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What are the advantages of a high hydration bread?

Gpats's picture

What are the advantages of a high hydration bread?

Hi Guys

I've been cooking regular bakers yeast bread for quite a while now but have recently made the jump into sourdough.

I've been trying with a few different recipes and am fairly happy with the success I'm having but I was just wondering what the advantages are in a high hydration bread? I have tried a couple fairly high hydration recipes and the dough is just so hard to work with. I realise that this is something ill get better at with practice but the last couple of loafs I have done have been much lower only been about 60% hydration and I've been really happy with the results and the dough is far easier to work with.

I was just wondering exactly how the end products changes based on how high the hydration is?

Thanks in advance for your help, the fresh loaf community is by far the friendliest and helpful I've come across.


PS apologies if this is a bit of a silly question, the whole sourdough process seems far more complicated (and rewarding) than most of the breads I've done before.

pintolaranja's picture

Some people claim higher hydration leads to more open crumb. While it may be used for that purpose, it is not the only way to do it, I've seen some pretty open crumb out there from lower hydration breads. Of course there are extremes, like ciabatta.

For me higher hydration looks more like a means of getting faster fermentation in the first place. But then again, I'm not an expert :)

In terms of flavour, the longer bread ferments, the more flavour it gets. So... you want faster to a certain point. And you want long fermentations up to a certain point as well, you don't want your bread to become too sour nor overproofed.

As for the open crumb, depends on your preference. And you may actually have an open crumb and still be able to damage it by using too much force and applying too much tension while shaping the bread or even earlier on while folding. Handling the dough is also key.

Loads of people don't like better running through the bread to their elbows, though big holes look pretty.

Just go with your own preference!

phaz's picture

Higher hydration will make for a more moist crumb, which I like. It will also make for a more extensible (stretchable) dough, which has advantages for some things. A more open crumb can be one of those things but it is not a requirement. In time you'll get to know how much moisture is necessary for your particular needs. I never go buy a specific hydration number, it's just stiffer for this, looser for that, somewhere between for the other thing. Enjoy!

BakersRoom's picture

Open crumb and a crispier crust.  That's it.  The open crumb allows the air to flow through the loaf and cook the crust more, and the extensibility + enhanced fermentation causes a webby crumb that is gravity defying, light and pleasant. 

This is a picture of a bread that has 80% hydration, and I've fermented it to have a custardy artisan crumb:

You could push the fermentation and get an even lacier crumb, but I prefer the look and texture of the artisan loaf now.  You won't get the same level of openness from a stiffer loaf.  However, the potential for more flavor, at least sour flavor exists in denser loaves. 

David R's picture
David R

There's definitely some element of "fashion" in this - people do what they see others doing, and they write their recipes to conform to the trends. Just like the height of hemlines or the width of ties, once the practical limit is exceeded then the fashion turns in the other direction.

Maybe the current high-hydration bread is getting into miniskirt territory - if it goes much higher then things might get uncomfortable. ?

The important facts: Too-high OR too-low hydration both make bad bread. But in both cases, skill and knowledge can enable you to push the boundaries and make good bread at many hydration levels. Super-high or super-low are both "party tricks" that most people don't need.

BakersRoom's picture

There is an aspect of this trend that defies practicality.  The above pictured loaf has recieved several complaints that it doesn't hold butter for toast or condiments for sandwiches.  Valid critisisms.  But the fact is, high hydration bread just has a nicer, crispier crust because the openness of the crumb allows the hot air to attack it more.  

The only 'super' low hydration breads I'm familiar with are pita and bagels, which I make from the same dough.  Do you know of any impressive but unnessesary low hydration breads?  A genuine question.

phaz's picture

And there's the rub. What is a hole - nothing. What does it hold and what does it taste like (the 2 main reasons for having bread) - nothing. It may look nice, but that's about it. Imho - not worth striving for.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

of high hydration bread?   

It won't taste "dry" before it stales and it has the potential to weigh more and look larger when finished baking than its equal counterpart made with less water.  This has an economical advantage for the seller selling more water than grain.