Learning how to properly hydrate your flour is really important and it’s going to unlock so many doors for you. This will give you more versatility in your baking and it’s really going to help you with that open crumb. Here’s a pro tip: If you could add more water to your dough to add volume, guess what? you’re going to make more money selling bread!
Tip #1 For High Hydration Sourdough Know your flour and hydration
To work with high hydration sourdough you need to understand your flour. Your flour is going to dictate what hydration you use. Weaker flours and softer grains will absorb less water. Spelt for example, doesn’t absorb as much water as hard red spring wheat. Depending on what type of flour you’re using and how it’s milled, this is going to change your hydration. By understanding the flour, we can now take a look at our total formula and really understand hydration.
If you’re using a liquid or stiff starter, thats also going to change your dough’s total hydration. When we look at the final dough, we’re talking about the amount (percentage) of water as an ingredient but when we look at our total formula, you’re going to need to understand how to calculate hydration. If you need a little help with baker’s percentage you could check out my YouTube video or blog post.
Tip #2 For High Hydration Sourdough Manage your fermentation
If you’re working with a wet dough and it’s underfermented, it’s going to be very slack. I suggest getting yourself a thermapen to manage fermentation. If your dough is cold, put it somewhere warm and vice versa if your dough is warm, but it is somewhere cold, you can even stick it in the fridge for half an hour. If you’ve got a proofing box, use that as a warm place for your bread.
Living in Canada, my house is typically colder so I’ll do things like use warmer water so my dough will have a higher final dough temperature and this is done so I can manage fermentation. If I notice my dough is cold, I have a proof setting in my oven and I can put it in there as well.
Tip #3 For High Hydration Sourdough – Add Your Water in Stages
More whole grains are going to absorb more water so if you’re making a high whole-grain bread, you can probably put more water into it. In my high hydration video on YouTube, I use a 20% recipe, a typical high hydration country sourdough. A few things I work with is a wet dough scraper to help me mix. Then I have my flour measured out, my water and a measuring cup.
I’m going to begin by removing a little bit of the total water. I recommend printing all your recipes out before making your bread. Now looking at my recipe, I can quickly do the math and I’m going to need about 220g to make up 10% of the final dough’s hydration. I like to put extra water (which I removed earlier) and place it right on top of the mixer. Keep in mind you can always add more water to your dough but you cannot take it away. We want to develop the dough a little bit in the mixing process and add water as the gluten develops.
Moving on now to the mixer, we’re going to add the water first, then we’re going to add our flour. I’ve also got my backup water on top. We’re going to close the lid of our mixer and begin the mixing process. I like to keep a container of water beside me so that I can scrape down the bowl with a wet dough scraper as necessary. Next, we’re going to let our dough sit and autolyse.
We can check our gluten development and once we come back to check on our dough, it’s going to have absorbed some of that water, and then we can start to add our reserved water in the second stage of mixing. Remember that we can always hold some of the water back but we can’t take it away. We’re going to get a stronger dough through this type of mixing process called a Bassinage.
Bassinage is a french term for bathing in water. For bread baking, this means holding back some of the total water and adding it after gluten has been developed. This can help result in a more open crumb.
After this process, we’re going to mix in our levain and I’m going to add a little more water to get it going. If you can tell the dough is a little bit stiff, add some water and it will help the levain to mix in.
Tip #4 For High Hydration Sourdough Fold your dough + Bonus Tip: Use wet hands for wet dough
Folding the dough is going to build strength allowing that period of rest and fold which will allow you to strengthen the dough through the fermentation process. What you’re going to have is a really strong dough that when it comes time to shape, it’s going to hold shape on the bench, plus it will have a great oven spring and a beautiful open crumb.
- Use wet hands for a wet dough. By wetting your hands, you’re going to allow yourself to grab the dough without the dough sticking to your hands. So in the container, I’m using, we have about 5.4kg of dough that has a beautiful bubble on top and is relatively flat. Now we’re going to fold this and lift it up high to build that really good strength. Don’t forget to wet your hands and get underneath the dough just to make sure it is loose. Pull the bin back and use your leg or hip to make sure the dough bin doesn’t slide. We’re going to keep picking the dough up and throw it over itself. Do this a few times and you’ll notice the dough won’t stick on your hands because of the water. \
Tip #5 For High Hydration Sourdough Cold ferment your dough
After you’ve done your bulk fermentation, pre-shape and final shape, and you’ve got your dough in a banneton or a bowl with a towel, but that dough is in the fridge. I like to place my dough in the fridge for 10-15 hours. Depending on what stage your dough is at when it went in the fridge, you could probably bake it straight from the fridge or take it out and give it an hour to rest. My recommendation is to try making two pieces of bread and do a side-by-side to see what works best for your dough.
Cold fermentation is going to give you great flavour and crust. Finally, it’s going to make your dough easier to handle. When you take that bread out of the fridge and tip it out, you’ll be able to score it with ease and you can get it in the oven without fumbling the dough around.