The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Dissolving Salt in Water

Kevin E Smith's picture
Kevin E Smith

Dissolving Salt in Water

I corrected a mistake in water measurement recently and ended up with a result that I'd never have expected. I've been baking for 34 years with considerable attention to focaccia for the last eight years. My favorite, every week, recipe is much like Peter Reinhart's BBA. I mix the flour, water, and yeast, and autolyse for about an hour before adding salt and olive oil.

Recently, I scaled my recipe up for a newer, bigger pan and was lazy. I did the calculations in my head and shorted the 75% hydration by about 50g. I realized the mistake about half way through the autolyse. I figured I'd just the extra water at the salt addition: not ideal but not a terrible correction. As I measured the additional water I thought: why not dissolve the salt in the water before mixing?

This tiny change was a shock. The mixing dough was extremely sloppy at first (no surprise) but was absorbed all of a sudden like a sponge. The resulting dough was the smoothest, firmest, high-hyration dough I've ever handled. When I baked it the crumb had the most even, bigger than average holes that I've ever produced. The crust was not tough and the flavor was sweet and moist. A fluke?

For the next several weeks I alternated back and forth between my normal method and dissolving the salt in the water. This is not a fluke and is completely reproducible. I have dozens of bread cookbooks and don't recall dissolving salt in the water and adding after mixing. I'm sure I didn't invent this but the results are quite remarkable.

Does anyone have an insight to the chemistry of this (assuming that it is not my imagination!)?

LindyD's picture

You might find SteveB's double hydration technique interesting.  Discussed at his Bread cetera blog.

subfuscpersona's picture

When you dissolve the salt in some of the water, are you combining the salty water with the other ingredients prior to mixing or adding it later after a preliminary mixing?

I'm confused because in the beginning of your post you say

why not dissolve the salt in the water before mixing?
yet later you say
I have dozens of bread cookbooks and don't recall dissolving salt in the water and adding after mixing.


Definitely want to try this but would appreciate a clarification. Thanks


ssor's picture

results.I haven't paid attention to the crumb change made by adding the salt dry to the dough versus adding it at the start.

Kevin E Smith's picture
Kevin E Smith

Sorry for the confusion. Here's the order of mixing I'm using:

1) Mix flour, yeast, most of water.

2) Let stand for 1 hour.

3) Dissolve salt in remaining small amount of water.

4) Mix the salt water with the dough for five minutes (or so).

5) Add olive oil, finish combining, put in refrigerator....

Hope that clarifies.

plevee's picture

I think it is the addition of the extra water after kneading that is making the difference in your dough. See 'bassinage' or SteveB's tutorials on double hydration or double hydration, double flour addition. This method is often used for making very slack doughs - it is easier to develop gluten when the dough is less wet.


subfuscpersona's picture

I now understand the method and will definitely try it.

Thanks for taking the time to reply to my question - SF

Frrogg1son's picture

Kevin:  Are you adding the salted water AFTER you have KNEADED the initial dough?

Or are you simply combining the flour, part of the water and yeast, letting it autolyse without yet kneading, and later adding the salted water before further developing the dough?

I'd like to know how developed the dough is before you add the salted water.

Thanks so much!

Cachi's picture

I've always done it this way since this is what I've read in my books. Salt tends to tighten the dough so I guess that explains why it turns smooth after its addition and why they tell you to add it at the end; otherwise you can't develop the gluten as easily. Curiously enough, there is an expensive Japanese salt sold for skin care. Rubbing your skin with it turns it silky smooth...

SallyBR's picture

I will definitely use this method next time I make focaccia - I was going to post the Breadcetera link, but Lindy beat me to it,  I made that bread shortly after he posted the recipe, and it was pretty good.


sometimes the greatest discoveries come from small mistakes...   ;-)

jcking's picture

Your fortunate accident can be confirmed. In "The Bread Builders", Wing and Scott pg 74. It is hard to adequately develope or condition the gluten in a very wet dough... developed gluten can only form when there is plenty of friction in the dough when it is worked and stretched... to make a very soft dough... add less than the full amount of water, work the dough until it is smooth and stretchy, then add the rest of the water and work it in completely.


cranbo's picture

Thanks for sharing this technique, I'm going to try it out on my next batch of focaccia.

SallyBR's picture

I have to say that my conditions for baking are less than ideal, AND I did not have good quality bread flour, so I used all purpose from Trader Joe's -

I will definitely repeat this method once I'm back in my real kitchen, with a huge oven and all the things I took for granted for many years :-)

at any rate,  I used my regular recipe, but added the salt and 25% of the water 20 minutes after mixing the rest of the dough.    This was a tasty focaccia, with soft crust and rose much higher than normally

here is a picture