The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Back to basics

lindyc's picture

Back to basics

After being fustrasted with my last few loaves I was reading over this site trying to find answers. I've been baking bread for a couple of years now with some really good results and some not so good!

I think basically I haven't been paying enough attention! I love it but maybe i'm just a bit sloppy, or not enough of a perfectionist...I needed to consolodate in my head the effect that ingredients and ratios / techniques had on my loaves. After reading about the benefits of having a good basic loaf recipe - a control recipe - that you are happy with I have decided this is what I need to do, and also to record the results so I can really understand what is going on a bit better.

Thought I'd may as well record it on here - at least that way I can get some feedback from the enourmous collective knowledge that exists in this online community, and maybe help anyone else with similar problems. (providing of course that I actually do help myself!)

So here goes...

My biggest problem I believe (and my husband has been trying to tell me this) is that my doughs aren't wet enough. I'm not exactly sure how those 'hydration' percentages are worked out but I've basically been doing 4 cups flour to 1 1/4 cups water.

So for my first two loaves I changed this to 3 cups to 1 1/4 and another loaf at 3 cups to 1 1/2 cups water.

Loaf 1

2 tsp yeast
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tbs oil
1¼ cups water
3 cups flour

Mix the yeast salt sugar and oil with the water, allow to sit for a few minutes. Pour this into a bowl with the flour in it. Mix in kitchenaid for about 5 minutes then knead by hand for a few minutes on floured surface. Put into an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and sit in warmed spot till doubled in size.

Kneed by hand for 3-5 minutes

This bread spread an awful lot on the final rise. I had pre-heated the oven and baked at 200 C.

Loaf 2

Second loaf exactly the same except I used 1 ½ cups water instead of 1¼. This was a much wetter dough. I probably used an extra quarter cup of flour when kneading just so it wouldn't stick to the bench!

I had watched the video of the guy doing the 'french fold' so was keen to try this out (it is linked to in this site but definately worth another link! - watch it here) and thought this would be a good dough to try it with. I tried it a bit with loaf 1 but it was a bit too ‘bally' to flop over my hands so I ended up just kneading it the other way (lift up, push down, quarter turn).

Loaf 1 is on the right and Loaf 2 (the wetter one) is on the left. I'm definately a convert to the french fold because as you can see the wetter loaf (which I tried the french fold on) actuall held is shape more with less spread and more oven spring.

It also had larger more irregular holes than the loaf with 1 and 1/4 cup water. Great! Next time i'm going to try some different flour and after that I want to see how I go baking in a sandwhich tin.

I would still like the free form loaves to hold their shape a lot more though. Maybe I haven't got the hang of the french fold well enough. I should also try slashing the bread before I bake it.



Pablo's picture

Hi Lindy,

The higher hydration loaf is a bit taller than the other, eh?  As you start to work with wetter doughs you'll be amazed at how some big sticky glob can become a lovely, manageable ball of dough with the folding techniques.  I'd caution you to use as little added flour as you can.  I find that the counter scraper is helpful - kind of get it globbed together and fold it over and it amazingly starts to come together without adding flour to it.

You might consider getting a scale.  Hydration is determined by weight, not by volume.  One person's cup of flour does not weigh the same as another's.  In fact, once I got a scale, I tried weighing several cups in a row and I was amazed at how much difference there was in my own scooping of the same flour.

A general approximate weight for a cup of all purpose flour is 125 grams.  So, if you use 4 cups of flour, that's somewhere around 500 grams (4 x 125) and a cup of water weighs ~236 grams.  So a cup and a 1/4 would be 295 grams.  Baker's percentage is the percentage of an ingredient in your bread relative to the total amount of flour.  So, with 500 grams of flour, if you had 500 grams of water that would be 100% hydration.  If you had 300 grams of water that would be 60% hydration.  So you can see that your initial ratio was around 60% hydration.

I hope that helped with the hydration thing.  You sounded very much like me when I first read your post - kind of sloppy.  I've found that keeping records of what I've been doing has been really helpful.  Good luck to you.


ericb's picture


May I ask in what ways you hope to improve your bread? Do you have a goal in mind as far as flavor or appearance?

If you're concerned about hydration, it might be helpful to find a recipe for a very wet dough -- something like a ciabatta or "pain a l'ancienne" -- so you can get a feel for both extremes. 

You've chosen a good method with the French Fold. And your instincts about slashing are good: two or three parallel cuts along the surface (made at around a 20 degree angle) are all you need.


lindyc's picture

Yes I had thought about getting a scraper. I have tried a few more plain loaves with slight differences and I found that if I got the dough out and pick it up really quickly to start the folding - you are right - I didn't need as much extra flour. Its amazing how quickly it turns into a managebale dough - only a few folds!

In terms of what I'm after, I want my crumb to be lighter and more spongy and I also want to be able to substitute 1/3rd of the flour for an alternative flour and to add lots of different grains without it all going bad on me! I want a good daily toast bread with lots of goodness in it.

I have had problems with baking previouly with the sandwhich tin. Loaves that were fine done free form (previously when I was using lower hydration 4 cups to 1 1/4 water) kept going bad in the sandwhich tin. They would look great on the outside but when I cut them open there was a whopping great big hole through the centre! Has anyone else found this? Could this be because my dough wasn't wet enough? Or was it not kneaded enough?

Anyway I did a sandwhich loaf with the same recipe as before but this time I weighed the flour (to try and get rid of more of those sloppy habits!) I  also substituted sugar for honey - i figure if you're going to use sugar may as well use some that has flavour.

450gm flour
375 ml water
2 tsp yeast
1 tsp salt
1/2 tbs honey

I was really happy with the texture on the inside. It had that spongy soapyness to it that had alluded me before (and was what I especially wanted when I do my next sourdough). Before the texture was always too crumby.

Do you think if I add a different flour and lots of grains to this it will still hold up well in a sandwhich tin?