The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

addition of salt during kneading stage, on some recipes, like sourdough.

alsabakin's picture

addition of salt during kneading stage, on some recipes, like sourdough.

Recipes from some of the 'celebrity bakers' advise to add salt during kneading stage as opposed to the initial mixing! I was reasonably good at chemistry in school (about 70 years ago), and still cannot see the logic in this action. In my thinking, salt plays an important part in the formation of gluten and the regulation of fermentation.  Are these people, (like Rchd Bertinet, for example) just being "Cheffie", or is there a genuine benefit? I have tried adding salt both at mixing and at kneading stages, but found no obvious differences with either practice. I would really like to know, is this just an affectation (Bulldust baffles brains), or is there a genuine but not so obvious benefit?

kmrice's picture

I have no scientific background, but many recipies recommend that salt not be added during the autolyze or hydration, which I always thought had something to do with how salt affected the flour absorbing the water. Salt would affects osmosis, so there may be somthing to this; salt may slow down the absorbsion. I never add salt during the autolyze, so I can't really say if this makes a noticeable difference.

Salt is also said to inhibit yeast growth, and many recipies calling for a sponge say to include only water, yeast, flour and, perhaps, a little sweetener in the sponge, and to add the ingredients which might inhibit the yeast, such as salt and oil, or large amounts of sweetener, later, when forming the dough. I have experimented with this, and it seems clear that salt will significantly slow development of a sponge.

As far as what you refer to as being "Cheffie" I would say that bread is relatively forgiving, and homemade bread, even if not particularly well made, is generally much better than what many people are accustomed to. Paying attention to the most exacting details, weighing things to the last gram, taking the temperature of the dough at various stages, etc. is not necessary to get very satisfactory bread. Going up a level or two to make exceptional bread, though, does require attention to very small details. Being what you call Cheffie may be what it takes to really excel. For many, it is not necessary. A lot of us are a bit obsessed, though (I just went out and built a wood fired oven, having decided that a kitchen oven just wasn't good enough), and are looking for anything which will even slightly improve their results. The 80/20 rule does apply to bread making, in my experience.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

If you haven't noticed the differences then I have to say, you haven't noticed the differences yet.  No snob nobb stuff intended.  I would call it a sensitivity.

Adding salt later gives the flour the chance to soak up water without the salt's interference, allowing the gluten proteins to hydrate fully before the salt tightens those protein bonds. 

On some recipes this can make a big difference in texture, in others not.  There are many discussions in the archives.  Salt will firm up the dough and regulate yeast production, mainly slowing it down much more noticable in cold weather and used as a tool to slow fermentation in hot weather.  With sourdough's longer fermenting times, the salt's effects are much more noticable.  Some notice the action of salt in the mixer, the minute salt is added, the mixer starts to complain or sounds like it's working harder.  Others will notice how sticky and slack the dough can be when they have forgotten the salt.  

Some are so worried about forgetting the salt, they'd rather throw it into the dough in the beginning.  I'm all for non-stress baking.  Make the dough how you like to and make it as stress free as you can handle.  :)

Home Baker's picture
Home Baker

A fairly long discussion of the effect of salt on fermentation and production practices is included in Google's digital edition of The Baker's Book, edited by Emil Braun. The chart on page 392 demonstrates how much salt retards fermentation. The section concludes with, "The experiments indicate that where a sponge is used and a quick fermentation is desired, the salt would better be added in the last stages." Perhaps more current data refutes this advice, which was published in 1903.

salt chart

NOTE: the table shows salt expressed as a percent of the water, not the flour.

alsabakin's picture

I am very grateful for the speedy and helpful replies to my query. I have always been ready and willing to learn from those with more experience in any particular field. My main reason for the query was that I like to know the reason behind the directions, rather than take things as read.

Alas, I think I was a little misunderstood in my use of the term "cheffie". I have come to realise that some of the celebrity chefs add flourishes that simply set them apart from their fellows, rather than adding anything of great value to the end product. Being scientific and precise in measurement is to be applauded, as this ensures a more faithful repetition with each attempt.

I have already developed some sensitivity to the changes in my materials as I work them, however the subtle difference in this matter of salt addition had  escaped me. Must try harder! 

KYHeirloomer's picture

In practical terms, when to add salt depends, in large part, on how fast you are completing the bread.

Salt performs four functions in bread. It  strengthens gluten strands, it helps brown the crust, it contributes to overall flavor, and it has a negative effect on yeast activity. It's that last that's importent to this discussion.

Salt slows yeast activity, and, thus, the speed of fermentation. If you're making a traditional all-at-one-time loaf---that is, mix, bulk ferment, shape, proof, and bake, the later you can add the salt the less deliterious effect it will have, particularly in cooler weather. Basically, the earlier you add the salt, the longer the dough will take  to bulk ferment. Depending on conditions, adding it at the mixing stage can add a barely noticeble extra ten minutes, to an hour or more before the dough doubles.

On the other hand, if you're using a retarded fermentation, in which the dough sits in the fridge overnight, the salt effect isn't noticable at all. It doesn't hurt to add it later, but it doesn't much matter either way. You've already slowed fermentation by intent.

Keep in mind, too, that the slowdown only takes place during bulk fermentation. Salt presence will not effect later stages.

As Mini Oven hints, however, the best approach is the one that works for you. You won't make a bad loaf of bread, no matter when you add the salt.

longhorn's picture

In a mixer you will probably never notice any difference but the Tartine book got me to mixing by bare hand all the way and in adding salt after about twenty minutes. As a chemical engineer I would suggest this is about more than chemistry.

Having mixed doughs with and without initial salt, I think I get a more uniform hydration of the dough without the salt though that could simply be textural silkiness of unsalted dough influencing my perception. The one thing that IS dramatic is the tightening of the gluten when salt is added. You can feel the dough tighten much as your muscles tighten when you put iodine on a cut. 

But I also suspect there is more going on. The salt seems to take longer to dissolve as the water is more bound by the proteins and gluten and less available to interact with the salt. I suspect that as a result mixing the salt later results in a different salinity pattern through the dough that may contribute to a more open crumb as a result of yeast being more active in regions far. 

I may be hallucinating - but it is working for me and my breads seem better than ever!

Good Luck!


alsabakin's picture

Thank you for your informative comments Jay.  That is much more benficial than advising me that I am insensitive!

Sad to say, I cannot do the whole process by hand due to being an elderly arthritic, but I do manage to work the dough in the stretch and and fold technique a'la Richard Bertinet. That is how I began to appreciate the subtle changes in the dough.

I will persevere with the addition of salt during kneading, as I am much encouraged by your post.  All good wishes, Al. 

longhorn's picture

All I do at the start is mix it to the point where the loose flour is pretty much incorporated, i.e. little loose flour left in the bowl. That is when I begin the autolyze and is similar to the stage where Reinhart ceases hand mixing. The dough is still pretty ragged. It is not so much hard on the hands as a bit messy but it is interesting to see the dough take form. 

The mixing after the autolyze is more demanding IMO because incorporating the salt for it stiffens the dough significantly. One does not apparently need to get the salt fully dissolved at that point. More about getting it dispersed. 

Then the S&Fs.

I would not claim hand mixing yields superiour results. More that it sensitizes one to what is happening and to the texture of the dough. IF one is doing S&Fs during the bulk fermentation I don't think you need to mix very long. Just an initial mix to a ragged dough without salt. A 20 minute autolyze. Then add salt (I would spread it out and not dump it in one spot) and a short mix to distribute it - probably no more than a minute. Then a couple of S&Fs and repeat the S&F every half hour for say two hours. It will develop amazing dough structure!

Good Luck with your arthritis!