The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Hydration with AP flour

christhompson's picture
christhompson

Hydration with AP flour

Hi all,

This is my first post.  Firstly, thanks to all the posters out there for your interesting discussions and helpful advice, which I have picked up just by browsing! 

I've been baking for a few years, originally starting from Ken Forkish's book.  He uses mainly bread flour and typically uses hydrations above 70%.  A few months ago, I decided to try to use all-purpose in place of bread flour, and have taken my cue for adjusting hydration based on a few recipes here and there, which I took to be written for AP flour.  It was my impression that, even with AP, appropriate hydration is about 68%.

However, I eventually found that I can't hydrate greater than ~64% without sacrificing strength and shape.  This is surprisingly low to me, since the range I have seen in my reading is 68-80%.  Can anyone out there confirm or correct me?

My standard recipe uses a starter (100% hydration).  It is 30% whole wheat flour and I use King Arthur whole wheat and AP flours.  The full recipe is as follows:

300 g whole wheat flour

550 g white flour

490 g water

300 g starter (100% hydration)

20 g salt

My bread turned out great with excellent shape, crust and crumb.  Just wanted to know if I'm off on something.  Thanks for your input!

OldWoodenSpoon's picture
OldWoodenSpoon

If your "bread turned out great with excellent shape, crust and crumb" then you are not off on anything!  Those are the true and only important criteria to judge by.  Everything else is "interesting", but in view of the results, irrelevant.

With your results, you can fairly say "It doesn't get any better than that!"

OldWoodenSpoon

OldWoodenSpoon's picture
OldWoodenSpoon

you are correct that most bread formulas, with notable exceptions, run in the hydration range you mentioned.  Forkish is generally at the high end of that spectrum.   There are some breads with hydration percentages down as low as in the 50's (bagels as an example) and low 60's, depending on many factors.  

I would say that I am somewhat surprised at your comment that you begin to lose your perceived excellent results when you venture above that ~64% hydration level.  I would expect your formula above, with the significant portion of Whole Wheat flour, to be considerably more thirsty than that and even demand more than 64% hydration to not be dry and hard to work with.  In my mind at least, however, there is no question of the quality of your flours.  The King Arthur company is a quality provider.  Not all AP flours are equal, but I would not question the choices you have made with respect to your results.

Also, I imagine the community would appreciate seeing a couple of snaps of your bread crust and crumb if you have them.  Pictures are always welcome, and even encouraged.  They tell volumes where words fail.

Best Regards

OldWoodenSpoon

christhompson's picture
christhompson

Thank you for the encouragement, Spoon!

Just to say a little bit more about what I've observed:  even at 68% hydration, my dough feels very slack. It sags during the proof and spreads out during the bake, so loaves turn out pretty flat.  No matter how deep I score, I never get a nice ear -- instead the score opens up very wide and nearly blends right back in with the unscored crust.  I use a pre-heated baking steel for my baking.  I have tried various proofing times to no avail.

That is, until I lowered the hydration after which I have nice high bread with beautiful ears. I will plan to post a picture the next time I can. 

 

OldWoodenSpoon's picture
OldWoodenSpoon

Given all  of that, I am beginning to suspect that your dough may be under-developed.  Next time you bake, in addition to taking a couple snaps :), keep notes on your process.  How long does the autolyse really sit?  How much mixing? Kneading/S&F Reps?  Do you do Slap and Folds? How many?  How long is bulk fermentation?  What does the dough feel like at each stage?  How does it hold up between stages? 

Also, include a snap of the dough when you first put it down for bulk ferment.  Take another of it, in the container, before you pull it out for divide.  These together with a pic of the finished loaf, and one of the crumb, will clarify a great deal, and probably will answer the question of how well the strength of the dough is developed.

As I said, I have become suspicious of just how well developed the dough is, in spite of your results.  Those quality flours should take 68% hydration like a walk in the park, and I have pressed KA AP as high as 73-74%, without adding any WW flour.  Therefore, something is definitely going on in your bake.  I did not say something is wrong, by the way, but yes, something is going on. :)

This is one of the fun parts of baking.  When something is going on you have to bake some more bread to figure it out.

OldWoodenSpoon