The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

Flour and water, together

agres's picture

Flour and water, together

By the time I was in high school, I baked regularly - including huge challah for large Friday night gatherings at my girlfriend's house. Mixing the the dough for those huge loaves was a significant effort. Oh, I wanted a stand mixer!

My mother was a good baker.  She was cooking noon "dinner" every day for a large farm crew from the time she was a little kid (6 years old). She DID teach me the easy method to mix flour and water together without a stand mixer. (Gradually stir the water into the flour.)  However, I went off track in high school, studying recipes for breads and pastry, that my mother had never made. Many of those recipes came out of commercial kitchens or were developed by professional chefs,  and assumed a stand mixer. They added the water all at once. When you do that, an electric mixer is much easier. Chef Louis Diat and others taught me much, but they also encouraged me to abandon some smart practices.

Later,  when I worked in the kitchens, I often had to make 50  or 80 or a hundred loaves every day. We used a mixer, because at that scale, a mixer is easier. Using a mixer for bread dough became a habit, that was very hard to break. I also developed the habit of making pasta in a stand mixer and pasta roller. We always used a stand mixer, and I forgot what my mother taught me. 

Now, I have time to really think about what I am doing, and I bake bread almost every day.   I can consider the best way to make dough for the daily bread of a house.

Now, I remember what my mother taught me. I find that it really is faster and easer to mix flour and water AND DEVELOP THE GLUTEN by by gradually stirring water into the flour. I stir with one hand and pour water in with the other hand. I started doing this again  because I was working with fresh stone ground flour, for which I did not know the moisture content, so I did not know how much water to add.  So the easy thing to do was to add water until the dough had the correct consistency. I measure flour, salt, malt, oil and such, then I  gradually stir in water until I have the correct dough consistency. Such stirring is low physical effort, and it develops gluten quickly, very quickly,  The method is quicker and easier than using a stand mixer (at least for batches of dough of less than 5 kilo.)

Now, I look at commercial bakers in YouTube videos vigorously kneading their bread dough, and I think, "Hey Dude, if you just had stirred the water gradually into the flour, instead of dumping it all at once, you could have saved yourself a lot kneading." (In the videos, they are working with batches of dough no larger than what I make.)  I know the "stir the water in gradually method" works for batches of dough of less than 5 kilo of dough at a time, and 3 kilo/ hour is about what my ovens can bake. So, with 45 minutes of dough preparation the night before, I can keep my oven full all morning, and provide bread for a BIG party. I know that with this method, I can mix bread dough much faster than my ovens can bake it.  An hour of work in the morning, will produce fresh bread all afternoon.  I can mix the dough for a 600 gram loaf while our morning oatmeal cooks, and it comes out of the oven 11:30, in time for lunch at noon.  Why would I make dough any other way?

I do this for: bread, pizza, and pasta.

I have a pasta roller in the garage, but if you stir the water gradually into the flour, you can stretch the pasta dough rather like a pizza (using a rolling pin on the bench rather than tossing) to make a very thin, delicate fettuccini, or whatever.  If you want to easily make wonderful ravioli or tortellini, the path is through pasta that has been stretched, rather than rolled though a pasta machine. And, stretched pasta is the path to lasagna of wonderful delicacy.   

However, if you are making pasta, and you  just dump all the water into the flour, all at once; Oh, yes! you will want some kind of machine to mix/knead/roll your pasta, and you will have pasta with the one virtue; it is like the stuff you can buy at a good supermarket. 







justkeepswimming's picture

I enjoy reading your posts. I always come away with something helpful. Thank you.