The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Looking at the dough during mixing

ramat123's picture

Looking at the dough during mixing

Hi there,

I'm using Jeffrey Hamelman's book for quite sometime and went through most of the leaven breads.

I am interested mosly in leaven breads that has at least 20% rye better if the mix is high in whole wheat and rye.

The question I am trying to figure out it what does Hamelman means what asking the baker to looking at the dough and see if he needs to hydrate the dough or add some flour.

What is that you see? How do you see a well developed dough? How do you see a moderetly developed dough?

Thanks a lot,


Mebake's picture

I remember having read in his book, that a well mixed dough should be elastic yet has some sort of loosness (extensible) to it. The dough will look weak after it has completed its final proofing, but it will jump to life in the oven nevertheless.


rjerden's picture

It took a while until I got the folding technique and bread formula right, but now my Rosetta rolls are coming out great. I use a weak dough to simulate the Italian 00 flour. It's 75% White Lily AP flour and 25% White Lily bread flour. I add 10 g of diastatic malt to the mix also. I use a 50% hydration overnight biga mixed just 3 minutes (700 g flour). Second mix adds 150g flour and 92g water. Final hydration is 52%. I use a folding technique on the rolls which creates a weak area on the bottom center, thereby allowing the center of the roll to blow up, creating the characteristic hollow center. These are baked in a Cuisinart countertop convection oven on a baking stone at 500 F with the fan on. The rolls are sprayed before going in and several times during the rise to keep them moist. We just had my wife's cousin from Italy here and he gobbled them up like crazy.

pmccool's picture

but it takes some experience to know how to apply it.  In any formula, there is some amount of variation.  On some days, more water (or less flour) may be required to achieve the desired dough characteristics.  On other days, more flour (or less water) may be needed to achieve the desired dough characteristics.  Then again, changing flour varieties might also lead to adjusting the water and flour ratio.  Nothing is exactly the same from one place to another, or one day to another, or one flour to another.

Consequently, every formula author has to hedge a little bit.  Hence Hamelman's instruction to adjust by adding flour or water, depending on the dough condition.  What he and his testers saw during their test bakes led to the quantities in his formula.  However, he and they and, ultimately, you will all experience variables that the formula cannot anticipate.

So how is an aspiring baker following a formula supposed to know whether to add more flour or more water?  We weren't there when Mr. Hamelman or other bakers developed their formulae, so we don't know what they were seeing and feeling.  The answer is: experience.  This is why it is so important to bake a bread often enough that we can produce consistent results, even though we work with inconsistent ingredients, weather, equipment, etc.  After a number of attempts, we start to realize that when the dough feels like this (whatever "this" might be), the bread tends to do such and such.  But, if the dough feels like that (whatever "that" may be), the bread tends to do something different.

Since words are notoriously ineffective in conveying information about tactile qualities, the formula developer provides his/her best attempt at describing the indescribable, perhaps accompanying the text with pictures, but is eventually reduced to telling us to adjust as necessary.  And so we do.  Maybe we achieve exactly what the developer achieved (not very likely), or maybe we get reasonably close (much more likely).  In either case, we learn how to make another delicious bread that we can add to our repertoire.

All of that is probably much less precise than you would wish.  Then again, so is baking.  Even though we measure down to the gram, we still have to trust the dough to tell us what is needed.  And that understanding only comes with much practice.


richawatt's picture

I usually watch the dough as it mixes, or at least check up on it a a lot.  It will develop very quickly, kind of all of a sudden.  But I will usually stop the mixing just before it comes together all the way.  I make a lot of naturally levened bread and the long fermentation will further develop the dough.  So if it is a little under when you stop, it will be perfect after the fermenting and folding.  but if you are looking to mix it all the way, just watch the dough in the bowl, when it is smooth and pulls away from the bowl, it is done.  pull it out, and let it rest for a minute, and it will feel smooth and soft. 

ramat123's picture

Thanks a lot, but the dough pulls away from the bowl after 2-2.5m on the first speed while it is suggested to proceed with another 3-4 2nd speed. Is it true?

ananda's picture


Some excellent comments from Paul.   It has to come from experience in the end.

To get to grips with the tactile qualities of dough, I would suggest mixing the dough by hand is a great way to gain a feel for dough mixing.   Then you can relate exactly to what is going on in the mixer at each stage of the process.

Time and temperature are all-important; seeing the dough pulling away from the bowl is good.   Window pane testing is also important.

Best wishes