Err and Variations

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There will be little things wrong with the formula each time you make it. There might be also little changes you want to make to the dough.

Same formula - but the dough feels different today.

Some changes are natural and some are because of something you've chosen to do.

The two most common are hydration and temperature.

Different bags of flour have flour that is moister or drier. Different times of year the air around you is more humid or drier. This effects the amount of water you need to use.

The biggest challenge we have as home bakers is that we don't handle a lot of dough. Professional bakers handle a literal ton of dough or more a week. They can look at or feel their dough and decide it needs more water.

Generally, we'd like our dough to be a little wetter than it should be than a little drier. So generally we add a little less water than the recipe calls for and have the rest that we can add if we need it and perhaps a little more.

You'll get a feel for this over time as you bake more bread.

The other big variable is temperature. A lot of professional recipes call for the dough to be around 74 - 78 degrees F/ 23 - 25 degrees C coming out of the mix. There are so many variables. The temperature of the room can change, the temperature of your flour, the temperature of the water. Professional bakers even account for the heat gained from friction in the mixing method.

A good estimate for us is the average of the flour, the ambient temperature, and the water should be 75 degrees F/ 24 degrees C. The only temperature we control is the temperature of the water. So solving the equation for water we see that it should be 3 * 75 or 24 - the temp of the flour - the temp of the room. In other words, triple 75 if you're working in Fahrenheit or 24 if you're working in Celsius. Subtract the temperature of the flour from this number. Subtract the temperature of the room from that number. That's the temperature your water should be.

How important is that? Well, it effects the time it takes your bread to rise but so does the temperature of the room. Some people slightly warm their oven to under 100 degrees then turn it off and they say this improves the rise as well.

So that's the second item I've recommended buying for bread baking: a thermometer. (the first was a scale)

So you will learn to make adjustments to the water and temperature.

You will also learn to make adjustments in how you handle a dough. You will see after your second fold that the dough needs more strength and add a third fold in say twenty minutes to a half hour. You'll knead a little longer to develop the gluten more. These are adjustments you'll make as you gain confidence. You'll make a lot of great bread on the way.

Then there are deliberate variations - let's make one today.

Pick any of our basic bread variations (straight, with poolish, with sourdough) and make it again.

This time take 10% of the flour and replace it with another kind of flour. Use the rye that we bought to start our starter or some whole wheat. My friend Kevin used semolina and said the texture was very different.

When should you add it?

Last week I experimented a bit. We don't have a rye starter (to make a rye starter, we'd start over again but never use wheat flour in it, refresh it each day with water and rye) but I thought I'd replace all of the flour in my overnight sourdough with rye.

Let me be clear, I took my actual sourdough and replenished it with wheat flour as we always do. But the sourdough I made in a separate container for the bread used rye. I took two tablespoons of my starter and 140 g each of rye flour and water.

I then made the bread the same way as our regular sourdough.


I forgot to add the salt.

I realized it after mixing and I considered kneading the salt in but figured this was a good chance to see what salt brings to the party.

Salt slows down the fermentation a bit - but it's main job is to add and enhance flavor. The final bread really missed the salt.

I'll never know if the reason I didn't care for the final product was the lack of salt or the way I used the rye. It was ok but it didn't have the flavor I wanted.

So the next day I made the sourdough again - the way I described in the previous post - but I replaced 10% of the flour with rye flour. I did the overnight sourdough step as usual with wheat flour but replaced 42g of the final flour with rye.

It was a completely different bread.

So choose a different flour and replace 10% of the flour in the final flour of either the basic bread, poolish version, or sourdough version.

If you don't have a different flour, make one of the recipes again and use 15 g more or less of water and see what difference that makes.