The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

A Salty Question

OldWoodenSpoon's picture
OldWoodenSpoon

A Salty Question

I did the final build on a batch of sourdough last night from my 100% hydration starter.  Component calculations were done with JMonkey's Excel spreadsheet (thank you!), and for reference here's my batch build:


100% Hydration Starter:  810g (used two expansions from initial 50g)


50/50 KAF AP & KAF Bread Flour:  987g


Water:  643g


Salt: 20g


I mixed it all briefly leaving aside the salt, and set it aside to autolyse (is that word a verb or a noun?) for 30 minutes before going on with kneading.  The dough was extremely wet and sticky even after nearly 20 minutes of "wet dough stretch and fold" (as best I could) modeled on Bertinet's wet dough video.  The dough just would not come together, and I decided it was time to put it down for fermentation.  I planned to give it several more stretch and folds as it fermented. 


Then I noticed I had left out the salt!  I put the dough back on the slab, stretched it out and sprinkled the salt over it, folded it up and started working again.  The dough came together within just a few strokes, and matured rapidly into a very nice ball of tackey but silkey smooth dough that was easy to form up.


This is not explained by anything I've read so far about the actions of salt in dough.  Did this have anything to do with the salt, or was it because of the few minutes of rest the dough got as I was washing my bowl for fermentation?


Thank you!


OldWoodenSpoon

AndyM's picture
AndyM

What you describe could absolutely be related to the action of salt in the dough.  Salt is often described as having a "tightening" effect on a developing dough.  And, while technically, salt does not change the hydration percentage (which is always expressed as a percentage of the total flour weight), according to Emily Beuhler's book "Bread Science", at the chemical level, salt changes the efficiency of the chemical process of bonding that occurs between water molecules and the protein molecules of gluten.  These bonds are created around hydrogen atoms (therefore the term "hydration"), and when salt is added to the dough, it helps the hydrogen atoms line up more uniformly so that they can form these bonds.


So, when a dough is mixed without salt, fewer hydrogen atoms bond with the gluten, meaning that the dough has more un-bonded water in it.  This makes the dough feel wetter.  When the salt is added, more of those hydrogen atoms line up and bond with the gluten molecules, meaning that there is less un-bonded water, and therefore the dough with salt feels less wet.


I should also add that some of this same effect happens with an autolyse period.  The hydrogen bonds between water and gluten take a little time to develop, so an autolyse period allows the dough the time to bond as much water to gluten as is possible - this is one of the benefits of an autolyse period.  So what you experienced with your dough probably owes some to the salt and some to the autolyse.  In my experience with doughs, though, the effect of the salt is much more immediate and dramatic than the autolyse effect.


Hope this helps, and let us know how the bread turns out.


Andy  

OldWoodenSpoon's picture
OldWoodenSpoon

pretty bad.  I think I might have beaten it to death before I discovered the salt omission.  Even though the dough came together, it never proofed.  I proofed it last night for an hour before putting it into the refrigerator for the night, and then took it out this morning and gave it another 3.5 hours, but it never moved at all. 


I finally got impatient and put it into the oven.  I steamed it with boiling water into a preheated pan in the bottom of the oven for 20 minutes, and even in the oven it never moved.  There was zero oven spring.


I had formed this batch into 100g rolls and based on prior experience they should have risen and sprung to about 2 inches tall, but these are a sad, slumped 1.25" or less.  They came out 3 times wider than they are tall, and solid all the way thorugh.  Only one or two holes in them, and very, very dense. :(  Off to the compost pile, and on to another batch this weekend.


Andy, thanks for your clear explanation of salt and it's role in bread dough formation.  I certainly learned a lot from it.  This batch of bread has anchored another important part of my process in my brain, and I'm not likely to forget the salt again for some time to come.  I'm still green enough at this new (for me) approach to bread that I have to think of all the steps, and that does not always work out perfectly.  Current instance a perfect case in point.


OldWoodenSpoon

AndyM's picture
AndyM

...I once left the salt out of a 500-lb batch of dough.  It all went in the dumpster.  As you suggest, such an experience is not soon forgotten, though it opens the door to further learning.


Andy

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

OldWoodenSpoon,


Even though 3.5 hours would be an eternity for a commercially yeasted dough, your sourdough was probably just getting woken up from its night in the refrigerator.  I can't be sure without knowing how warm/cool your kitchen is, but I would suspect that the dough simply hadn't gotten warm enough to spur much growth by your sourdough yeasts.  With sourdough, you just have to wait until it is ready because it can't tell time at all.  Patience is not only a virtue; it's an absolute necessity with sourdough.  It will move more quickly if temps are above 75ºF, but slows way down at cooler temperatures.


Keep trying; you'll eventually get acquainted with your starter's personal quirks and behaviors.


Paul

longhorn's picture
longhorn

Sounds to me like you didn't give it enough time. Sourdough generally needs 3 to 5 hours before forming and another 3 hours or so before baking. And...most sourdough yeasts don't like cold so you pretty much stopped it with the refrigerator. The interior was probably just getting warmed up and starting to work.


Hang in there!

Janknitz's picture
Janknitz

Because I have active dry yeast instead of instant, I like to hydrate the yeast by adding the yeast to the liquid first, then a layer of dry ingredients and the salt last.  But since recipes are not always written in that order, I live in fear of forgetting the salt. 


My solution has been to take out the salt cellar when salt should be added according to the recipe and removing the lid, which goes where I store the salt cellar, across the room.  That way, as soon as I add the salt I cross the room and put the lid back on.  If the salt cellar is still sitting by my kneading board without a lid, it means I haven't added it yet.  So far that's worked well, but I'm prone to brain farts so one of these days I know I'll forget anyway!


Just a reminder that we're all human here.  Mistakes and bread happen every day. 

OldWoodenSpoon's picture
OldWoodenSpoon

I hated to do it, but that batch is history.  On to the next.


Andy, I take some comfort that I only had a couple of pounds of dough to toss.  That 500 pounder must have smarted.   Thanks for being willing to share it.


PMcCool, thanks too for the reinforcement.  I do understand, intellectually at least, about the patience required.  It's tougher to practice though. :)  This dough, however, had never moved since I shaped it.  The previous night I baked two very nice loaves off the same starter cycle, using the same timing, and they came out great. I remembered the salt that time, though.  The formula, temperatures and times were almost exactly the same.  If anything, the kitchen was a little warmer today than yesterday when I finished up the loaves.


Formed as rolls, these would equalize temperature and get to work more quickly than the loaves did, but nothing was happening.  I will wait next time this happens though, for the education it will provide.  This time I listened to those that advise "Don't give up.  Give it a chance, and bake it anyway".  It was appropriate since I was ready to dump it completely.  Instead I baked it, then I dumped it,


JanKnitz, thanks for the idea.  I will try to develop a signal like that for myself as well.  I thought keeping the pre-measured salt on the counter in plain view would be sufficient, but clearly I must come up with something more obvious.  Since I'm trying to modify years of habit, I will have to work harder.  Formerly, I always just threw everything into the Bosch mixer, stuck the hook in, and held it down on the counter for 10-15 minutes, then put it in pans, proofed and baked it.  I'm enjoying this new approach immensely (mostly!), but I have to develop a whole new rythm, with a much more sedate beat.  Thanks to all, and I'll keep at it.


OldWoodenSpoon

caseymcm's picture
caseymcm

I was recently working on Hammelman's Vermont Sourdough.  I've had such luck with Pain au Levain (which uses a stiff preferment for 12 hours) that I was surprised to have trouble.  It uses a much more liquid (100%?) poolish-ish preferment and calls for 12 to 18 hours I believe.  When I let it go for 12 hours then did the final mix it was very sluggish, really barely/not rising at all as I did the prescribed stretch and folds.  It should have been done at about 10 pm (2.5 hours) but I ended up leaving it until 3:30 am when the baby woke up.  It was finally increased in size (probably 1.5x).  I shaped the loaves and stuck them in the fridge.  They did finally come out OK after some additional proofing time at room temp.


The next time I tried the recipe I let the preferment go for 18+ hours and it all happened according to schedule this time, 2.5 hour bulk.


As far as salt.  I always measure it out in a small bowl that sits on top of the covered autolyse bowl.


500 lbs?  Ouch!


-Casey

dghdctr's picture
dghdctr

Hello,


Salt definitely reinforces gluten bonds and tightens a dough's structure.  If you want to see it demonstrated another way, mix your dough without the salt in a 5-qt mixer for a few minutes, and then add the salt over the course of a couple of seconds.  The dough will usually pull away from the sides of the bowl and gather around the hook immediately.


I'm not recommending holding back the salt in any other scenario.  Some pro bakers do so because it creates a less-tight dough that can be developed more quickly.  While holding back the salt may save a minute or two, in a powered mixer on medium speed it will also contribute to the over-oxidation of the dough and a concurrent loss of flavor and crumb color.


I'm not sure that the initial lack of salt was the only factor in your dough not coming together.  Your overall hydration of around 75% wasn't overly wet given your flour mixture.  People made nearly all bread without salt until the last 300 years or so -- it changes gluten strength, but it is not essential to making bread dough.  Without actually watching you work and feeling the dough itself, there's only so much anyone can tell you online.


--Dan DiMuzio

OldWoodenSpoon's picture
OldWoodenSpoon

Mr DiMuzio, how did you compute 75% as the approximate final hydration?  I ran my numbers back through JMonkey's spreadsheet as closely as I could, and also did the math by hand, and I get very close to 64%, which was my target according to my baking log.  If this dough was really more like 75% as you say, (and I do not doubt you) then I have missed something very important somewhere, and also managed to introduce an error into JMonkey's spreadsheet with the very minor modifications I made to suit my needs.  If you can lay out the math for me I'd greatly appreciate it.


Thank you too, for your comments.  I do all my mixing by hand, but in the case for which I started this thread I observed what you point out.  The difference being I thought it was the principle cause of my results.  As you point out though something else went wrong as well that I've overlooked.  If the delayed addition of the salt was all that was "wrong" I would have ended up with bread in the ancient tradition, rather than the modern, but bread nonetheless.


OldWoodenSpoon

dghdctr's picture
dghdctr

810 grams of 100% hyd. starter is 405g flour and 405g water


987g flour + 405g flour = 1392g of TOTAL flour


643g water + 405g water = 1048g TOTAL water


1048g water / 1392g flour = approx. 0.7529 = 75% (rounded) hyd. of final dough

OldWoodenSpoon's picture
OldWoodenSpoon

again.  I did the math by hand previously, and I thought I used the same approach you demonstrated, but obviously made errors when I did it because I got a different answer.  I have a batch of 66% hydration dough fermenting now (per the same spreadsheet) that, when I do the math by hand as you demonstrated, comes back to 66%, so I'm curious to see how it will turn out. 


Thank you for pointing out this problem in my math because I have been trying to figure out how bakers can work with doughs as wet as mine seem to be.  If my doughs are really off by 8-10 points on hydration it explains a lot.  It opens new questions too, but I'm enjoying the journey, so it's all good.


Thank you again.


OldWoodenSpoon

leucadian's picture
leucadian

The extra flour from the starter also affects the amount of salt you need. You only had 1.4% salt, not 2.0% as you might have intended.

OldWoodenSpoon's picture
OldWoodenSpoon

Yes, I see that now, and I think that problem is coming from the same place my hydration miscalculation is coming from.  I'll find out tonight when I have time to go through it all with pencil and paper, and then proof the spreadsheet to give me the right answers.  Thanks for the tip.


OldWoodenSpoon

dghdctr's picture
dghdctr

If you feel wedded to a spreadsheet, that's OK, but these are not complex calculations.  I'd encourage you to read the section on baker's percentage in Jeffrey Hamelman's book for a broad understanding, and then try to work simply with a calculator, paper, and pencil until you understand what numbers are originating here or there, and what they represent.


--Dan DiMuzio

OldWoodenSpoon's picture
OldWoodenSpoon

I am already hand calculating (pencil, paper, calculator) my hydration percentage and validating my baker's percentages before I start any mixing, or even gathering, of my ingredients.  You are correct that it is simple and easy to do, and it will be educational as well.  Thanks for the advice, and the encouragement.


As for the spreadsheet; well, I'm only that wedded to my wife! :)


OldWoodenSpoon