What is the ideal hydration for bread dough?

BaffledCook
  • What is the ideal hydration for bread dough? BaffledCook

    I made a bread that called for 1kg of flour and 700ml of water. That is a 70% hydration.

    The problem was that the dough became absolutely soaked, so in the end I added more than 500g more flour. Which meant that my salt ratio was off...

    The resulting bread was not too bad, but it wasn't great neither.

    What is the 'proper' flour to water ratio? I've made bread with 55% water and that was OK. I know this depends on the flour, but some kind of rule of thumb must exist.

    Edit I've made the same bread again. This time with 60% hydration as I'm using all purpose flour (11% proteins) and I don't have a mechanic mixer. It turned out alright, but a little bit low. I guess bread flour is really needed here.

  • There is no "proper" ratio. 55% is indeed a very common ratio, but by no means the only possible. Here is a somewhat extreme example: 100% hydration. On the other hand, you can also go very low, if you add oil and use a low-gluten flour. I've made 35% more or less successfully.

    The hydration is very dependent on your flour. A low-gluten flour will fall apart at high hydration. You must use bread flour or durum flour for high hydrations, else you'll get a slurry instead of a dough. Gluten development is, however, hard to achieve with runny dough. This is why some argue for double hydration: take a look at this breadcetera post. (Disclaimer: I haven't tried that one myself).

    If you want to stick to easy-to-make bread, 60% is the target for classic French bread and very easy to work it. The farther away your hydration gets from 60%, the harder to work with the dough. If you are new to bread, aim for recipes closer to 60% until you get comfortable with your skills.

    The above post assumes yeast wheat bread. Other grains and sourdough have different handling properties.

  • There is no proper ratio, it really depends if you want a light bread or one that is more full. You can reach even >100% hydration, but there mixing by hand may be a bit tricky.

    70% hydration is a medium-high ratio: you should mix until you start having a stringy textrure in the dough, due to the formation of a gluten network. The important thing is not to mix too long, as you risk to break the network and lose liquids. Also, don't be scared if the dough is sticky at the beginning and refrain from adding flour. It is good to mix for 2-3 minutes then let the dough rest for a minute or two, then restart mixing: this helps develop the gluten network.

    The more you hydrate the dough the more careful you'll have to be when working with it, as it will be more sticky and difficult to handle. Look at the first two videos in this page to have an idea of the consistency (sorry it's in Italian, but you should be able to understand what's going on easily). The dough in that case was made with 400g flour and 350g water, so 87.5% hydration.

    Of course for all of this, a planetary mixer helps immensely.

  • Your ratio is correct, though only because 700ml weighs exactly 700gr. Incidentally the water ratio is known as the 'hydration'.

    Water ratios tend to range between 50% (a dense loaf) and 80% (ciabatta). A high water ratio is important in getting nice big wholes in the bread (an "open crumb"). The first response when you make a dough with these ratios tends to be "that can't be right" and to add lots of flour. However, bread dough is supposed to be wet and annoyingly sticky (even at 50%). It takes practice to handle dough in that state, but it can be done. Just make sure that you have a good dough scraper.

    Here's a video of someone showing one of the many ways to handle a wet dough: http://www.gourmet.com/magazine/video/2008/03/bertinet_sweetdough

  • Bread hydration varies widely. The "standard" bread using all-purpose (plain) flour has a ratio of water to flour weight (hydration) 60-65%. Flour with a higher protein level, labelled as bread, strong, or high-gluten, tend to use 65% hydration. Ciabatta and rustic breads generally use more water than normal. The extra water gives them more large, uneven holes in the interior of the bread (called the crumb), and generally leads to a higher-rising bread. These wetter doughs are often referred to as "slack" doughs in baker's parlance.

    Here are a couple sample hydrations from Hammelman's bread baking:

    • Baguettes with poolish, 66% hydration, all bread flour
    • Ciabatta, 73% hydration, all bread flour
    • Pain Rustique (rustic bread), 69% hydration, all bread flour
    • Country Bread, 68% hydration, all bread flour
    • Roasted Potato bread, 61% hydration, 85% bread flour / 15% whole wheat flour / 25% roasted potatoes
    • Whole wheat bread, 68% hydration, 50/50 whole wheat and bread flour
    • Semolina (Durum) bread, 62% hydration, 50/50 durum and bread flours

    Mind you, it is quite possible to make a bread with even higher water content, if one is a skilled baker. Wetter breads (70% hydration and up) generally cannot be hand-kneaded normally, and require a mechanical mixer, stretch-and-fold kneading with a spatula, or autolysis. Autolysis is when you mix water and flour before adding yeast, and then allow it to sit. This allows enzymes in the flour to develop gluten before the rising begins, and can supplement or replace normal kneading.

    Another approach, called double-hydration, is to add only part of the water before kneading. This allows you to knead the bread to develop gluten structure before it becomes too wet to knead.

    For extremely wet breads, these methods may all be combined. I'm looking right now at a double-hydration, mechanically mixed, autolyzed, poolish-using ciabatta recipe that sits at 76% hydration.

  • I am a mixer in a bread factory in Nigeria. I use 55% water for most flours, though some take upto 57% depending on their protein content. However we use mix & mill/knead machines with chilled water to get a smooth & tacky dough.

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