The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

High Hydration Quandry

mjbleck's picture

High Hydration Quandry

So I've been doing a lot of trials with high hydration doughs (80%+) and have come upon a problem. I put my various loaves onto a well pre-heated hearth stone at 500 degrees, verified by a new oven thermometer, to get the needed oven spring to get that great open structure. But the bottoms of my loaves (all forms) scortch before the inside dries out enough. If I temp the loaves I get 205-210 degrees, but after cooling on a rack for a couple of hours the crust gets super soggy, and the bread tastes wet. I've got great rise, great structure, great holes, and great looking bread, but the bread feels cold on the tongue (it's winter) and my great crusts turn to wonderbread.

I've tried dropping the temp in the oven after putting the dough in for the initial spring but it hasn't helped. I add steam (water in cast iron skillet) when I drop the dough, but I can't believe that little bit of moisture interferes with all the water in the dough. I've tried opening the door of the oven towards the end of the baking but that makes me feel like I'm wasting electricity and it hasn't helped.

So, is there something I'm missing about drying out high-hydration dough? Any advice?

pmccool's picture

Is it possible to raise the baking position of the bread?  In other words, move the oven rack up one notch?  If not, you might want to consider putting a baking sheet either under the stone or on the rack below the stone to shield the bottom of the loaf from the direct heat coming from the bottom element or burner.

Another possibility is to drop the temperature to 450F after putting the bread on the stone.  You may have to extend the bake time some amount to achieve the same internal temperature but should find it easier to avoid burnt bottoms on the bread.

An oft-repeated bit of advice is to prop the oven door open slightly after turning it off, leaving the bread in the oven for another 10 minutes or so to aid in drying the crumb.

Face it, with 80% hydration, the crust is going to soften after baking.  You can minimize this by leaving the loaf uncovered, or packaged in a paper bag.  Similarly, the crumb is going to be moist with that initial hydration level.  The coolness in your house may be exacerbating the problem by causing to loaf to cool more quickly.  In warmer weather with a longer cooling time, more water will probably evaporate from the loaf before it has fully cooled.

Just some thoughts.  I hope they help.


mjbleck's picture

Thanks for the advice. The question that most jumps out at me is if I need high hydration to get really cool structure, how can I maintain a crunchy exterior if high hydration negates it? Does one preclude the other?

My oven allows me to control how much heat comes from the top v. bottom, so todays trials had burnt tops, but it's a start.

ehanner's picture

First, everything Paul said is good advice but I wanted to add a couple thoughts. It's very important that you place the baked bread on a cooling rack after it comes out of the oven. This is true regardless of the hydration level before baking. If you put the baked loaf on the counter for a few minutes first and then look at the moisture transferred to the counter, you will see the reason why it needs to have air circulating around to dry out the crust and allow moisture to escape from the crumb. In larger artisan bakeries, they will turn the loaves upside down as they stack the cooling bread to give the bottom breathing space.

I think many people under bake their bread. As Paul suggested, raising the height of the stone will reduce the scorching before the interior is done. I have sometimes covered the top with foil for the last few minutes if the loaf was getting too dark. If the crust gets soggy in the winter when the air is dry, you need to bake longer. If the color is too dark, bake at a lower temp. There are a few variables that will affect the outcome. Sugar malt or any sweetener will speed coloring which would make you want to pull the bread earlier visually. It's hard to over bake bread. The longer it bakes, the better the crumb will dry out. Depending on what kind of bread you are baking, you have to decide where to stop the bake. Whole grains, multi grains and quick breads are baked to a lower temp so they are more moist, and baked at a lower temp for longer times.

Depending on your oven, and there are many quirks in some ovens, you will have to find a setup that gives you even heat all around. When you look at a slice of bread, note the color and thickness of the crust all around the loaf. You want to strive for even color and thickness all around. I hope this helps. Let us know how it's going.


mjbleck's picture

All my breads go straight onto widely spaced racks, so I'm good on that. My whole grains bake off really well, but I wouldn't expect a crisp crust if I wanted one. It's the baguette variations that are killing me - the flour/water/yeast/salt/and-that's-it combinations that just don't have a shelf life beyond initial cool-down. I want a crackley crust with a hugely textured interior that will last for six hours. Much appreciate your help!

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

It's the baguette variations that are killing me - the flour/water/yeast/salt/and-that's-it combinations that just don't have a shelf life beyond initial cool-down.

Sounds to me like you want more "taste" to your bread, something needs to be done to bring out the kind of flavour that stays on your toungue after the bread has cooled.  You might try some of the pre-fermenting techniques. 

If you want to, you can always put the cold bread back into a hot oven for 10 minutes to dry out and crispen the crusts.