Part 2: Wetter bread dough… Less kneading

This post is the continuation of Wetter bread dough… Less Kneading!

If you take a moment to read McGee’s article Better Bread with Less Kneading, you will see he suggest to use a recipe that is under 75% hydration (weight of the water less the weight of the flour), but if you calculate the quantities of water and flour associated with the Golden Whole Wheat Loaf recipe from the New York times, which accompanied McGee’s article, you can see that they require 11 oz whole wheat flour + 7.75 oz bread flour + .75 oz wheat bran = 18.5 ounces of dry ingredients and 2 oz water for yeast mixture + 16 oz =18 ounces of wet ingredients.  Using McGee’s formula to calculate dough hydration divide total liquid with by total flour weight you will get a dough with 1.02% hydration.  I am not sure if this is a error, but why link his article, with a recipe that was way over the recommended hydration percentage?
Today, I attempted this recipe again, which was where I noticed the supposed discrepancy.  I decided to adjust the weight of the flour, so that dough hydration would be exactly .75%. I bolded and italicized my changes.

Adapted Whole Wheat Golden Loaf recipe:

1 teaspoon dry active yeast
14 oz (about 2 1/2 cups) whole wheat flour
9 oz (about 1 1/2 cups) bread flour
1 oz (about 1/2 cup) wheat bran
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Olive oil cooking spray
Cornmeal, for sprinkling

In a small bowl combine yeast with 2 oz warm water (105 to 115 degrees) and stir to dissolve. In a medium bowl combine whole wheat flour, bread flour, bran and salt.  Add yeast mixture and 2 cups cool water (75 to 78 degrees) to dry ingredients; mix by hand to make a granular mass.

Knead about 2 minutes; dough should be very loose and sticky. If necessary add 1 – 2 tablespoons cool water.

Oil a large mixing bowl and a sheet of plastic wrap; set aside.  Transfer dough to a very lightly floured work surface and knead until somewhat cohesive, 3 to 4 minutes, using as little flour as possible and a scraper to lift and turn dough.  Return dough to bowl and place oiled plastic wrap over surface.  Allow to rest for 20 minutes.

Return dough to work surface and knead again 6 to 7 minutes: dough should be soft and loose.

Return to oiled bowl and cover again with oiled plastic wrap. Allow to rise at room temperature for one hour.

Knead dough while still in bowl, gently deflation with your fingertips.  Fold in thirds like a letter, then bring ends in and turn over so seam is underneath.  Let rise again for one hour.

Repeat folding and turning process, and let rise again until doubled in volume, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.  When dough is fully risen, an indentation made by poking your finger deep into the dough will not spring back.
Sprinkle a large baking peel generously with cornmeal, or a lined sheet pan with parchment paper.  Divide dough into two equal pieces, shaming each into a tight boule (slightly flattened ball).  Place loaves on peel or pan, leaving about 4 inches between them to allow for rising.  
Cover with oiled plastic wrap and allow to rise again until nearly doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.  If loaves begin to grow together, put in oven before they touch.

Thirty minutes before baking, heat oven to 450 degrees.  Place a small cast-iron skillet on floor of a gas oven or lowest rack of an electric oven.  Place oven rack two rungs above pan. If using a baking stone, place it on the rack.  Fill a plastic spray bottle with water.

Score a tic-tac-toe pattern with a sharp knife or razor blade on top of each loaf.  Slide loaves into oven. Mist loaves 6 to 8 times, pour 1 cup hot water into skillet and quickly close oven door.  After 1 minute, mist again with water, and close oven door.

Bake 15 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees. Continue to bake until loaves are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped on bottom, another 13 – 18 minutes.  Place on a rack to cool.


2nd Attempt .75%


1st Attempt 1.02%

As you can see by the two photos above the second attempt is more visually appealing and had a more loaf like shape, where as the first was flatter.  The most important aspect… taste, well the first was quite moist, but I like a nice crust, so my adapted recipe will be the one that I stick with.  According to my family, there really couldn’t tell the difference as they were hacking off multiple slices…

If you are a bread maker, I am eager for your thoughts on dough hydration.  I had lots of great feedback on my first post about other impacting factors such as the difference in flours from the United States to Bulgaria and humidity.  Looking forward to your comments!

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Author: caseyangelova

Eating, Gardening & Living in Bulgaria www.caseyangelova.com

7 thoughts on “Part 2: Wetter bread dough… Less kneading”

  1. Another thing to consider is the atmoshpheric pressure which really impacts bread, cakes, and cookie baking. It drove me to distraction when I first moved to Colorado several years back wondering why my baked goods from tried and tested recipes were coming out so flat until I realized I had to adjust the amount of sugar, yeast, and flour used to compensate for the lower atmospheric pressure because of the higher altitude. You can checkout High Altitude Food Preparation from CSU at http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/FOODNUT/p41.pdf

    After many, many failed attempts, I finally adjusted the recipes to a point where it worked for me. The dough was over-proofed and would collapse during baking. I reduced the yeast by almost half to prevent that from happening. The other thing that could have been done was to reduce the sugar as sugar is food for the yeast or reduce salt which retards it.

    I agree with Mark, from your previous post about getting different results using flours from different places. I now live in Minnesota and the flours I am buying are probably from different suppliers than in Colorado. I normally buy organic flours from the health food stores both in Colorado and Minnesota.

    Now I am in the process of readjusting my recipes back to sea level baking. This morning will be my second attempt on making the Chelsea buns a little less dense. I will post it hopefully next week. Bread making can be quite a science!

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  2. Thanks Sharlene! If the Bulgaria post was more reliable, that could actually be an option!
    Thanks Cooking Rookie – did you have any issues with the dough hydration?
    Thanks RedKathy – I just ordered Harold McGee's on Food and Cooking, it is all about the science of food. I am super excited to read it!
    Wow Biren – I live in a valley, surrounded by mountains and hills, maybe that can play part.
    This recipe had no sugar, but salt, so maybe next time I will add a bit of honey to counter the salt. Do honey and sugar have the same effect on yeast? That would be another interesting experiment. I am using organic whole wheat flour from Greece and Bread flour from Italy. It is amazing all the variables that can go into baking bread! The Chelsea buns look great!

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  3. Yes, honey, maple syrup, or molasses (derivative of sugar) can be used. My rye bread recipe only uses molasses and maple oatmeal loaf uses a combination of maple syrup and sugar. However, these liquid sweeteners will affect the amount of water used.

    Thanks Casey! I had to reduce the flour by half cup and increase the yeast by quarter teaspoon. It came out perfect this time 🙂

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  4. Awesome Biren! I have some agave syrup too, so I am going to be experimenting soon! I want to adapt this multigrain loaf recipe that I have to make the dough wetter because as it stands right now it is .32% hydration and turns out really dense. I am excited to play with alternative sweeteners.

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