The Fresh Loaf

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Hydration for plain wholemeal

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ghazi's picture

Hydration for plain wholemeal

Been making some highly hydrated 100% wholewheat sandwich bread  (enriched) egg, oil, ,milk etc.. This seems to give me a lighter crumb and feel

I use local wholemeal so its not strong by any means, trying to push to its limit at the moment it registers 77% hydration and is OK for the most part with few rips when shaping. You know those dreaded holes you get when your dough gets a bit weaker for it.

Anyway seems to be alright with enrichements, when I make it basic with flour, yeast, salt and water at same hydration the dough just gives up on me. Does it mean when there are no enrichments I have to go down to say 68 - 70% hydration?

I did try mixing half/half with bobs hard red wheat and the results have been fantastic (80% hydration) with a smooth dough all round,cant tell you how happy this made me feel

Also, regarding yeast (starter) can I use very little  5- 10% flour weight in 100% wholemeal loaves or do I have to add more?


golgi70's picture

What is the type of wholemeal flour you are using?  This is a huge factor if your trying to make a loaf of bread with a soft variety of wheat you are going to struggle.  As for levaining this type of bread it depends on what your going for.  When I do my 100% Hard Red Winter Wheat loaves my levain is about 15% of the weight of the total flour. 

When considering this adjustment you must consider that the majority of an egg is H20. I'm sure this varies from egg to egg and the type of egg and what the animal was fed.  But an average chicken egg is made up of 80-85% h20 and should be considered such in a formula.  Whole Milk is also mostly water and depending on the source the fat content varies but standard milk from most commercial sources milk is 87% H20.

Let me know what type of flour you are using and maybe I can help some more




ghazi's picture

The local wholemeal flour  here is not a known brand, just distributed here. I live in Bahrain (middle east) so access to stronger flours a bit more difficult. Saying this I just found out they sell local (high) protein white and brown but 25kg sacks. So would be interesting to see how they help

Yes, this flour more suitable for baking cakes, biscuits etc.. Of course my starter is doing well on it regardless

I figure I have to go easier on the kneading and less water might give me a more stable result. I do find though with enrichments they sort of help to dough bind more ? So less chance of a breakdown . That's what im starting the think, might be wrong but higher level of water with oil, milk, egg does endure the whole process without much trouble.

When you bake with hard red wheat how long do you knead the dough after autolyse?  Don't  strong flours make bread heavy? What sort of hydration do you aim for when making brown loaves


golgi70's picture

Do you know what type of wheat it is?  Soft white, hard white, hard red?  

I'm imagining that your enriched loaves come out nicer since they are pan breads and your supporting the structure while also not looking for an open hearth style bread.  Similar to heavy rye breads in a sense.  We are coaxing what we can from the grain and using the assistance of the pan to help the structure.  But enriching ingredients hinder gluten development and create a softer and finer crumb.  

I'm not sure why adding the enriched ingredients makes for a better "dough" than without but I can see why it would make a better final product if the flour is soft you get the added lift from the eggs.  Maybe the emulsification of fats and such makes it feel as a better dough???

I knead/mix by hand and it takes about 10 minutes of pinching/folding to get a moderate development of gluten.  Then I follow with what I hope to be well timed folds to improve the gluten development during bulk.  Following that I either place total dough in fridge for cold bulk or divide and shape and proof loaves in the fridge.  You could also just finish it at that point at room temp but since I bake about 16 loaves at a time in my home oven that routine doesn't work for me. Also I find that with a home oven that is constantly venting baking a cold proofed loaf aids in steam as it condenses on itself when placed in the oven the most important point to have a moist environment.  

Strong flour doesn't  make heavy bread.  Heaviness in a loaf would be using a lot of whole grain at too low a hydration level or with poor gluten (ie 100% Rye breads or a 100% whole wheat loaf made with inadequate hydration)  Of course you can get a heavy loaf with poor handling or improper fermentation as well.  

A flour with moderate strength say 11.5%-12% quality protein will make a light and airy hearth breads.  This is the type of flour being used in most American Craft Bakeries.   

Softer flours of the hard wheat variety at say 10-11% (french flours/AP) make exceptional breads as well. This is great flour for baguettes, ciabatta, and even a fine alternative to the slightly stronger flours from above.  

 Soft wheats though tend to range a bit lower in protein say around 8-9% or so and it's usually of a lower quality when speaking of the gluten and hence better suited for cakes/pastries.  

Stronger flours often labeled "bread" or "hi gluten" flours with protein ranging from 12.5-14+% don't make heavy breads either but do add a bit more chew to the product than one might desire but if used in the proper application can also make a nice loaf of bread.  A good use for such would be to blend into a multi-grain loaf heavy on soaker and whole grain flour.  Hi Gluten Flour is what makes a bagel a bagel.  NY style pizza also relies on hi- gluten flour.  

You should see if you can find out what the flours in 25kg are and get some specs before purchasing.  



ghazi's picture

All your information is happily noted and interesting you say on AP baguettes, Ciabatta... The local wheat flour here seems to give me no trouble when making bread. Gets very stretchy . Its also I guess the lightness factor you can get from AP which is nice, not to mention having this flour around gets used up in every aspect of the kitchen.

I will check on the specs of these flours today, the WW flour here is definitely of a very soft variety, will have to check on where the grain is imported though does make very tasty bread if used with less water, just wanted to try and make more airy upping hydration which obviously it wont let me.

When you say pinching/folding what does this mean? I always stretch with heel of hand and 90 degree turn on itself and back again, is this too strong for a dough gone through autolyse?

Wow 16 loaves at a time, that's a challenge. Must be piece of cake for you, your selling  which is fantastic


golgi70's picture

Baking at home is as much a challenge as in a production kitchen.  It has its own hurdles.  But after a year of it I've gotten in the swing of things.  Lots of waiting for just a few loaves of bread.  

Pinching/Folding is a mixing technique.  I think a youtube video may do it better justice than my description but I'll give a shot at it.  So after autolyse you add your preferement and begin by making a claw like hand and pinching off chunks between your pointer finger and thumb.  You do this across the dough and repeat and every by and by give the dough a sorta stretch and fold from around the surface grabbing underneath.  Then continue with the pincer.  Essentially what a mixer doughs is stretch the dough and it gets cut at the breaker bar in the center of the machine.  this continues and as gluten develops it begins to not break and stretch more and more around the bar.  This is hand motion that mimics that.  The technique you describe is a classic kneading technique but I find it takes more energy.  

Baguettes are traditionally made with a flour in the range of an AP or even a bit softer.  Plenty of gluten but not so much that shaping the dough out so long will be difficult.  Also the less protein the less chew and more tenderness to the bite.

Have fun investigating your flours and I look forward to what you find out.  

Mebake's picture

Hi, Ghazi

I Live in Dubai, a neighboring country of Bahrain, and i can tell you what i've learned from working with local flours.  Most flours sold for retail in the GCC are milled grains imported mainly from three countries: 1- India, 2 - Pakistan, 3 - Australia (to cut down on shipping fees). The wheat  from India, and Pakistan are of a hard variety , but lacking the necessary protein quality that is suitable for french/ European hearth breads. The Imported Australian wheat is softer, and is more suitable for noodle making, or as an all purpose flour.

Therefore, the mainstream flours sold for retail in Bahrain will not be suitable for hearth type breads. 

Hearth breads are best made with flours that contain protein with good extensible qualities. Such strong flours can withstand long fermentation and handling without easily breaking down. The flours available to you, while optimal  for flat breads and have good elastic properties, cannot withstand long fermentation and will breakdown resulting in weaker dough ,and consequently, smaller bread.

Eastern and Western European winter wheat flours, in addition to the excellent North american flours are the best flours for hearth-type breads.  

Hope this helps.


ghazi's picture

Thank you Khalid for your advice.

I think I might have hit a milestone today, after some research found out that Bahrain does have high protein flour. They come in 25kg sacks

Got 1 of each brown + white today and to be very honest im super impressed by the elasticity and tolerance of these doughs. The person I spoke with says they import there wheat mainly from Germany and Australia . Protein around 13.6%

Best of all its so much cheaper than the organic 1kg bags from grocery. Im not going to get too excited until ive seen what they can acheove. But from first impressions I was really happy.

I have been using regular wholemeal for bread, it has a really good taste just lacks ability to absorb more water. Its a bit like Spelt in some respect that it doesn't tolerate lots of handling.

Thank you so much for your info, its always great to hear from someone I can relate to.