The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Is high hydration always better?

fixbones's picture

Is high hydration always better?

Hi everybody,

Newbie here. Just started baking my own bread 1 month ago. Started off with Jim's No Knead Method and have since purchased a few of Peter's book.

Was wondering if high hydration is always better?

I bake mostly wholemeal/wholewheat bread with no white/bread flour and I find a slightly higher hydration helps with a better crumb but the problem is, my bread flattens during baking. I bake them in Dutch Ovens.

Any advice???

Chuck's picture
Chuck bread flattens during baking. I bake them in Dutch Ovens...

(I know this is just a side issue, and I hope other responses get back to your central question:-)

Maybe it will help with the flattening to scale up the amount of dough (or use a container smaller than your current DO). With the amount of dough matched to the cooking container, even if the dough "flattens" it shouldn't get "too thiin".

flournwater's picture

No, high hydration isn't always better.  High hydration in a Challah would be disastrous.   However, for those no knead breads you may prefer, the higher hydration formulas tend to produce a lighter more open crumb.  But, even then, you don't want to overdo it and end up with a pot filled with batter instead of dough.

clazar123's picture

It depends on what you want to achieve.

Your hydration level will affect the type of crumb and shape you are trying to achieve. If you want to achieve a taller loaf but still like the crumb you get with your recipe, then use a smaller dutch oven so the loaf can rise up the sides a bit in the container while it bakes.

I also bake a lot of 100% whole wheat and while a higher hydration is important to achieving a non-crumbly loaf it is the dough rest that is crucial to maintain a moist crumb. It is not essential for the hydration level to be so high that you can't shape a loaf. At some point, the dough must be rested to allow the bran bits to absorb water so it doesn't rob the moisture from the crumb after baking, thus causing a crumbly loaf.

Do it however it works for you-autolyse,retard,simple bench rest-but the dough needs to just sit for a minimum of 30 minutes but longer is better. I often mix my dough the night before and put it in an oiled, large plastic bin overnight in a cool spot (refrigerator works) and bake the next morning.If I'm in a hurry-it gets mixed and sits for 30-45 min on the bench. Do what works for you.

fixbones's picture

I have tried baking it in a smaller DO. While I get a good rise, the contact between the bread and the sides of the DO yields an inferior crust me thinks.

The final product looks more like a cake than a rustic loaf.

Just to give you guys an idea, my current recipe is 400g wholemeal flour to 340 g of water. Might try 329 g of water next....

flournwater's picture

It is, in large part, relative.  If the amount of dough in your DO is too large it has to contact the sides and grow upward; it has no choice.  That can also happen if your dough is so highly hydrated that it falls slack across the bottom of the DO during the initial baking.  That would, however, be a highly unusual degree of hydration for that type of bread.

Make smaller loaves or get a larger DO and see what happens.

pjaj's picture

It all depends on which type of bread you are trying to make. Something like Ciabatta (see Jasons Quick ciabatta) runs at nearly 100% hydration (500gr flour to 475ml water) whilst I make my day-to-day yeasted bread dough (AKA pan or sandwich loaves and similar) with 1500 gr flour and 900ml water - 60% hydration.

There is some dependency on the type of flour, I find that wholewheat / wholemeal flours need about 10% more liquid than white flours for a similar style of loaf, as you have already found out. Obviously less liquid will give a stiffer dough which, all else being equal, will hold its shape better but may slow rising and lead you into the realms of brick manufacture! You can always cheat - buy yourself some bread pans and bake in them - that will keep the shape!

The climate will have an effect as well, flour is hygroscopic. In dry areas your flour is likely to have a lower moisture content out of the packet than mine here in the UK.

You can't go far wrong with Peter's BBA or some of the tried and tested recipies on this site. Follow the recipe closely the first time, then adjust the liquid (and other ingredients) till you get the result you personally like.

fixbones's picture

Just baked another 100% wholemeal loaf with 400g flour and 340g water.

2nd proofing in a loaf pan.

Transferred dough to a cold DO and the final result came out flat. Sigh.

More experimenting...................

flournwater's picture

Your formula is about 5% higher in hydration than those that I've read in Jim Lahey's material.  Where did you get the formula you're using that incorporates wholemeal flour?

dick c's picture
dick c

My regular bread has been KAF's French Style Country Bread, which I figure is about 70% hydration, but lately I've been working on a no-knead loaf for the ease of it. I started using Lahey's proportions of 1 1/3 C water (291gr) to 400gr flour, but the loaf always looked like it would have preferred to been a Chiabatta, and I also had a hard time getting the moisture down in the center of the loaf before it seemed over done in other regards. I started reducing the water, and have (so far) settled on a ratio of 276gr water to 400gr flour (69% hydration). I get a loaf that's fairly puffy at 4' to 4 1/4" tall with a nice open crumb, good crust, and is dry enough that it won't gum up on my knife. With this much lower hydration, and no kneading, taking a few seconds 4 to 5 hours after mixing to fold the top surface of the dough into the center helps keep the moisture uniform. I use KAF bread flour for the most part, with about 1/4 cup whole wheat.