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james 04-07-2007 04:24 AM

Dough Hydration question
Hi Jim,
Here's another hydration question. I am making those nice light high hydration, fast cooking baguettes that you describe in your recipe. It calls for 70% hydration.

I tried it even wetter than that, and basically ended up with batter -- not dough, and I couldn't do anything with mixing it in the bowl to develop enough gluten to get it to form a ball. I ended up mixing in more flour to hand knead it on the counter.

My question is whether there is a rule of thumb for how much you can hydrate a dough and have it still be a dough?

Also, is there a negative to making a baguette with more a batter? My memory is that the Reinhart Pain al Ancienne recipes called for 80% hydration, which I did in a stand mixer, and it basically made batter, which you could gently cut into a baguette shape with a dough cutter and lots of flour.

Thanks again for the advice.

CanuckJim 04-07-2007 05:34 AM

Re: Dough Hydration question

Eighty percent is about as far as you can go if you want to make something you can form into anything other than pancakes. Reinhart picked up on the recipe from a Parisian baker who actually has a sort of patent on it from the French government. You have to be quick and sure when you cut it and not worry about forming. It will deflate very easily. I usually dock it with kitchen shears at a very shallow angle rather than a lame, because lame cuts close right up.

Sticking :D around 70 percent makes the whole process much easier from a mixing and forming perspective. Although I really like the end result of the Ancienne method, working with it ain't easy and some of my customers are a bit puzzled by the rustic shapes. It's virtually impossible to make sure each loaf weighs exactly the same, because you can't cut off a bit from one to add it to the runt of the litter.

Have I answered the question?


james 04-07-2007 06:41 AM

Re: Dough Hydration question
Perfect. When I really want to make something special and have a little time to mess around (and am willing to take a higher risk reward ratio) I will do the Pain al Ancienne recipe -- 80% hydration, ice cubes and all. The best bread I ever made was a batch of baguettes from that recipe.

Otherwise, I will shoot for the more repeatable 70%.

That's just was I was looking for. Thanks.

One other thing. Some flour is better than other flour at absorbing water. What's that all about? (I feel like I'm in school, or even better, getting free bread baking lessons!)


CanuckJim 04-09-2007 08:33 AM

Re: Dough Hydration question

We're into the technical aspects of flour here too. As a general rule, I've found that flours containing more bran and chunkier endosperm require more water, because they're absorbtive. As well, some flours, Fancy Durham and really, really organic for two, want more water to make them workable. For me, it's a sight and feel judgment call when the dough is in the mixer. I try to shoot for a certain consistency and feel for all doughs (except bagels and highly enriched forumulas), and the amount of water I add is dictated by it.

The Ancienne method really caused an uproar when it was introduced. To my taste, it makes the best baguette, bar none, I've ever baked. It's worth the hassle, but my customers are just now getting their heads around it. It's so simple to make the dough but so difficult to handle it properly. I've even pushed it a bit beyond 80 per cent, but that really depends on the flour I've got on hand. It must be really strong and fresh to pull that one off. I try to mix it only until it's smooth and a bit shiny, so as not to heat it up. The colder and wetter it is, the better the bread will be. The dough should clear the sides of the mixer bowl, but definitely be spread out and sticking to the bottom of the bowl. This flies in the face of a lot of mixing advice out there, but so;) .

As an aside, your refrigerator should be at about 40 F when you retard the dough overnight (same temp that Reinhart specifies for the water you add to the flour). I was :mad: using a fridge thermometer made by Thermidor, only to find that it was off by ten degrees. This had a detrimental effect on a lot of stuff I was making. Instead, I'm now using an industrial thermometer that belonged to my father (he was a shipwright and built boilers and such), and it's very, very accurate. My results improved, umm, overnight, as it were.

One more technical thing: your dough cutter should be wet when you cut this dough, otherwise it will stick to the cutter and deflate. Don't use the cutter like a saw, rather pinch the dough off with straight down pressure, one cut at a time until you reach the end of each loaf. Normally, I do this in a good bed of flour, then gently push each loaf aside, leaving enough space between them so they don't flow together while you're cutting the others. Then I roll them very gently in flour, so the cut sides are coated. Make sure the bottom of the loaves remains the bottom, and the top the top. They will stretch like mad when you go to load them onto a heavily floured peel. Some is okay, but I manage the amount by sliding a long, floured cake icing spatula under one end, then lifting them onto the peel. Get the peel as close to the cut loaves as you can. Speed is essential. You can pat them about a bit, very gently, when on the peel to get a semblance of a baguette shape, but take it easy and let the dough tell you what you can and can't do.

Whew, this is more difficult to describe than show. Maybe I should do a video clip on the method? It's worth knowing, because with practice, results are predictable and the quality is superb. Ancienne is absolutely perfect for wood-fired ovens. At 550 F on the hearth, my 600 gram loaves take 12 minutes for an internal temp of 205. Use good steam and vent halfway through.


ironchefshort 05-30-2007 10:45 AM

Re: Dough Hydration question
I'd like to add that there is another method to hydrating your dough. Double hydration/adding the water in two doses to the flour dough. I've done Ciabatta this way at about 87-89% hydration. Basically you add about 2/3-3/4 of your water to the flour, mix it up good, let it set for 20-30 minutes and then add the rest of the water. It works wonders for any hy hydration dough. I do a "desem" WW bread as well at 110-115% hydration this way....mmmm.


fredjana 11-27-2007 10:47 AM

Re: Dough Hydration question
A question on steam -- how much is enough?? I have a Casa 90 and I start my bread at about 500 - 550 degrees hearth. I have used a garden hose on mist setting and blast it for a couple of seconds. I'm not sure I'm giving it enough - is there a downside to too much steam?

james 11-27-2007 11:37 AM

Re: Dough Hydration question

Quick aside. Your oven looks great. Complimenti.

Some of our bread experts can tackle the "too much" steam question, but from an oven perspective, you shouldn't over do it and actually get water on the floor or dome. You want to make sure that the spray immediately turns to steam and that you don't add so much water that you are actually making the wall or dome wet. That won't be good for the oven.

How is your bread coming out? I know that the moisture allows your bread to expand, and that you need dry heat toward the end for your crust.

Can our bread guys give a more articulate explanation?


Dutchoven 11-27-2007 04:21 PM

Re: Dough Hydration question
As James said you do not want to actually get water on the floor or walls themselves due to the risk of cracking, although if you are baking in the 550 range the mist likely steams instantly. I would recommend using a handheld sprayer that you can buy at your local home improvement center or hardware store. With that you will likely not get into any issues with wetting the brick and the mist tends to be finer. The steam is necessary to allow the bread more time to "spring" before the crust sets. Usually you can steam the oven a few minutes prior to loading and then stem the oven for a few seconds once loaded and again after about one minute. Spray up and toward the back of the oven until you see the steam exiting the door and then quickly close the door. The bread loaves will also contribute to the moist atmosphere in the oven chamber so loaves with higher hydration levels will spring better also. About half way through the baking you should vent your oven to allow for nice crust development.
You will learn how it works as you go, each oven is a little different.

fredjana 11-27-2007 07:04 PM

Re: Dough Hydration question
Thanks for the feedback. My sense is that I have been overdoing the steam and underdoing the vent. I tried to attach a photo of ciabatta I made but I guess I haven't figured out how to attach photos yet.

fredjana 11-27-2007 09:03 PM

Re: Dough Hydration question
1 Attachment(s)
Okay, I figured out how to attach photos. Let me know what the experts have to say about this ciabatta attempt. Also, I could not get the ciabatta dough off the proofing tray (not enough flour?), so I gently flipped it onto the peel before putting it into the oven. I would imagine that flipping is not the best method - any recommendations for transferring to the peel?

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