Dissolving Salt in Water
I corrected a mistake in water measurement recently and ended up with a result that I'd never have expected. I've been baking for 34 years with considerable attention to focaccia for the last eight years. My favorite, every week, recipe is much like Peter Reinhart's BBA. I mix the flour, water, and yeast, and autolyse for about an hour before adding salt and olive oil.
Recently, I scaled my recipe up for a newer, bigger pan and was lazy. I did the calculations in my head and shorted the 75% hydration by about 50g. I realized the mistake about half way through the autolyse. I figured I'd just the extra water at the salt addition: not ideal but not a terrible correction. As I measured the additional water I thought: why not dissolve the salt in the water before mixing?
This tiny change was a shock. The mixing dough was extremely sloppy at first (no surprise) but was absorbed all of a sudden like a sponge. The resulting dough was the smoothest, firmest, high-hyration dough I've ever handled. When I baked it the crumb had the most even, bigger than average holes that I've ever produced. The crust was not tough and the flavor was sweet and moist. A fluke?
For the next several weeks I alternated back and forth between my normal method and dissolving the salt in the water. This is not a fluke and is completely reproducible. I have dozens of bread cookbooks and don't recall dissolving salt in the water and adding after mixing. I'm sure I didn't invent this but the results are quite remarkable.
Does anyone have an insight to the chemistry of this (assuming that it is not my imagination!)?