The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

A better understanding of weights and hydrations

BellesAZ's picture

A better understanding of weights and hydrations

I feel like I'm missing something in putting together formula's from other sites where they offer recipes by weight as well as by measure.  Specifically, the King Arthur Flour website has me puzzled and I'm not sure if I'm making something out of nothing, if their formulas are incorrect, or if I am not weighing properly.

This is the third recipe I've made from their site that has given me a very wet dough.  The recipe is the New England Hot Dog buns recipe.  And I'm in the middle of the first rise at the moment. 

I am new to the concept of measuring and scales, so I am of course, doubting myself first and assuming the recipe is correct.  I am using a newer Escali scale and I am using the Tare function to zero out my bowl and am measuring my flour and liquid as ounces for this particular recipe.   However, this dough as well as a couple of others I've made are quite wet.  By the time I am done adding in more flour, I'm worrying about my dough temperature, so I stop adding flour and just let the wet dough start in the rise. 

I made Pain de Mie from their website and my bread was quite wet there as well.  I did add quite a bit more flour.

I've not had these issues with formulas here and they come out as they are supposed to.. I'm guessing.  I did add the extra bit of water in this recipe though.. I find that living in the desert, everything takes a bit more water when I bake.  Perhaps, I should have used the minimums?

I measured both my flour and water using the same ounces setting on my Escali.  Any ideas what I could be doing wrong??  PS  The Pain de Mie turned out very nice, btw in spite of the wetter dough.


Islandlakebaker's picture

I am having the same issue as you, however my environment is very different than yours.  Monday came down stairs in the morning to find my wallpaper in the front hallway curled up on the floor!  It was 92% humidity in the house.  Right now it is 27%, (I live in Northern Minnesota).  In the Winter it can get down to 3% with out the humidifier on.  I messure all ingredients by weight, something also new to me.  I have had wonderful results baking bread, I have had disasters, all messured by weight.  I assume that the problem is with the variance in humidity... surely it could not be me!!!  LOL  I make lots of ciabatta, which is a very wet dough, sometimes it just does not work, too wet.

I am not new to baking bread, but am new to baking bread in Minnesota.  I have not found the answer to the reason where one loaf should be on the cover of a magazine, the next I worry about killing the birds and squirrels where my failures go to feed!

I assume you are in Arizona.  I lived in San Francisco for 26 years.  My humidity did not change much over the seasons there, my bread consistant, but not here.  I entertain often in my home here in the North.  I buy an emergency loaf of bread for my dinner parties as I never know if I can count on my own... sad.


BellesAZ's picture

Greg, holy cow.  That's humid.  It's really difficult to try and find the balance in your baking in those extremes.  Is there a Minnesota bakers guild or something along those lines?  Maybe your local extension office or the University of Minnesota Extension office can give you some pointers or suggest where you can go to learn more:

Like you, I've baked most of my life, and come from three generations of fabulous bakers (my family comes from Montana).  I think Lindy said it well, and in fact, I was able to meet Peter Rinehart via an email exchange about this very same subject (I was new to weighing and I'm a math/numbers dunderhead) and he told me one thing:  "Your dough does not lie."  It's a great piece of advice, but really only applies in breads you're experienced in making under your conditions.

A new recipe and in a new place.. Lord knows what's comin' out of your oven.  LOL, good luck!

Your wallpaper story reminded me of something years ago.  I was in the US Navy and just got stationed in Pensacola Florida.  It was Christmas and I was poor.  I got a little fake Christmas tree for my apartment, but couldn't afford ornaments, so I used candy canes.  Unwrapped them and put them on the tree.  Went to bed and the next morning I got up and found puddles of red glop all over my table where the tree was.  It was so humid all the red strips melted off the candy canes.  LOL  I hate humidity - you must miss SFO - a great city!  Although Minnesota is much more affordable, I'm sure!

LindyD's picture

Hi BellesAZ,

the KAF recipe says:  

  • 7 to 9 ounces lukewarm water*
  • *Use the greater amount in winter or in a dry climate; the lesser amount in summer or a humid climate.
I'm going to presume you used the full nine ounces of water.
There are a lot of factors involved in hydrating the flour, including the type of flour you are using, humidity, room temperature, and of course, the amount of water.  Don't add all of the liquid at first for any recipe.  Instead, hold back a couple of ounces until you have mixed the dough a bit and determined if the hydration is too dry and needs more water.
It's better to go by what the dough tells you versus the recipe.
BellesAZ's picture

Thanks Lindy, you're right.  I most always hold some water back, but here in Arizona often times I'm adding more water than what many, traditional recipes call for.  I used to live in Oregon, and since moving here, I've really been challenged.

You are also correct that it depends on flour.  I can't store flour here in bags for very long.  It dries out alot unless it's used up.  I used to buy in 25 lb bags, but unless I store them in a bucket with a lid, or buy smaller bags (which is what I've been doing - too lazy to go get a bucket and a lid!  LOL).  Also depending on the age of the flour that I'm getting from the store.. who knows what that really is.

For this particular recipe, I used a newer bag of KAF AP flour.  We are also in Monsoon season (yes, we have Monsoons in the desert!) and the humidity level could be slightly higher depending on time of day. 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

always lift up the bowl or measured container and set it back down on the scales to make sure it reads the amount desired or gently rest your fingers on the edge of the bowl or scale forcing the total weight to be much heavier and then release to re-check the weight.  I tend to do it with the tare funktion also. 

I have caught my scales going heavier or lighter when slowly adding up to a weight.

As Lindy suggests, it is better to play with the water than the flour as all other parts of the recipe pertain to the flour.  If more flour is added, then the dough will need more salt, more spices, more oil, etc.

BellesAZ's picture

Well, my New England Hot dog buns came out of the oven perfectly, but I did have to bake it a bit longer to get up to the temperature I wanted.  The timing suggested in the recipe was about 15 degrees shy of what I wanted it to be.  So, I think there was just too much hydration for the recipe.

It's just strange though.  I can make a recipe here and I never have issues, but on that site, I do.  Wet doughs are the norm.  I'll just let the dough be the judge as to when it's right, but when I'm making a recipe I've never made before, I'm not sure what is right - if that makes any sense!

Thanks for all the help.  My Pain de Mie turned out nicely too, but the side caved in just slightly as it was cooling.  Not sure if I didn't bake long enough, but I actually let that one go a bit longer than I should have and was worried about it drying out.  I'm going to fiddle with that recipe as I didn't care for the "doughy" texture and taste.  I like more of a light bread, tight crumb - moist but not doughy. 

I made this bread in traditional bread pans the other day. A new recipe, worked perfectly and gave me the crumb I remember from my childhood, so I might use that recipe for my Pain de Mie dough and see if I get a better bread loaf.

KAF bakers's picture
KAF bakers

Greetings from KAF.   

Whether a recipe is written in cups, pounds, or bakers percentage it is only a guide.  As many of the commenters here have mentioned, your local conditions will influence final dough adjustment. It is always safer to error on the side of a slightly wet dough.

Frank @ KAF, baker/blogger.

BellesAZ's picture

I totally get it about a wet dough, but the Pain de Mie dough was beyond wet, it was almost goopy and batter-like.  I understand having to add a half cup or more to get your dough right, but almost two cups?  I'm going to make this bread again just to check my own sanity.

I've been baking for years, never had a problem until I started measuring.  I feel like I'm going nuts.