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.