The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Hydration always off whack

French Foodie's picture
French Foodie

Hydration always off whack

I have continued making quite a few loaves (for myself as a new baker) per week and am finding that my dough is consistently more slack than it should be.  I weigh all of my ingredients and am using Pendleton Mills Morbread flour.  The recipes I have made are primarily from BbA, including the basic sourdough and the challah.  After mixing for the recommended time I am finding that I am having to add substantially more flour than the formula calls for (roughly 1/4 to 1/2 c. - I add it slowly so I'm not sure on the exact quantity or weight).  I need to do this to get the dough even close to forming a ball.  Now it has been pretty cold here lately, but that doesn't seem like it would make that big of a difference.  Does anyone have any ideas on why my bread is needing so much more flour?  The bread is coming out well with my addition of flour, but I would love to solve this perplexing problem.

breadbakingbassplayer's picture

You should get a digital scale and convert everything to weight...

flournwater's picture

You indicated that you are weighing your ingredients, so the only issue I can think of is the change in humidity.  That's a long shot because cold air tends to be drier than warm air, but I can't think of anything else.  I have had similar experiences in recent weeks and can't figure our why my doughs a less firm than they might ordinarilly be.  So I've reduced the percentage of initial hydration by about five percent on just about every formula I've been using, then add water if it's needed.  I had suspected that my scale was inaccurate but it passes the accuracy test  -  still a mystery here too.

OldWoodenSpoon's picture

Welcome to the world of bread!  You are learning a lesson we all have to learn over time, and that is to listen to the dough, not the book or the clock.  I am not an authority by any means, as I am a newbie myself.  I have learned, however, that this type of variation, even to the degree you mention, (which does not sound like a huge variation btw) is not uncommon.  It can be so simple as just the flour you use (today) does not absorb as much liquid as the flour used by Peter in the BBA.  If that is the case, you must adjust, because you want to develop the dough character that he describes.

When the humidity changes to wetter or drier you may need more or less flour than at other times.  The next bag of the very same flour may not behave exactly as your current bag.  Don't worry about those things, and learn to judge the dough itself.  Since you are already weighing your ingredients you are not suffering from the "how much is a cup" problem, so just try to be consistently accurate, keep track of what you are doing, and judge by the results.

You are not alone!  I and many other new bakers like us are working to learn these things, and we're in the right place for it.  The community here, as you already know, is more than just generously helpful, but that cup runs over profusely.  Best of luck to you.


milwaukeecooking's picture

Allow for autolyse.  This will make sure that your flour has been hydrated.  I haven't had too many problems with having to add more flour but the times that I did I just let the dough sit for 5-10 minutes covered and that solved my problem.  However, there have been a couple times where I did have to add more flour.

LindyD's picture

I've not heard of Pendleton Flour, FF. so I visited their website. 

Per Pendelton Flour's own chart, their Morbread flour is best for pan breads, French/Italian breads, thin to medium pizza, and soft rolls/Danish.  It is not recommended for multi-grain breads or "artisan" breads or bagels.  Alas, it does not go on to define what they mean by "artisan" breads.

To satisfy your own curiosity, you might try a different flour the next time you're at the market and compare results.  Hopefully it will stock a good ubleached, unbromated brand.  I've found that there are differences in flour.

Liam's picture


I'd like to add my two cents' worth to this discussion.  OldWoodenSpoon, flournwater, breadbakingbass..  all have good points which I have encountered.  Recently I had trouble with my pain au levain loaves being slack when previously I had really wonderful rise and oven spring. 

I always weigh everything meticulously, use only spring water and organic flour and the same general method with a kitchen that is quite uniformly warm. 

Having said that, I weigh the water and use that consistent amount.  I weigh the flour and then add however the mood moves me WHILE KEEPING BACK about 25% of the flour, from there on I add slowly and stop my KA mixer every so often to check the feel of the dough.  (If you knead by hand you obviously have the feel of the dough right at "hand" - couldn't resist the pun).  I find several ounces of flour can be required in addition, or be left over depending on the relative humidity of the last few days.  As has been said before, recipes are guidelines to help us achieve the result we seek.  Don't be alarmed by changes of a bit of flour here and there.  (Or using less or more water if you keep the flour weight consistent and have to add a little more water because the dough is dry - or more flour because the dough is a bit too wet)  The idea is you weigh to know about where you are with your knead.  Unless of course you love to calculate like mad - which is not my cup of tea.  Anyway after all this "flour correctness"  I still had slack breads.  Adding more flour to the next batch to try to correct slackness just resulted in dry bread. I was even using the same brand of flour as before.   It turns out that the protein content of my flour was a little lower than usual in the current flour batch I had.  You can add a little gluten flour to correct the rise or just enjoy the wonder of making your own bread.  I found this out by emailing the flour mill (Oakmanor Farms), their kind reply set my mind at ease as well as giving me the "gluten cure tip".   I quote:

For a little more volume you can add some gluten flour, 1 tbsp for every cup of flour. Other than that you could just enjoy bread the way nature intended it until big business got involved with their artificially high protein wheat and over processing.


Oak Manor Farms


I'm with Perry, that's why I started baking my own bread to begin with.  One last thing, it took me a while to realize that in my own home, with my simple equipment and a lack of rising ovens or the ability to consistently control humidity etc etc., I would always have a loaf that differs from those commercially produced, however down to earth the bakers were. 

I've come to like that part particularly.

Enjoy your baking





fancypantalons's picture

I'm betting either flour or local conditions (ie, humidity). 

As another example, I find, where I am, I have the exact opposite problem:  my hydration is *always* too low and I have to adjust up.

'course, this is why baking is as much art as science... in the end, you just gotta bake by feel.

French Foodie's picture
French Foodie

It is nice to know that I am not alone in this.  I will try playing with adding a bit less flour than is in the formula and add autlyzing to my regimen.  It will also be nice when I have more loaves under my belt so that I have a more firm grasp of the feeling of various doughs.  My scale isn't off as it reads 1 cup of water as 8 oz.  It will be interesting to see how the bread changes when the weather changes.  i may try a small bag of King Arthur when this runs low, although I bought a 25 lb bag so that may be a while.  Something about being able to buy twice as much flour for the same cost as a restaurant supply place sold me.  If I had more refrigerator space I would go the same route with WW flour (they carry BRM).

Glass-Weaver's picture

It might be interesting for you to try a little experiment...  Rather than going for a "dough ball" that seems right at the outset, try this: Make up your recipe just stirring by hand, stop adding flour even though it seems sticky, rest 10 minutes and then do a "stretch and fold" with wet hands.  (I recommend doing the S & F in the air, so you don't have to clean up your counter.)  Then put the dough into an oiled, covered bowl, wait 30 minutes and repeat, two more times, for a total of 3 stretch and folds.  I'm guessing that at the end of this process you will be amazed at the gluten development and how "tightened up" your dough will be.

By the way, I've been really happy with Pendleton Mills flours.  I use their Power Flour, which is their higher protein bread flour, and their Durum Flour, which is lovely, lovely stuff if you can get your hands on it.  My local baker ordered it directly from the mill (200 pounds, what a guy!)

Happy Baking,


Neil C's picture
Neil C

Floydm wrote on Nov. 1, 2009, "I'm amazed at how much thirstier Pendleton Mills Morehead flour is than KA Bread flour" which is the opposite of your experience. 

When I have similar problems, I always use an autolyze and increase the time increments between stretching and folding.