The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Rustic bread

kathym's picture

Rustic bread

Hi! I have been "hanging" around this site for quite a while. We have enjoyed many of the recipes I found here. Yesterday I baked the rustic bread, while I was extremely pleased with both the looks and taste of the bread I (being new to bread baking) do not understand why I needed more water than the recipe indicated. What effect does the increase in hydration have on the final product?

Floydm's picture

I'm reading two questions in your post: the first is "why did I need more water?" The second is "how does increasing the hydration impact the final product?" Let me answer them seperately.

There are any number of reasons you may have needed more water. If you used measuring cups to measure out the flour you may have packed your cups tighter than I did. Or your flour may have settled more in shipping than normal or not been quite as fresh. Or the climate where you live may be drier than average or the elevation higher. Any of these factors could require you to add more water to achieve the same level of hydration.

Using weights, as professional bakers do, is a more reliable way of getting a consistent ratio of flour-to-water, but even still one should expect variations caused by the weather and differences in the flour from bag-to-bag. I know that the when I bake with whole wheat flour I have to increase the water by as much as 25% to achieve the same consistency. Making adjustments is just part of the process.

In reply to the second question, how adding more water impacts the final product: water is necessary for yeast to ferment and for proper gluten development. Moister doughs are harder to shape and score, but in my experience they tend to result in better gluten development and more active fermentation and, thus, lighter, tastier loaves.

(That said, there obviously is a point where you can overdue the water and find yourself baking a pancake. I know I have.)

More often than not, I think amateur bakers, including myself, under do the water. If you are trying to make a french bread or a ciabatta and your dough holds its shape like playdough, you really should add more water. It's ok if you need to cover your hands in flour to keep it from sticking or if you lose a little on the cutting board. It is worth it.