The Fresh Loaf

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Water, Flour, Techniques, and Humidity

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RiverWalker's picture
RiverWalker

Water, Flour, Techniques, and Humidity

How much can a dry atmosphere effect flour hydration, normally?  Our apartment is seemingly very dry, chronically dry.


I don't mean just dry. I mean that fruit doesn't even ROT in our apartment. it dries out.  an orange once fell behind a desk and was forgotten, and it didn't smell bad, or get moldy, it dehydrated. months later we found a slightly smaller, slightly darker(but still discernably orange-colored) and was substantially lighter weight, and had the texture of styrofoam.


now trying to follow some of the recipes in BBA,  as they are stated... and the water specified seems to be insufficient. ... like by a pretty large margin.  like as much as needing several tablespoons of water extra, per cup of water prescribed.


I could be just doing a phenomenally bad job of measuring, I don't have a proper kitchen scale that is remotely reliable at the moment (the one I had crapped out) but even with that in mind... that seems like a big difference, I don't THINK that I am doing a bad enough job to wholely account for the difference...


which leads(sort of) to another question.  I remember learning, or being told, or something, when I was relatively young baking, that you generally want to add your flour/dry ingredients TO the water/moist ingredients, so that you can more easily add more or less, and that its easier to control the flour, and mix it in, than it is to mix in more water.   but many of the recipes in BBA instruct adding the moisture to the dry.   is there a secret clause, or perhaps a portion of the book that I skimmed over, that says "no, really I mean that you should use another bowl, and add the dry to the wet" or is this a "well everyone knows that" thing?  or is it simply a different approach? even if you want to be sure to be adding at least Xoz of flour, wouldn't it be better to add it a little at a time, and if it seems to be getting to the desired texture before the flour is used, to add more water BEFORE it tries to come together with insufficient water?


I realize I'm relatively new to all this, so maybe theres something I'm missing.


 

will slick's picture
will slick

Hello, I am fairly new at baking also but I think I can help. First your last question. It is important to read the formula carefully before you start to add lg. amounts of four or water to know what the dough should look and feel like to achieve the same results that the formula is meant to achieve. for instance the formula could say that after kneading for ten min. you want a soft elastic dough. or it might tell you that the dough will be anywhere from a little sticky to very wet. Humidity will surly effect the way a dough comes together. You have to find what works under your conditions and stick to it every time to achieve consistent results. My first recommendation on this point is get a $30.00 scale that can zero out and weight in grams and oz. If the scale is not possible at this time don't let that stop you. use volume measurements but do it carefully.  Take notes, fill your cup measure the same way every time. Take a smaller measuring cup loosen the flour a bit with it then fill it and slowly pour the flour into the 1 cup measure. do not shake the cup or tap it on the counter. keep doing this till it is over full then with a straight edged knife level the top. most formulas have a high and low amount of flour start with the low amount add all the water, then add more flour or water till you gain the consistency you are looking for. Also don't rush give the flour time to absorb the water you give it before you add more.


I hope this helps Will

jpchisari's picture
jpchisari

I do not believe that humidity will affect dough mixing as much as I keep hearing it does. I baked breads for 5 years in my bakery through every season, never needing to make adjustments for water. Temp and humidity affect fermentation and proofing much more in my experience, although If you have an enclosed proofbox, proofing is very predictable. I agree with Will wholeheartedly. A scale is the only solution! Search out formulas for the breads you need, or take the time to convert your volume measurements to weights. There might be some trial and eror, but once you have the formula down, you will have consistent bread everytime.


John

RiverWalker's picture
RiverWalker

ok, I guess I am gonna have to be more dilligent on measuring and all and if that doesn't explain it I'll be back again.

Thomas Mc's picture
Thomas Mc

I live well above the "mile-high" mark, on the edge of a desert. It is not at all unusual for the humidity to drop into the single digits here. The longer flour sits in the bag in the store, the drier it gets. If you live along the Eastern Seabord, where humidity is regularly in the 90s, flour will just continue to absorb moisture while it sits in the bag in the store. Recipes are NOT an exact formulation, as you will never have EXACTLY the same ingredients and environmental conditions as the person who wrote the recipe. If you find you need more water, then add more water, and don't worry about the recipe. For many years, I didn't even measure or weigh ingredients for bread, I just mixed/added ingredients until it felt right, and had excellent bread. Sometimes we make it sound like rocket science, but really, it's not. (It's biochemistry ;)


 

mrfrost's picture
mrfrost

Adjustment is often necessary. Just not so much-like an extra cup of flour for a recipe of a loaf, or so-when measured as the recipe creater measured(or recipe given in weights).


My experience, also. I know nothing about high altitude baking, but then we're talking about "all things being equal".

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

RiverWalker,


I do expect that some of what you describe is due to your ambient conditions, particularly the very low humidity levels you describe.  Beyond that, my experience with formulas in Reinhart's BBA is that they tend to produce doughs that are a bit drier than I would expect for a particular type of bread.  It seems that I need to add liquid or hold back flour to arrive a the dough consistencies he describes.  And I do weigh my ingredients!


My guess is that there are several factors at play in your situation.  The best thing to do is make adjustments as required to get to the dough consistency you want, and then write down what you did so that you can do it again.


Best of luck with your future bakes.


Paul 

jpchisari's picture
jpchisari

Adjusting hydration levels to meet the particular conditions that exist in your area and your particular ingredients as opposed to where the formula originated is a different issue than adjusting the same fromula that works for you at different times of the year. I am in the Chicago are where humidity levels can go as high as 97% in th summer. Paul made the same point. "The best thing to do is make adjustments as required to get to the dough consistency you want, and then write down what you did so that you can do it again." Some issues will likely never be agreed on.


 


John


 


 

RiverWalker's picture
RiverWalker

I realize that its not a simple thing, and that there are some adjustments assumed.  I guess mostly I'm wondering what sort of range of difference people have experienced.  I always thought it was a very small difference.


it seems extra confounding to finding a solution that people seem to have experiences on both ends of the spectrum.


 


but I guess thats part of why its an art, eh?


I just got home with a bag of King Arthur WW flour, gonna do something with it in a day or two and try to measure real careful-like, and see what I get.  (I live relatively close to St Louis, so its not like I'm in the middle of the desert or anything. I have absolutely NO idea why my place would be so dry.  at least its great for fruit-longevity though)


Any thoughts on the technique issue of adding wet to dry, or dry to wet? what do others do for their own baking?

Thomas Mc's picture
Thomas Mc

I just do what ever is most convenient with what I am making with the mixer.


If I'm adding vital wheat gluten to flour, I would do that first, so it would be thoroughly mixed before adding the wet. If I'm beating sugar into eggs fora  cake, I would do that first, then oil, then flour, etc.


I do know that putting oil in the mixer first, and swirling it around the bowl, will leave you with a cleaner bowl when you are done, but I generally add the oil last, so it doesn't interfere with flour and yeast absorbing water.

jpchisari's picture
jpchisari

Hi RiverWalker.


 


Winter is usually a dryer time of the year. A humidifier can help as can a pot of simmering water throughout the day. I've heard the opinion that daily cooking can provide enough humidity for the average home.


On the issue of "wet into dry" or "dry into wet" In general I don't believe it makes a difference, unless stated in a specific formulas procedures.For example I have formulas for sour ryes and pumpernickels, etc... that call for adding sour to the liquid first and mixing until dissolved, and then adding dry ingredients.


 


John