The Fresh Loaf

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Higher Hydration = Blander Flavor?

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JimmyChoCho's picture
JimmyChoCho

Higher Hydration = Blander Flavor?

Hi fellow FL'ers, I've got a question: if you increase the hydration in a bread, does that lead to blander flavor?

I know ciabattas and foccacias are known for having pretty high hydrations. I've never personally baked a ciabatta before and those I have eaten were always covered in sauce or in a sandwich so I couldn't really taste the bread. Foccacia I have baked, but the highest I went was 75%, and those times it was either covered in herbs and oil so I can't really comment as to whether or not the bread was bland (cover anything in herbs and oil and it's bound to be delicious). 

I've been experimenting with Tartine's Country bread recipe and I've baked it countless times so far but there were just a few times, less than a handful, where it tasted a bit bland. I've jumped around 70%-77% hydration, but I don't remember if the higher hydration breads were the bland ones (The thought of higher hydration leading to bland flavor didn't even enter my mind, I just thought I messed up somewhere in the process or didn't let the bread ferment long enough) as I didn't bake the breads in the order of 70% to 77%.

A couple of days ago I baked my first 80% hydration dough which I have NEVER done before. Everything was great about it, beautiful rise, great open crumb, light and crispy exterior.....all with the exception of flavor. It's not that it had NO flavor but significantly less so than to the ones I've baked prior. There was a good bit of tang from the long cold ferment, but there was no depthness to the flour, it just tasted....like water with a slight tang. I even added more salt, I usually use 1.8% of the flour weight but chose to up it to 2%.

What I did

for the levain:

mixed 75 g bread flour + 75 g whole wheat flour + 150 g 78 deg water + 14 grams of sourdough starter.

let that ripen for 8 hours and it passed the float test.

Final bread:

900 g bread flour + 100 g whole wheat + 200 g levain + 750 g water and let that mixture autolyse for 20 minutes.

added 50 g water + 21 g salt into the mixture (added a little bit more to compensate for the flour in the levain)

turn and folded over a course of a 3 hour period

split into two and bench rested for 30 minutes

shaped, and put into the fridge at 12 AM, left it in there until I baked it at 8 PM. 

If there are any ambiguities please feel free to ask me, but hopefully one of you knowledgable bakers can help me. Thanks in advance!

rossnroller's picture
rossnroller

IMO there are so many factors involved in turning out a lovely bread that it's drawing a bit of a long bow to attribute lack of flavour to one element like high hydration level.

I'll leave it to others with greater expertise than I to elaborate on aspects of the process that might account for bland flavour, but I can say that from my experience some of the most delicious breads I have baked have been high hydration. I'm thinking particularly of Shiao-Ping's version of Gerard Rubaud's bread.

One specific observation: your formula as posted has only about 17% starter. That's very low for a small dough quantity in a domestic context. Maybe try increasing the proportion of starter and see if that tunes the flavour up.

Cheers!
Ross

Chuck's picture
Chuck

if you increase the hydration in a bread, does that lead to blander flavor?

Nope. If you're having flavor problems, look elsewhere (total time, amount of salt, flavor of starter, kind of flour, etc.).

(Sometimes changing hydration will cascade into other changes as well, and some of those other changes might affect flavor.)