The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

How do I determine hydration?

anneatkins's picture

How do I determine hydration?

Hi all, i just started baking sourdough. It's coming out pretty ok, I am still just getting used to getting the loaves looking pretty, but I had a quandary, but I  am not sure if it actually matters.

however, I hae no idea what the hydration is because I am doing it by look and feel and have used (rough) cups, but never weighed and aside from my sponge, I don't use much extra water at all.

How I make the final dough is like this:

3c bread flour

1 tsp salt

2c 'sponge' which is my starter and then 1:1 flour and water, this normally makes just a bit over 2 cups of nice frothy family bubbly sponge. The leftover becomes my new starter.

I put the dry ingredients in my mixer, top with the wet sponge, and mix to moisten the lot. If the flour seems to need a bit more water, I'll add some lukewarm water, to be sure all the flour is incorporated. I let this sit for half hour to an hour, and then I knead for as long as it takes for the dough to feel and look right. Like, tacky but not sticky, cleans the bowl, but will stick slightly if left, good windowpane (I found that test here, actually).

Then I just let it rise, folding in 3rds and then 3rds every hourish. (sometimes after only 40 mins, depending on how warm it is, etc.) 

I do this 2 or 3 times, till the dough is quite gassy and light.

Then I make the loaf, and let oven preheat then slash and bake.

Everything is going ok. I would like a slightly more open crumb, but I guess it has to be a wetter dough for thiS.

So, how can I determine hydration when I make my dough by look/feel more than weight?

If you're going to tell me to simply weigh stuff instead, can you suggest a basic plain sourdough recipe?

To be frank, I cannot afford an expensive book at present, and that's why I do it how I do, which is working well, but I don't know what hydration would be, so find it hard to tell anyone 'well this dough has x% hydration' as I have no idea.

It would equal about 4 cups flour and 1.5 cups water, if you add the water in the sponge to the bit of water I add when I first mix it...but I don't know if that's how I am supposed to guesstimate it.

If anyone has time to mess with this I really appreciate it! Thank you!


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

and can only be a guess at best.  A lot depends on exactly how you measure the flour per cup.  Anywhere from 125g to 135g per cup for spoon and levelers, up to 150g for scoopers and shakers.  Hydration is obtained by dividing the water weight by the weight of the flour and moving the decimal over two places to the right (or multiplying by 100) to get the hydration %.  

If you have a scales, there are several ways you can go about converting to weights.  Place the bowl on the scales and measure it empty, record, then tare or set the scales back to zero.  Then add the cups of flour and record the weight of the flour.  Tare again and add the water, record the weight of the water.  Anytime you want to add additional water, set the bowl on the scales and tare, then add the water needed and record what was added.  Later while the dough is rising, you can add up the amounts.  Then figure the hydration.  

Another way is to measure a sack of flour and a pitcher of water.  Use what you need and re-weigh the flour and the water pitcher.  Subtract the amounts to figure what's in the dough.   Then figure hydration.  

Now if you want to guesstimate as accurately as possible.  First take your dry measuring cup and fill it with water, then pour into your liquid measuring cup and tell us the amount (in grams as close as you can) Then tell us how you fill the cup, every little detail including if you sift first or shake the cup or run your finger over the top.  Also the type of flour as they vary too in weight when cupped.  With that info, we can help you figure a estimate.  Each teaspoon will weigh about 5g and a tablespoon often 15g of water.  Flour weighs often half of that.

anneatkins's picture

Hello and thank you! I have the scales that have brass weights you add onto a plate, so not one of those. I will have to save up for that kind of scale.

It's because I don't have one of that type that I wing it. ;-) 

Thank you though! 

Oh as an aside, I dip/scrape with a flat edge my flour and I know that liquid and dry volume are different weights. (I bake a LOT and cook a lot and cure meats and do preserving and brewing etc.

I am unable to accurately determine hydration for now and a lot of people seem to ask/comment about that. 

Amyway, I am having a great time baking this so far (I'd only baked various yeast breads before, not sourdough with my own starter), and each loaf gets better and better! 

I'll wait to participate more in the forum till I have the right kind of scale, probably after the school holiday.

Thasks again!


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

mixer bowls that weigh the same.  Set one on each side.  Use the brass to find out the weight, then remove the brass and fill with water (or rocks or grain or coins) until both sides are equal >>> instant tare!    With the next addition, use the brass to find out how much was added.  Remove brass weights and add more water (or rocks or whatever) until both bowls weigh the same and keep going!  :)

Great looking bread by the way!

anneatkins's picture

Hiya, yep! Was thinking the same, just need to see if I have two large enough and that will both fit on the scale, if you see what I mean! 

Thanks :-)

Yerffej's picture

No scale required.  It would appear from your post that you have a very good feel for what you are doing.  Knowing the exact hydration of your dough does not matter within the confines of your home.  It matters only if you are unhappy with the bread or wish to communicate to another baker the details of your process.  It matters if you want exacting consistency in your finished product and it matters if you simply want to know.  However, if the process you have is successful and the bread is to your liking then there is no need to worry about weights, hydration and percentages...unless you want to.  Mini's advice is great for moving from the feel method to the weighing method.  I would follow that if you choose to go that route.

Happy Baking,   Jeff

anneatkins's picture

Well thanks Jeff! I wondered if I sort of 'needed' to know, as people often mention the hydration % in posts here, but I would not readily be able to do that, if someone asked because I don't follow a recipe as such.

I didn't want to have anyone *grrrr* because I don't know that, was the reason I thought I should try and find out.

Anyway, here's the 2nd plain sourdough as made above:

photo by Anne Atkins, on Flickr

(ignore the butter! was getting kids a slice before photo and drpped a splodge!)

Yerffej's picture


Your "feel" works better than most scales !!!  .....  really nice bread.


jaywillie's picture

A scale is necessary to accurately measure your dough's hydration, as MiniOven has alluded to. Hydration is the ratio of water to flour by weight (listed as a percentage where the flour is always 100 percent). You mentioned that others were asking you about hydration, and that would be one reason to try to determine hydration. Certainly baking your bread does not require you to know the hydration, although it's a nice thing to know as you learn about bread. In the U.S., reliable kitchen scales can be bought for US$20, so about 15 pounds or so for you (?). Search at with "kitchen scales" for prices. If you intend to continue baking bread, it's a good investment to make.

anneatkins's picture

Hiya Jay, I have a kitchen scale, just not the kind you can re-tare. I have a traditional one. To be honest, I think it is pretty doubtful that I would buy a new scale over the Summer Holidays when I have a functioning one which works fine. I will have to find a way to get on with this one for now. 

I understand the terminlogy ;-) just never had to use it.

I was saying that I was concerned people *here on this forum* would ask and I would not be able to say.

No one I know personally has asked me or anything (that would be funny, I would laugh! 7 year old nephew walks in the kitchen, spies the dough "so Auntie, what's the hydration on that dough?").  

Thank you for your advice - it's appreciated :-)

Have a great weekend!