The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

High Hydration Sourdough

Wade37's picture

High Hydration Sourdough

Sourdough having hydrations in the range of 60-65% are easy to handle and, if good practice has been followed, produce acceptable loaves. Why, therefore, do many authorities specify significantly higher hydrations in their recipes ?

In addition to pursuit of the "Wholey Grail" crumb and the skills challenge involved, are there other reasons for using difficult to shape wet doughs ?

Just curious,

Wade37 (who is content, at least at present, with close, even crumb)

Maverick's picture

Higher hydration leads to a more open and irregular crumb. I see by your signature that this is not what you are looking for. But some of us like the large holes in our sourdough bread. There may be other reasons, but this is mine.

Donkey_hot's picture

There is a substantial difference between an acceptable loaf and a spectacular one...  not just in appearance but also taste, texture, and keeping qualities.   Also, shaping wet dough is not that difficult.

LindyD's picture

Couldn't resist the following quote from Farine's wonderful site:

As an aside, it is interesting to note that accomplished bakers such as Jeffrey Hamelman and Gérard Rubaud are both somewhat dismissive of the current obsession with huge holes in the crumb: Jeffrey joked during his recent class on Baking with Locally Grown Grains that some bakers seem to consider the number of alveoli in their crumb on a par with their sperm count as an indicator of their masculinity. As for Gérard, he sees what he calls "les bulles" (the bubbles) as important (they do contribute to the taste of the bread) but not fundamental: at the end of the day, "on ne les mange pas" (you don't get to eat them).

The bottom line is to bake what you enjoy.

scotch2cubes's picture

Hey Wade,

Im here experimenting with some sour-DOH! myself.  My first dough was pretty dry, no idea on hydration but based on looking at several videos and techniques I'd guess it was maybe 45-50%but the end result was a wonderfully flavoured sourdough with very regular and even crumb... going to attempt again on a picture post. Tonight I'm winging it again with a pretty wet dough, again I have no idea of hydration just eyeballing it and having fun, after all if your not having fun it isn't worth doing. I am however getting scales and a couple bannetons to do it "properly" after Ive had a bit of fun just seeing what happens when I mess around with it.

And LindyD I love the "on ne les mange pas" quote, going to remember it ;)


P.S> wife just hollered from the kitchen.. DAVE we have a PROBLEM!! apparently my yeast beast had begun escaping his feeding jar... disaster averted

Wandering Bread's picture
Wandering Bread

Wet dough isn't that awful to deal with if you learn how it acts. Having said that, I really enjoy a variety of styles of crust, crumb, taste and texture. One of my favorite things about bread is that the possibilities are endless. It's your bread, make it however you want. But don't shy away from wet dough just because it seems like a pain. It can be fun and satisfying to play with as a part of your repertoire.

nicodvb's picture

A high hydratation is necessary to get an excellent gluten development. I hate big holes and exactly for this reason, in order to get a super-fine and fluffy crumb with alveoli as tiny as the ones in sponge cakes I need to develop as much gluten as possible. Gluten develops with water, so if you use glutem rich flours you also need a lot of water. In my case, with bread and durum flours I need at the very least 72% water, it's simply a necessity. When I use 30% rye my doughs *need* 80% water, not less.

With 60% hydratation doughs  I can only play ping-pong.

Yes, wet doughs are slack, but with some folding they develop the necessary elasticity to keep the shape without having to use a brotform.

MangoChutney's picture

I get a better rise from my 100% whole grain sourdough bread with 70% or greater hydration than I did with 65% or less hydration.  That is why I use the higher hydration.  I overcome some of the difficulty I experience handling wetter doughs by putting some of the hydration in as a water roux.  With the water roux added, instead of just more water, I am able to handle the dough as usual and thereby still get the close, even crumb that I also prefer.  *smile*

Wade37's picture

Belated thank you to all respondants - I have been away. You have motivated me to develope my skills on progressively wetter doughs, starting at 70% hydration, but with the intention of retaining a close, reasonably uniform crumb. MangoChutney's suggestion of a water roux was particularily interesting.