The Fresh Loaf

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Hole size varies opposite to hydration's picture

Hole size varies opposite to hydration

I have found general agreement in the literature on baguette baking that increasing hydration causes increasing hole size. In my baking experiments, designed to produce larger holes, the opposite happens. That is, my latest recipe experiment increased hydration from 75 to 79%, all else being unchanged. Hole size went down from raisin size to half raisin size. Anyone care to explain why I am getting this completely opposite result? Did this twice, same reverse result. I am making straight dough (75%) with 1 hour autolyse, using KA bread flour, the freshest Fleishman's 7 gram packets I can get, hand mixing (no machines), 2 minutes of hand kneading in the bowl, 2 hour bulk ferment with 2 coil folds with 30 min rests, 1 letter fold preshaping, final shaping by using a dough knife and my other hand to gently stretch dough internally and the skin for strong gluten, 10 minute room temp proof (longer causes overproofing, and no oven spring), 2.3% salt, 2% yeast.


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

That such a change in hydration requires a slight change in method as both doughs are no longer the same.  A larger experiment is also needed as only two examples is a very small sampling.  

One change is that a higher hydration would speed up the yeast and bacteria's ability to reach food to replicate and also distribute their waste products.  Did you notice a taste difference?  

I would speculate that the higher hydration dough fermented faster and also the strength of the gas cells is more fluid, requiring an earlier folding and shaping for larger gas cells than the lower hydration dough.  

Try the experiment again and fold or shape the dough when the bubbles forming on the sides of the container look identical.  Try using two identical dough gauges to compare as folding will change the volume.'s picture

Thank you Mini. I appreciate your thoughts.

 You surprised me in that you consider 4% a substantial hydration change. Usually I vary experiments on hydration changes from 5% to 10%. At those levels I do see slightly different results. Nevertheless, I’ll take your advice and think smaller.

 I almost never taste differences between straight dough (all in 1 day) to those I retard overnight, all other things being equal. My taster might not be so hot.

 To counter differences due to experimental changes I always include 3 well known processing tests, regardless of other experimental values. 1. I stop mixing or kneading when my hands feel the dough has stiffened. 2. I use the float test to determine when the dough has enough low density gas bubbles to stop bulk fermentation. 3. I use the poke test to determine when proofing the dough shows it is near exhaustion food wise and I should move to the next step. These tests allow me to keep processing variables constant so that only experimental variable values change and are observable.

 I tried again as you suggested and included 2 procedural changes in the higher hydration bowl that reversed again the odd reverse behavior described initially. Things are back to normal. Also, I threw out (only) 3 week old instant yeast, kept in the freezer (warmed before use). It proofed only marginal... maybe that was it.

In the bulk fermentation step I did not do 2 coil folds. I believe they do little to strengthen gluten. Instead, I did two 1 minute in-bowl full hand kneads. I could feel the gluten grow stronger both times. Secondly, in the shaping step I did nothing except pull outward the dough’s ends an inch or two at a time. It was fat log shaped. No folding, no rolling, nothing, just gently pulling outward the ends of the log with 3 minute rests between pulls. This avoids tearing the gluten. After tons of experiments I find this technique to be better than anything else in preserving holes while dough shaping.

 After baking I saw holes slightly larger than raisins but still not the size of large  olives, my current objective. Walnut size would be heaven.

  The higher hydration baguette, (74%) had more and slightly bigger holes than the 70% hydration baguette. Hallelujah! I have been unable to bake baguettes with holes bigger than raisins. Any advice on that?

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

What is the room humidity?  If substatially lower than the dough hydration, between gentle pulls and during the final proof, cover with a damp but very wrung out cloth allowing for more rise to fill those raisin size gas cells. If the cloth sticks to the dough, try a dry cloth between.  Those are my thoughts right now.'s picture

Thanks Mini for the tip. Next bake, ~ 5 hours from now I'll give it a try. A few months ago I did try misting the baguettes with water immediately before they went in the proofing box. Non misted were drying out some and forming a slightly harder surface. However, I did not notice much difference after baking. Perhaps the damp towel will last longer for moisture. I live in the Florida panhandle and Florida is a pretty damp place.


kendalm's picture

While it might be true that hydration levels can improve crumb I dont think it will make a dramatic difference in size of your alveoli.  More importantly (I think) are the following

- good gluten development

- good oven spring combined with ideal humidity in the oven.

- low yeast activity.  This seems to stand out based on your description as one area to look at.  2% yeast is very high for a baguette.  I will use about a 10th that amount as in 0.25-0.3% (I am talking instant yeast).  For 600g flour as a starting point (which will yield 3 baguettes standard 350g a piece of hydrated dough) thats less than a 1/2 teaspoon.

At this yeast level you can pop out a good stick with 1.5 hours of fermentation on the counter at RT.  with a 6 hour cold ferment you will get an even better result.  

As with just about all baking endeavors though, all steps are imoortant but trying to isolate one issue here, it seems lowering the yeast is a good starting point.  good luck and keep us posted !'s picture


Thanks for the advice about the yeast weight. I use an Excel spreadsheet to allow instant and accurate ingredient weights. I typically make two small bags, 275 g each. This morning I changed the bakers formula % yeast (spreadsheet) to 0.3% and reduced the salt to 2%, made the hydr 72%, what Mini Oven would agree to, 2% less than before. 72% hydr dough is easy to mix and knead than 74%. I'm bulk fermenting as I write. I'm worried that 1  1/2 hours will not be enough (to pass a float test) so if it sinks I'll let it go to 2 hours and proceed regardless. Here's hoping and thanks again guys. Will let you know today's bake outcome tomorrow (23  12  20).


kendalm's picture

Thats more a sourdough thing.  Are you using a levain as well ? Maybe I missed something - at any rate if you are indeed sticking to just commercial yeast then you skip float testing.  If you kitchen is cold say 70F or below then 2 hour ferment wouldnt be a bad thing.  If you are working at warmer temps say 75+ then ypur dough should likely be closer to 78/80 after working it and at which case 1.5 hours is usually a good fermentation period.  We be looking forward to your results ...'s picture

Yesterday's experiment with 0.3% yeast was a complete failure. The baked 72% hydrated loaves measured just under one half of one inch height and there was zero oven spring. I had a few raisin sized holes. I bulk fermented 1  1/2 hours and saw zero raise and zero bubbles. I let it ferment another half hour which produced zero change. Proceeded any way. I proofed the yeast which produced 7 times as much foam as the height of sugar water so it was plenty alive. Kitchen temp was between 75 and 80 degrees F. at 80% relative humidity. I'm stumped. Whatever I do to improve things just makes them worse. Think perhaps I should start again with another recipe. I'm just finishing my 6th (or is it 7th) 50 pound sack of King Arthur bread flour and next month will begin my 4th year of trying (without a single success) to bake a baguette with olive size holes.



kendalm's picture

So we can share emails.  somethings else is going on.  Tuis way we can figure out whats up :)'s picture


Sorry for the delay. I sent an email response to the wrong person. I am not on FB. My wife is. If you want to do pm on FB I'll have to give comms to my wife who sits 4 feet away from me during the day and early evening. She tells me to tell you her name so that you can friend her and vice versa. Her name is Jo Ann Smalley Herrman. 


kendalm's picture

This is the only place on the internet I will drop comments - sorry I just dont do it (social media) but more than happy to connect some other way.  Ill leave you a personal message here with email.  We can even connect by phone after that - dont stress we will get you loaves into the stratosphere :)'s picture

Not sure how to communicate. I thought you wanted a FB pm but I guess not.  That's OK with me, this forum is fine with me or anything else you suggest. I value input from you.  I would like to send you a complete recipe I pretty much copied from Peter Reinhart's book, The Bread Bakers Apprentice, page 200. Of my failures to bake a bag that looks like the photo of ones he baked, on page 198, I had the best near-success with his recipe modified to be a straight dough (do everything all in 1 day, not retarding overnight). My spreadsheet shows procedures for  both recipes. My overnight retard is severely overproofed and no proof because the poke test always show the dough it already fully raised, whereas the straight recipe was the better of the two ways. Since adding the autolyse, the taste of bags from either recipe is excellent and equal.

Do you have Microsoft Excel on your computer?  If not, I'll have to find another way to get the recipe to you. Be sure to let me know on that.  Please take a look at it. I'm hoping that it contains a fatal error that I have been suffering since day 1 and cannot see buy you can. Please note that recently I added a 1 hour autolyse which reduces the need for heavy mixing and kneading. Nevertheless, my baked pancakes of the other day clearly indicate that my dough is way overproofed, yet I don't know how to do away with mixing and kneading as the recipe directs. But, even before adding the autolyse my bags have always been overproofed. I spoke with author Peter Reinhart who advised me to add an hour to the bulk ferment, which I did and which resulted in no different outcome. 

All of this might be asking too much of you.  If you think I should just use a recipe you recommend I'll be happy to put it into spreadsheet format and we can go from there. Whatever you think... 

I won't be able to bake until next Monday, Dec 28.

Merry Christmas!




Ciarli's picture

Dough with a hydration above 70% it needs time that yeast water and flour to be one, or to form gluten as it is called! without letting the dough for at least 4 hours to 24 hours, as I noticed, you cant pretend big holes!