The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Flour, humidity and dough consistency again...

DockPotato's picture
DockPotato

Flour, humidity and dough consistency again...

I've just now visited various discussions and remarks here regarding the effects of humidity when preparing  dough in the bowl. 

The following was a revelation to me.

This summer my wife and I became hooked on shortcake with fruit: strawberries, raspberries and peaches from our local farmers' market are outstanding and we have chowed down most night since the season began in the Cambridge area of Ontario.

I settled on a shortbread recipe calling for 2-1/4 cups of flour, 1/4 cup butter, salt, baking powder, sugar, vanilla, and 1 cup of liquid consisting of 3/4C milk and1/4C water. Fairly standard, no?

After a couple of tries and adjustments I was happy with my dough's consistency. Note that I add the liquid to the dry to achieve consistency. I was having general success with 3/4C added to the dry leaving me a malleable, lumpy dough with a good puff and surface out of the oven. 

The week before last saw temperatures here into the 30s(C°) with humidity never less than 95% even at nights for several days and with heat warnings into the weekend. We had guests, and of course I started a batch of shortcakes.

The usual amount of liquid yielded a sticky, fluid mess. I added at least another 1/2C of flour, but still the mass wouldn't come together! My wife spooned dollops onto the baking pan, it was baked, and it was very good in spite of all!.  But, the dough had been gloop!

We've since had 3 days' respite with low temperatures in the high teens and low 20s – I'm wearing long pants and a heavy shirt as I post.

I have just now finished a batch of shortbread for tonight using the original batch and volume of flour and my normal 3/4C of liquid. Perfect.

So, I went from roughly 3 C of flour on the past weekend with 3/4C of liquid to today when I used the same 3/4C of liquid to 2-1/4C of flour.

I'm now convinced that heat and humidity are larger factor than I thought.

As a side note, we bake with Robin Hood All Purpose Flour and our municipal water is ver hard.

WatertownNewbie's picture
WatertownNewbie

I too was amazed the first time I encountered humidity.  My bread baking had begun in November of 2016, and throughout the winter things had gone fairly predictably.  Then, one day in the spring, we had an elevated level of humidity.  I mixed the same amounts (including water and flour) that I had several times before and was surprised to find how much trouble it was to get the dough to come together.

Here is what I learned.  When the air is humid, your flour is likely to absorb more water while sitting in the bowl even before you add any water at all.  The key is not to add more flour (that will mess up your ratios of other ingredients).  Instead, hold back some water.  This is most conveniently done if you are doing an autolyse by mixing some water during the initial phase. Then, after the autolyse when the salt and any levain (or poolish or other preferment) are added and the initial mixing occurs, add water in small doses and pay close attention to what the dough feels like.  Stop adding water when the dough reaches the consistency that you know to be right (or what you prefer).

It sounds like you know how you want the dough to be in order for the dough to behave in a certain way.  Hold back some water on humid days.  You can always add more, but you cannot subtract water from dough (and adding more flour is not the best idea, although it can be a last resort).

Happy baking.

DockPotato's picture
DockPotato

IMy baking skills are basic which is why I visit here.

Please expand on the term  "autolyse". 

WatertownNewbie's picture
WatertownNewbie

This step occurs between (a) mixing flour and water (but not salt and yeast and any preferment) and (b) the full initial mixing when the salt and yeast are included in the dough.  The first thing is to combine the flour and water just enough so that all of the flour has been moistened.  Then the mixture is left to sit for anywhere from twenty to sixty minutes typically.  During that time gluten begins to form, and the phase is referred to as "autolyse" from the French fellow who developed the technique.  When the salt and yeast are thereafter added to the mixture, a complete kneading is done to develop the gluten further.

If you do a search of "autolyse" on TFL, you will likely come up with too many hits, so my suggestion would be for you to Google the term.  Let me know if this clears up the mystery of the word or if you have additional questions.

DockPotato's picture
DockPotato

Thanks for the explanation, W.

It made clear why I follow instructions to "let rest in the fridge"  in other of  my recipes.

Cheers.