Let's talk about Hydration Percentages...

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indaswamp

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So I'm circling back to bread making after about a 25-30 year hiatus. I know a whole lot more about cooking in general than I did way back then. I use to just follow the recipes I got from my Aunt (Pastry Chef in New Orleans), and they were always perfect. Now I'm more interested in the hows and whys of bread recipes. So what can you tell me about bread hydration in a recipe and how it affects the loaf baking?
 
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I don't have an answer to that , but here is something I was messing with for awhile .
Works good .
 
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After a lot of experimentation, I have landed on 73% hydration as the happy medium. Good crumb and easy to work with.
 
So what can you tell me about bread hydration in a recipe and how it affects the loaf baking?
Keith, here's a summary of what I've learned after baking bread weekly over the last 2+ years. I'm going to assume you're going to bake yeasted breads.

1. Weigh wet and dry ingredients in grams. Don't go by volume measurements if you want consistency.
2. A dry ingredient is anything that will absorb water. Flours, seeds, and grains all count at dry ingredients. Know their total weight.
3. A wet "hydrating" ingredient is anything that is naturally in a liquid state. Water, milk, and honey count as liquids. I also count raw eggs as liquid, and consider a large egg to weigh 50 grams. Know their total weight. A tiny amount of lemon juice (5‐10 grams) helps with gluten formation for weaker flours like AP and inhibits mold formation.
4. Divide the weight of the wet ingredients by the weight of the dry ingredients to get your hydration percentage.
5. The individual weights of salt, sugar, and dry yeast are each divided separately by the weight of the dry ingredients to get your percentages. I often volume measure salt, sugar, and dry yeast because the percentages are miniscule.
6. Know your flour protein percentages. I use King Arthur (KA) flours because the gluten-forming protein percentage is shown right on the bag of flour.
7. Increase your hydration percentage as the protein level increases. I use 60-65% hydration for a 100% KA AP flour recipe. 65-75% for a 100% KA bread flour. 75-85% for a 100% KA whole wheat flour. I use those same percentages whether making bread or pizza dough.
8. You can easily mix flours and adjust the hydration level. If I mix 1/3 of each type of flour, I'm usually in the 75% hydration range.
9. AP flour adds softness. Bread and whole wheat add structure. Whole wheat adds flavor depth. I do not care for 100% whole wheat.
10. I've moved on from same day baked loaves/pizza dough to overnight, room temp, bulk fermentation because I REALLY dislike kneading bread dough. The overnight dough is hydrated, builds gluten structure, adds flavor and requires less dry yeast. All it requires the next day are three stretch and folds 30 minutes apart. I also add a little yeast during the stretch and folds. It's cheating but speeds things up. It is a time saver, but that's another topic. 1/4 tsp instant yeast for the overnight fermentation, and 1/4 tsp instant yeast during each stretch and fold. Shape and final rise.
11. Fats prevent or interfere with gluten formation. I rarely use fats in the bread we consume daily. Fats create a tighter (small holes), softer crumb.
12. I keep my breads in the fridge to extend their shelf life.

Happy baking!

Ray
 
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Keith, I had another thought if you make any breads with dried fruits. I don't bother to chop raisins and dried cranberries. Larger driedcfruits I cut to raisin size. Then I typically place the fruits in a bowl and just cover with boiling water for 30 minutes. I drain the fruits through a sieve but keep the water to use as part of my hydrating liquid once the water and fruit has cooled to room temp.

Nuts and soaked fruits do not count as dry or wet ingredients but require more structure (bread and/or whole wheat flours) and yeast for the additional weight. I typically add 50% more yeast.
 
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In short, it is very dependent on flour. I mill all my own wheat, and it soaks up *way* more water for equivalent dough 'feel' than King Arthur. I shoot for around 80%, but that can go up or down depending on how a batch feels and handles.

You can go even higher if you're willing to be patient and do stretch (or slap) and folds every 15 mins or so. It starts out as a sticky mess, but after a couple of hours it is a soft, smooth pillow of dough.

I talk a lot about sourdough on my not-recently updated baking blog (http://www.thefreshloaf.com/blog/loydb).
 
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In short, it is very dependent on flour. I mill all my own wheat, and it soaks up *way* more water for equivalent dough 'feel' than King Arthur.
Absolutely! I mill my own on occasion, both hard red and soft white. I've tried a lot of commercial name brands and store brands. One of the things I like about King Arthur is that a cup of AP, bread, and whole wheat each weigh 120 grams. It keeps things simple when others vary by as much as 35 grams between types.
 
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