The Fresh Loaf

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Baker's Math and Soakers

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emmsf's picture
emmsf

Baker's Math and Soakers

I've been playing around with Baker's Math, and I believe I've got the idea.  But I do not know to calculate hydration in a formula with a soaker.  I recently made bread which called for a soaker with quite a bit of water in it.  Much, though not all, of the water was soaked up by the soaker grains.  Do I include the amount of soaker water with rest of the water in the formula for purposes of calculating hydration?  This seems to make sense, since this is basically what happens when calculating hydration in a formula with a preferment.  What about the soaker grains?  Do I add their weight to the weight of the flours, since they consumed much of the soaker's water?  I'm just a bit confused.  If this is discussed in a thread elsewhere on The Fresh Loaf, let me know - I've searched but haven't found it yet!  Thanks for any guidance you can give.

proth5's picture
proth5

I have the answer, but it is one that makes me run screaming from the room...


According to Bread Bakers Guild of America standards, soakers are supposed to be "hydration neutral" - that means that the soaked material should neither give up moisture into the dough, nor should it absorb moisture from the dough.


So the water added to the soaker should be expressed, but does not count in the hydration.


The weight of the grains (or fruits or etc.) does not count as part of the total flour against which the percentages of all other ingredients are calculated.  The soake itself can be expressed as a percentage of the total flour...


Even they will admit that determining the amount of the soaker water will take "trial and error"


To date, I've only managed to get the error part.


Hope this helps.

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

With all due respect to the boys and girls of the BBA, how much water a given weight of rye berries, old bread or raisins will absorb varies from batch to batch and day to day.


Is hydration neutrality possible to measure? The problem is that water exchange between the soaker ingredients and the rest of the dough could occur at any time from initial mixing to baking. How much exchange occurs will depend on how well saturated the soaker is and its osmotic pressure relative to the dough. It may also depend on how hydroscopic the soaker ingredients are and how tightly they bind water. 


One can measure how much water a soaker contributes to the final dough by subtracting the weight of the soaker ingredients before soaking from the weight of the soaker ready to ad (drained, wrung out, whatever) to the dough. This amount of water can be included in the total dough hydration calculation.


The advantage of this procedure is that the total added water would be constant and not dependent on the variable absorptive capacity of the soaker's dry ingredients. The problem is the number of variables that impact water movement among dough ingredients.


Hmmm ... trial and error. Seems like you still have to make the bread enough times to know what the dough consistency needs to be and make adjustments to get it there.


Reminds me of my vascular surgery professor who, making post-op rounds, would pull out his slide rule (Yup. They still used slide rules when I was in med school.) and, muttering various physiologic considerations to himself, go through a long and complex calculation, at the conclusion of which, he'd place the slide rule back in his white coat pocket and say. Awwww ... Give him a liter of D5W. (He already knew this before doing all the calculation, because he was a very good clinician, and he'd examined the patient.)


David


 

proth5's picture
proth5

your aversion to standards of any kind (or definitions for words - I have received that message), the BBGA (it is a guild  modeled on the trade guilds that have been part of craft professions for a long, long time - and frankly I am not sure you fully comprehend the impact that they have had on the perception and reality of bread baking as a profession and avocation) is trying to create standards and common terms to aid in  understanding and to further education in the world of artisan bakers (both professional and amateur).  The people ("boys and girls" indeed!) who are trying to create these standards are more distinguished in the field of bread baking than you or I will ever be, and it does raise our game as amateur bakers to aspire to their standards even though we may not be able to achieve them.


I myself find "hydration neutral" to be a challenging concept.  And yes, you do have to make the bread enough times to  understand what is going on.  Which is, in the end, the point of baker's math.


But as I have found out while trying to incorporate various soakers into a formula, this is indeed an interesting issue.  I can put a soaker in a strainer and allow all the water possible to drip from it - and there is still enough water remaining in the solution in the sieve to release moisture into the dough. If it were as simple as doing one measurement to determine how much "excess" water was placed in the soaker - it would be a happy day for me.


So the process you advocate is no better than the aspiration to make the soaker "hydration neutral." Yes, we know how much water is released from the soaker, but we do not know the impact of the water that clings to the soaker until we make the bread a few times and observe what is going on and adjust the water in the soaker accordingly. It is not simple to calculate the hydration of the bread if the soaker is not "hydration neutral."


I, too, have some small expertise in my profession (modesty forbids...) and owing to years of experience can make rapid judgements without resorting to the slide rule (which I can still use - having been thoroughly trained on it during my university days) but I can, if challenged, back up my judgements with the numbers (as could your professor, I am sure.)


The answer is, indeed, what I have presented.  What is baker's math anyway, but a number of conventions that were established by generations of professional bakers? (Numbers in a formula adding up to more than 100% - what's up with that?) Why do we accept it?  We accept it because it is a useful tool and allows us to understand formulas at a glance. So now we have a group of distinguished bakers asking us to once again accept what they say.  I will do it - and some day (if apparently not today) I will master it.  After all, what's a heaven for?


Again, respectfully,


Pat

emmsf's picture
emmsf

Proth-5, thanks for your explanation.  I too say "aaagh" but I now have a better understanding of how to proceed, both with my formulas and my technique.  Many thanks for the guidance.

Chuck's picture
Chuck

What I've been doing -which works for me- is so simplistic that I won't be surprised to find out it's wrong...


When I have anything to mix in that could be called a soaker (including nuts or whole grain kernels), I put it in a small bowl and add the total amount of water the recipe calls for and leave it over night.


Next day I pour the whole gloppy mess into a standard kitchen strainer set over a bowl to catch whatever water comes out. Some water comes out right away, more drips out slowly. Then I go to work on the dough recipe while it continues to drip. With luck, the dripping has pretty much stopped right about the time I get to the step of adding the water to the dough using my scale. I pour in all the water that collected under the seive, then "top up" with more water as necessary to reach the total amount of water specified by the recipe.


Now the glop left in the strainer is "hydration neutral"; I can put it in the dough and be confident it will neither soak up nor supply hardly any water.

MichaelH's picture
MichaelH

That sir, is an interesting and logical approach. I will give it a try next time I bake 5 Grain Levain.


Thanks.


Michael

GSnyde's picture
GSnyde

I think writers of formulas try to make the soaker or the rehydrated dried fruit "hydration nuetral".  And my few experiences show that it rarely works out that way.  I think one needs to feel the dough and make adjustments.  That's easier than wringing out a few dozen raisins.


Glenn

Jaydot's picture
Jaydot

The image of Glenn painstakingly wringing out raisins one by one will have me grinning for the rest of the day - thanks!


 

GSnyde's picture
GSnyde

J. --


"Levity" and "levain" are related in more ways than just etymology.  Glad to raise your dough.


Glenn

proth5's picture
proth5

now you've gone and done it. I'm a little worked up about what you said and now I'm going to explain a few things to you and the other gentle readers of TFL.


There was a time when American artisan baking was an international joke.  And then a team of American bakers went to the most prestigious bread baking competition in the world (La Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie) and walked away with the gold miche in their hands (that's first place in case you haven't been paying attention.)They were sponsored by the BBGA, coached by members of the BBGA and some went on to form what is the core of the BBGA today.


Let's name some names of past guild team members: Craig Ponsford, Jeffrey Hamelman, Jeffrey Yankellow, Ciril Hitz, Didier Rosada, Tim Healea - recognize any of them?  And then there are more recent and upcoming members who haven't imprinted the big footprint - yet.


The BBGA is responsible for real change in baking industry trade shows - meaning that professionals no longer need to journey to Paris for a trade show that has reasonable emphasis on artisan baking (although any excuse to go to Paris is a good one...) The BBGA was instrumental in bringing the Louis LeSaffre competition to the US.  These baking competitions are not like the Food channel's competition shows - they serve to educate bakers and create a sense of community. (OK, and to let seriously talented bakers strut their stuff...)


The BBGA is dedicated to education - not only in baking itself but in things like milling, grain production, and yeast production. 


These are the "boys and girls" of the BBGA.


David, you are a fine baker, but you don't measure up to these folks.  So forgive me for placing more credibility in their definition of baking terms than in yours.  And perhaps, just perhaps, you may wish to reconsider your stance on the value of their words.

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

No disrespect for the BBGA was intended. I prefaced my remarks with an expression of respect, and it was and is sincere.


Regarding the concept of "hydration neutral:" I understand the concept in the abstract, but I do not understand how to apply it or even how to know if I've achieved it or not. The method I suggested is, at least, measurable. Whether it is a practical way to achieve more reproducible dough consistency is another issue.


I am not privy to the reasoning behind the BBGA's position. If I were, it might allay my skepticism regarding the usefulness of the "hydration neutral" concept. I have difficulty accepting stuff simply based on the status of the source (which I do accept). But, as you so often say, "That's me."


David


 

proth5's picture
proth5

Seldom do we express both sincere respect and call grownups "boys and girls", but I'll take you at your word.


The reasons are quite rational - to better be able to reproduce the formula and to create a formula where hydration is clearly expressed and not clouded by amounts of soaker water.  The work goes into determining how to create the soaker and then forevermore the hydration of the formula is straightforward.


As I said, I've tried your method and it really doesn't work for creating a reproducible formula.  So why should I take your word? If I'm going to strive to make something work, I'll go with a group that is really trying to set standards.


What will be interesting is seeing the top notch baking books published - oh - maybe a decade from now.  My bet is the "hydration neutral" standard will prevail and we'll all find it terribly normal.


As to being privy to the reasonings behind BBGA formula standards (and other things as well) - well, ain't no secret how you get that access.  Join.  Support the people who are working hard to support artisan baking and baking education in the USA.


Peace.

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Please be assured that "boys and girls" implies no disrespect on my part. (Hey! I'm a pediatrician!)


If a baker can determine a reliable method of creating an hydration neutral soaker, given all the sources of variability I mentioned, I would be surprised. I have been surprised before. I hope I'm still baking when those baking books you are anticipating arrive.


I have been seriously considering joining the BBGA, if only for the reason you gave. 


David

proth5's picture
proth5

Folks are getting formulas written that way even as we type.  Yes, indeed.  I've seen formulas like that - I just haven't written one - yet.  You could see them, too - but it will cost ya... (Although, frankly, not that much given the value received.)


I was serious when I mentioned in my blog that I am looking forward asking "questions, questions, questions" of the folks who seem to know what they are doing in this regard.  Because it can be done and it is being done.  Whole big wide world out there if you care to look. I mentioned to my faithful limo driver and bread tester that I was contemplating taking another couple of classes and he asked "How much more can you learn?" - to which I could only reply "So much, oh so much left to learn..."


Pat


 

emmsf's picture
emmsf

I must say I hadn't anticipated such a lively debate in response to a question about soakers and hydration!  But I greatly appreciate the input and I most certainly understand (and share) your passion, both with respect to the initial question, and with respect to the bigger issues some of you raise.


As for the BBGA, I readily defer to it's members, who most surely have a great deal more experience (and no doubt a lot more talent) than I.  If the folks at the BBGA say "hydration-neutral" then I'm more than willing to give it some thought, and to try to achieve that standard.  No doubt the devil will be in the details, but it's a place to begin. 


Having said that, however, it doesn't seem necessary to treat their pronouncements like gospel.  Questioning the meaning of the term (and the wisdom of it's creation) seems healthy.  It'll probably result in a better understanding of the term, and in the long run it'll probably result in better bread. 


"Hydration Neutral" is a new term to me, so thanks for bringing it to my attention.  Now all I need to do is figure out how to put in practice.  Wish me luck!


 

proth5's picture
proth5

That I reacted to David's choice of words.  But I do feel strongly about this.


One of the problems in my communication is I give my starting point and my ending point without articulating the steps I took.  I always feel that if my tiny mind can reach a conclusion - the rest of the world can do it even more quickly than I.


I had a lot of doubt about this "hydration neutral" stuff - until... I was looking at my current panned bread project and tryingto analyse the formula.  I couldn't really calculate the hydration.  So I thought to myself, "Pat, these people at the BBGA are not theoretical masters - they are production bakers who won't waste their time on nonesense." So I went back to study the standards on formula writing.  Suddenly it all made sense.  If soakers are "hydration neutral" you can read and analyze the formula with much more ease.  I became sold on the concept - although I've had some trouble with the practice (and I have put my ingredients in a sieve and left them to drain without success) but that is my problem.


To repeat my former position: What is baker's math anyway but a set of agreed upon conventions? The conventions are there because they are useful, but they are nonetheless merely conventions (French baker's math - so I am told - calculates percentages based on the total amount of water - must investigate...). I am pretty much in thrall to baker's math having learned it late in my baking life and seeing how it absolutely clarifies formula construction.


While I understand the international nature of this community, I live (or as I like to say "own property") and bake in the USA.  If there is a body of knowledge that enables effective communication among bakers (even if it is just US bakers) and makes practical sense - I'll sign up for it.


And - all of the great formulas that I can read in the BBGA's publications are written this way - so I might as well get used to it.  As I said before - when these up and coming bakers write their books, they will have been trained in this formula writing method and it will all seem very normal to us.


Hope this helps.


Happy Baking!

proth5's picture
proth5

I hate to make this thread drag on - but apparently this is not out of my system, yet.


I was leafing through some of the older (1994) Team USA formulas.  They aren't bad by any means, but are not formatted according to the new standards.


They are actually harder to understand.  I can't look at them and tell the precentage of flour that is prefermented.  It's a little harder to undertand the overall hydration.


We all have our favorite books and favorite formulas - but books are often a snapshot of how things were done at the time they were written. And goodness knows I pine for "the way it used to be" - and I have a lot more of years years of that than many on these pages.


But sometimes "new" is actually "better."  It takes a little effort to learn, but it is worth it (and because I am currently focusing on developing formulas - the more I work with the new standard, the more versitile it seems to me for this purpose).  What fascinates me, when I think about it, is how we will improve the formula writing process in the future.


OK - I think I'm done.