The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Weights and volumes in calculating

Faith in Virginia's picture
Faith in Virginia

Weights and volumes in calculating

I'm having an issue with hydration in the sourdough formulas I'm getting in books and on the web. I weigh out to the letter and from more than one source I keep coming up with goop as a finished dough more like a biga then a finished dough. I'm always adding flour to get to what I feel is right. The end result is great but I'm always adding so much flour. Any thoughts on what I'm doing wrong. A side note my scale is in 5 gram increments and I have a new scale coming but I'm adding 100grams+ to get a workable dough. Any thoughts would be great.

Thanks Faith

OldWoodenSpoon's picture

and I'm not through learning it yet, is that the dough must rule, not the formula.  Depending on your flour choices, the temperature and humidity in your kitchen on baking day, the moisture content of your flour, and many, many things, you will get variation between what really happens and what the recipe calls for.  You are baking the dough in your hands, not the dough in the recipe, and you must go by what the dough in your hands tells you.

If you get an extra 5 grams of water into your dough because of the degree of granularity in the accuracy of your scale, and you use a flour with significantly higher moisture content than that on which the recipe was based, you could end up adding a significant amount of "extra" flour to correct the "true" hydration of your dough.  It is hard to get used to, but it is the right thing to do.  You have to bring the dough to the "proper" consistency, and you are the only judge of that as you make it.  The recipe is more like guidelines.

Another thing that has been hard to come to terms with for me has been the very high hydration level of many of the recipes for sourdough breads.  The way to get that nice wide-open crumb that most people expect a good sourdough to have is to use a lot of water relative to the amount of flour (high hydration %).  That makes the finished dough very wet, sticky and difficult to handle.  I baked a lot of substandard sourdough learning how to cope with high hydration doughs.  As I learn I still bake some poor loaves, but not so many as before.  You might want to search around on TFL for some videos and tutorials on wet dough techniques.  Maybe you are where I was not too long ago:  if it is wet, sticky and hard too handle then it needs more flour.  It's hard to learn to accept that conclusion may well be false.

If, as you say, the "end result is great" then you are doing a good job, and keep it up!  And be less nervous about it.  You are graduating from being a recipe follower, becoming a true baker, and that is all good!


JoeV's picture

"The dough in YOUR hands" really speaks volumes about the "art" of bread baking. We start with a formula and the "art" comes in when you learn how the dough should look and feel and react in YOUR hands. This can be learned quickly if studying under a veteran baker, or over time trough trial and error. Then, you will awaken one day to an epiphany of sorts, when it all seems to come together, and more importantly, makes sense. And just when it all appears to make sense, you will try a new formula and the chaos begins again. LOL

I have had many frustrating batches of dough, but the reward of having someone say that your bread is truly delicious, makes up for all the frustration.

pmccool's picture


A few things come to mind after reading your account.

There may be a difference between the flour used by the formula's creator and the flour you are using.  If the formula originator was using a higher protein flour and you are using a lower protein flour (which would be fairly common in the SE U.S.), your flour won't absorb as much water as the flour used in the formula.  Hence, goopy dough.

Not knowing what formulae you have been using, nor your comfort level with working with higher-hydration doughs, it could be as simple as you having experience with (and a preference for) drier doughs while the formulae are for wetter doughs.  Some doughs are goopy and it takes a number of repetitions for a baker to become accustomed to working with them.

Since you are working with sourdough, it is also possible that your starter is producing more acid and enzymes than you want, leading to goopy dough.  This usually shows up more during proofing in the form of gluten attack but I have some recent experience that suggests that an out-of-balance starter can also affect mixing characteristics if the levain is already compromised.

Since your scale's precision is limited to 5 gram increments, it is also possible that there is a cumulative error occurring in the addition of ingredients.  I doubt that this is the main issue, since it would require many additions of dry ingredients to accumulate to a 100 gram difference.

How about sharing some additional information for people to think about?  Pick a formula that has not worked the way you wanted and provide all of the details: ingredients, temperatures, mixing, kneading, dough activity and feel, anything you observed.  Also, a little bit about the breads you have been making successfully.  It might even help to post the formula for one of those so that people get a sense of what you do well and can compare that to one of the breads that has been giving you trouble.


Faith in Virginia's picture
Faith in Virginia

I Just got "The Bread Baker's Apprentice" by Peter Reinhart I started with His Basic Sourdough Bread on page 233.

My starter is 1:1:1 very healthy smells outstanding. It has an odor of the ferment along with a hint of vanilla.

It calls for firm starter =
4 oz barm
4.5 oz bread flour
1 to 2 oz water

Final Dough =
20.25 oz bread flour
.5 oz salt
12 to 14 oz water

After making the last post I wanted to try again. The things that stayed the same ; same bag of flour same water and same crappy scale.

Differences ; the firm started got some time to ferment then got refrigerated to slow it down because of my work schedule.
The second difference is I left my Kitchen Aid and dough hook on the shelf and worked the dough by hand. Interesting enough I have about a cup of flour left over on the board and brought the dough to a firm and somewhat tacky state.

In a side note I kept the water in both the firm starter and the final dough to the lower side of recommendation.

So I'm thinking was it the refrigeration of the firm starter or was it my Kitchen Aid and dough hook. The other goopy dough's were all made with the Kitchen Aid running slow to medium speed.

This dough feels good and even with the cup less of flour and is now sitting and proofing so I will update you when the bread is done.
If this is my Kitchen Aid making goop how could that happen when the inputs are all scaled?

If you think I'm on the wrong track let me know ...for now I think I'll leave the Kitchen Aid to making cookies. Besides at the end of the month I should be getting my doughbowl and the Kitchen Aid will collect dust.

Thanks Faith

longhorn's picture

It seems like I too always incorporate more flour into the dough than is ideal. I think it is partially a result of underworking the dough but it is far more complex than that. The water content of flour can vary enormously...such that one commercial baker I know has measured a 55% hydration dough to get 68% texture (comparing one batch of flour to the norm). 

Ultimately I think the messages above say it well. It is about touch, not the formula.

Good luck!