if you don't tune your ingredients as the seasons pass.  For us, I see nearly no value in weighing anything other than the non-flour ingredients and then just "put the right amount of" flour in, using your own judgment as you proceed.  Flour measurements have never seemed any better than a rough estimate, at best, to me.  My wife even as little tables of adjustments for each season for how much to change water or flour in a recipe to make it succeed in her bread machine during different seasons (especially challenging in the dry winter months.)


 


Brian


 

Just Loafin's picture
Just Loafin

Well, I don't have time for an epic response, but one thing you might not be considering here is that professional baking companies use fairly rigid environmental controls, which include humidity and temperature. A large scale production of that sort absolutely has to remove any and all variables that might cause problems.

Also, while you live in an area where there are rather extreme ranges of conditions, there are a lot of people who live where the changes are much more subtle. A slightly over or under hydrated dough is easily remedied by adjusting a few grams here or there. Bottomline is, weighing ingredients doesn't guarantee equal results across the board, but is a base that allows you to adjust for your preferences and then use the same numbers for YOU each time.

Weighing ingredients has several other benefits that get lost in most discussions. It allows for better communication of recipes among bakers, and allows the novice baker to more clearly see how to change a recipe to suit his or her tastes. For me, I've run into quite a few 'volume' recipes where the salt or yeast was way out of whack, and I easily corrected those potential problems. While weighing ingredients might have a few weaknesses, the strengths are proven and unquestionable.

- Keith

tananaBrian's picture
tananaBrian

I didn't know pros carefully controlled their environments.  Interesting.


I agree on the communication improvement.  I hadn't seen any discussion on the weaknesses associated with weighing ingredients, so I had to ask.


Brian


 

TeaIV's picture
TeaIV

I guess it also comes down to knowing how to deal with the dough/experience. stuff like knowing what hydration you need, etc.

rayel's picture
rayel

and everything else made perfect sense to a bakery in town, along with water temps and flour temps and so on, untill they expanded to another location a few miles accross town, here in Western N.Y. Then suddenly, for no apparent reason, their formulas fell apart. This bakery prided itself on consistent product, and they left nothing to chance. They reallly had to scramble to make it happen at the new location. Colder water temperatures and other adjusments were made, and I am not sure what other measures were taken, but bottom line, it fell to some experienced people, and their grasp of how things should feel, before things improved. So weighing is super important at a professsional level of baking, but intuition and experience occasionally saves the day.  Ray

Just Loafin's picture
Just Loafin

You'd have thought they could have predicted this, and did some tests once they had possession of the new location...?

Steve H's picture
Steve H

I store my flour in the freezer and I wonder if this is why my doughs seem to come out a bit wet.  I am also in DC, where the summer humidity is fairly high.


I wonder what would happen if you took a pound of flour and put it in the oven at low temps for a while to completely dry it out and see how much weight it lost.  It would be interesting to know how much it changed and whether it was significant.

photojess's picture
photojess

but I wonder if you can get it too dry? I guess you'd have to know what "normal" is, so that you didn't over dry the flour, but it would be interesting to see what the weight difference could be.

Steve H's picture
Steve H

Im totally swagging it here, since I am kindof a newbie, but based on the sourdough I made a few nights ago, which sure came out with rather big holes, I'm guessing its worth about a 5-10% water correction.  I'm going to be playing with this a bit, since the Vermont Sourdough is becoming a standard, meaning I make it quite a bit.

Dcn Marty's picture
Dcn Marty

The humidity in a freezer is quite low. Drying in the oven would, I think, add variables we may not want, such as chemical and flavor changes. From a practical standpoint, I think you could leave an open container of flour in the freezer for a short time to achieve a "zero" moisture content that would serve as the basis for hydration checking.

Yerffej's picture
Yerffej

A good question has been raised here about weighing, humidity and hydration.  I have wondered about this very issue and hope to hear more experienced voices comment on the subject.


Jeff

tananaBrian's picture
tananaBrian

I imagine that if you could keep the temperature warm, but not too warm, drying in the oven should work very well.  I'd look into how starches and other flour components change with temperature first and make sure you don't exceed a temperature that would change or wreck the flour.


Brian


 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

If one were to refrigerate the flour in paper, not plastic, the flour would dry with time.  Freezers do the same.  I won't guarantee the flour won't pick up refrigerator off tastes. 


One could put packages of humidity absorbers in the flour bin (sealed bin) remove and dry them in winter or when humidity is low, in the sun and return to the flour when needed to absorb moisture.  More investigation is needed here but it might be worth a try.  Or how about cloth packages of food grade charcoal?   Or how about one charcoal bag that fits the bottom of a large flour bin, that way a paper flour bag could just be slippen in on top and covered?  Drying charcoal in the oven should not be a problem.


Mini

gerhard's picture
gerhard

Unless the door of the refrigerator is never opened the humidity will be relatively high.  When you open the door the denser cold air will literally drop out of the fridge and be replaced by air from the room, as it cools the humidity actually rises and this will repeat every time the door is opened.

Gerhard

nbicomputers's picture
nbicomputers

the problem with storing flour in the frezzer is when the flour is moved to a warmer enviorment condensation can form within the bag or storage container which will be absorbed in to the flour.


a freas packet of sillica gell (the stuff that comes in some products to absorbe condensation) will help but it must be fresh so it can absorb the max amount possable.

photojess's picture
photojess

and it is non toxic.  I 'm not sure I'd want to put it in my flour though.  If it was in a larger container with the original or additional packaging, it would probably be fine.


I don't have to worry too much about that here either, and wouldn't have given this much thought.

nbicomputers's picture
nbicomputers

the gel comes in a packet that keeps the gel from contacting the food. it is a kint of paper that alows the water to get to the gel but prevents direct contact of the gel with the food.


water gets in but the gel stays out. the gel is in the form or small sphers (ball shapped) like small ball berrings.  should it some how break open which is very unlikely it sould be sifted out because it is large enough that is will not pass through a sifter screen

rayel's picture
rayel

Hi just loafin, Perhaps those were test bakes. I am foggy regarding the details, it was told to me by one of the regular employees, and very long ago. Ray

yozzause's picture
yozzause

I think the fact that you have already noticed that there is quite a difference in the hydroscopic nature of flours due to seasonal and climatic conditions you are already there in overcoming any problems that might occur with rigidly sticking to recipes come what may.


Observance and recording variations are all helpfull and can make things more predictable. Water of course is the easiest thing of all to adjust in your formula's, especially if its a matter of adding a little more to the mixing dough rather than trying to take it out once it has been added.


As formulas are based on the flour being 100% it is fairly important to know the flour weight regardles of its moisture content on any given day.


Most of the doughs i put down will say x amount of water + or - and this recognises there is some degree of variance. 


It is a lot easier to work out if some one has a basic out of kilter formula if there is a given weight of flour rather than 3 cups and 2 spoons of something else.


Here in Australia we can end up having weeks on end with the temperature  getting over the 100 degree farenheight or 37 degrees centigrade and it is not uncommon to have to use refrigerated water when mixing, conversely it is currently winter time and we can get down close to freezing  and heated water is used in the mix.


Finished dough temperatures are usually adjusted up or down depending on the ambient temperature that might be in the proving room .


I would be quite careful about heating flour other than bringing it in from a very cold area into a warmer place.    


 

rainwater's picture
rainwater

I think "weighing" the ingredients gives one a more accurate "starting" place for adjusting formulas.  A "cup" measured can vary more than a "cup (4.5 ounce)" weighed.  The authors of artisanal bread books frequently advise adjusting with a little flour or water once the dough is under way. 


Weighing ingredients comes in handy when multiplying a formula to make many loaves from a one or two loaf formula.  ....but then this is also arbitrary.  My experience is when multiplying a recipe by 5x, 10x, or more, the yeast goes crazy....so a decrease in yeast % seems to be normal when increasing formulas.

HeidiH's picture
HeidiH

I was glad to find this old post because I was wondering about the varying humidity of the flour and how it affects the dough.  I was recently using up some KA whole wheat flour that had been in the pantry awhile and seemed very dry and flyaway.  It did need extra water to get the dough to behave the way I wanted.  Maybe we need some sort of probe hygrometer to measure the humidity of the flour?

When I worked in a bread factory (Batter-Whipped Sunbeam) many years ago, we could definitely tell what the weather was doing to the dough.  Of course, the factory had open windows with screens so the weather outside was pretty much the weather inside all summer long.  The size and consistency of the hamburger rolls varied with the weather but the machines didn't vary so on very hot, humid days, everything stuck in the cutters and on cold dry days, the rolls slid through uncut.  Of course, this was a mere 40 years ago so I imagine the technology has changed a bit.

uncle goosehead's picture
uncle goosehead

I don't weigh flour anymore for practiced weekly recipes.  I make typically 4 loaves a week via a preferment, 2 subsequent risings with the first step of flour and water and yeast standard, subsequent steps a little varied depending on what additional whole grains flour I have available.  Also, I make bread at a cabin at a lake where I don't have anything fancy to work with: no scale, no mixer etc.  I've had to bake with indirect heat on a gas barbeque, and alcohol burner stove, and for fun, on open fire.  So my take on weighing is: if humidity is quite stable and you know what quantities work, you don't have to weigh and can go by quantity.  If the liquid is of standard proportions, and you know what the dough should handle like, you can get a good feel for a repeated recipe and can work from there. 

I think some bread making can encourage obsessive-compulsive types of attention to detail, worth it some of the time, but not always necessary.  New recipes: probably benefit from some additional obsessiveness re weighing. 

HeidiH's picture
HeidiH

For beginners like me, weighing is wonderful.  I had, over the years, struggled with breadmaking following recipes using cup measures.  Since I really didn't have the "feel" of right dough in my ken, I made a succession of bricks and blobs.  Every once in awhile, I'd make a good loaf, try to replicate it, and get a blob.  So many recipes give instructions like "5-7 cups of flour," "add flour as needed to,"  etc.  This no good for the newbie without access to someone who's made bread since acoustic guitars were just guitars and standard transmissions were just transmissions.

Half a century ago now, I remember my father trying to learn how to make bread from a neighbor who made the most wonderful white bread.  It involved a coffee cup of this and a handful of that.  He could never duplicate her recipe.  She, however, never failed.

What I now find, as I become more comfy with baker's percentages and weight measuring is that I can steer my results better.  I start with my 100% flour using various varieties and percentages, then I add liquid adjusting hydration percentage to which flours I used and what I want the bread to be.  The more I learn about the ingredients, the better I can predict what will come out of the oven.

So, yes, with practice and knowledge, one can throw just the right amount of ingredients in a bowl by feel but it takes that practice and knowledge ... or learning at the foot of a grandmother.

Precise weighing of ingredients is not just for the attention-to-detail types, it's a boon for the amateur.

Yerffej's picture
Yerffej

Weighing ingredients is, without question,  that best way to deal with measuring.  For a beginner, it takes the dough to as close as can be to "right", for the baker it brings about continuing consistency.  It also allows for accurate communication between bakers.  100 grams is a 100 grams but your handful and my handful could be drastically different.  This does not mean that great bread has to be done this way.  You can certainly wing it and throw in flour as you see fit with or without a measuring cup and get great results.  While I weigh with a scale each and every time, I have seen perfectly good bread produced by the feel method with little or no measuring of any sort.  Weigh the ingredients to start with and if consistency is important to you, then weigh always.  If you find that you would be more comfortable with a handful of this and some of that, then do so but know that weighing works better than any other method that I am aware of.

Jeff

uncle goosehead's picture
uncle goosehead

Don't over interpret me now.  If you have just weighed some flour and happen to have a dry measure to put it in, you can rest assured that if you put the same amount in the dry measure, it will weigh the same as what you did the first time.  Same conditions of humidity, weight will have the same particular volume.  There's no handfuls of this and that involved.   

Yerffej's picture
Yerffej

My comments were general and not is response to your previous post.  The "handfuls" I mentioned were actual handfuls that I witnessed in a restaurant bakery....and it worked for that baker.

Jeff