5 Tips For High Hydration Sourdough | How to Work With High Hydration Sourdough.

Last updated on March 20th, 2023 at 03:49 pm

Knowing how to properly hydrate your flour is a really important skill that will unlock so many doors. It will give you more versatility in your baking and help you achieve that lofty open crumb. And here’s a pro tip: If you add more water to your dough, increasing the volume as a result, then guess what? You’re also 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, as the 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 a hard red spring wheat. As such, your hydration should change depending on what type of flour you’re using and how it’s milled. When you consider the flour, you can then take a look at your total formula and really understand hydration.

Another thing to keep in mind is that if you’re using a liquid starter versus stiff starter, for example, it will also 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 on the subject.

Tip #2 for High Hydration Sourdough: Manage Your Fermentation

If you’re working with a wet dough and it’s under-fermented, it’s going to be very slack. I suggest getting yourself a Thermapen to best manage temperature and fermentation. If your dough is cold, put it somewhere warm and vice versa (if your dough is warm, put it 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, in turn helping me 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.

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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, typical of high hydration country sourdough. You may notice that I always use a wet dough scraper to help me mix. Then I have my flour measured out, set alongside my water and a measuring cup.

I begin by removing a little bit of the total water to put aside. Looking at my recipe, I can quickly do the math—I’m take out however many grams make up 10% of the final dough’s hydration. (Side note: I recommend printing all your recipes out before making your bread). I take this water, transfer it to the measuring cup and place it right on top of the mixer. Keep in mind that you can always add more water to your dough but you cannot take it away, so it’s better to err on the side of caution. We want to develop the dough a little bit in the mixing process, adding water as the gluten develops.

When it’s time to go into the mixer, we add the water first, followed by the flour. I’ve also got my backup water on top. At this point, it’s time to close the lid of our mixer and begin the mixing process. I like to keep an additional container of water beside me so that I can scrape down the bowl with a wet dough scraper as necessary. After this step, the dough will sit and autolyse.

high hydration sourdough

After autolyse, we can check our gluten development. The flour is going to have absorbed some of that water and we can start to add our reserved water in the second stage of mixing. Remember, once again, 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, which is called bassinage.

Bassinage is a French term for bathing in water. For bread baking, this means holding back some of the total water, as described above, and adding it after some gluten has been developed. The goal of this step is to achieve a more open crumb.

After this process is complete, we’re going to incorporate our levain. At this point, I’ll add some water to get it going. If you feel as though the dough is a tad stiff, add a little more water; 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 high hydration doughs throughout their fermentation process is an essential step that will build strength, resulting in dough that will better hold its shape on the bench and be easier to work with. It will also help to create bread with great oven spring and a beautiful open crumb.

high hydration sourdough

Bonus Tip: Use wet hands for a wet dough. By wetting your hands, you’ll be able to grab the dough without it sticking to you, making the folding process smoother and cleaner.

Tip #5 for High Hydration Sourdough: Cold Ferment Your Dough

After you’ve done your bulk fermentation, followed by pre-shape and final shape, and you’ve got your dough in a banneton or a bowl covered by a towel, put that dough in the fridge. I like to place my dough in the fridge for 10 to 15 hours. Depending on what stage your dough is at when it goes in, you can potentially bake it straight from the fridge. If it’s slightly less fermented, I’d take it out and give it about an hour to rest at room temperature. My recommendation is to try making two loaves of bread, then 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 high hydration dough easier to handle. When you remove the bread from the fridge and tip it out, you’ll be able to score it with ease and get it into the oven without having to fumble with overly soft dough.

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high hydration sourdough

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