Posted in baking, dry heat

Hydration Levels in Bread: An Exploratory Study

Introduction

As is widely noted in the literature, the hydration level of a dough affects several properties of the resulting bread, most notably hole size. However, preferred hydration levels for certain types of bread are not agreed upon with much precision. One reason for this uncertainty in the field is that hydration level affects different flours differently (see for instance http://www.artisanbreadinfive.com/2008/02/10/qa-flour-and-water). Having recently been burned by this imprecision, the author undertook the following study to offer concrete data on the affects of a variety of hydration levels on King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour.

Method

This study manipulated one factor, water content, which was measured in baker’s percentage, the ratio of the ingredient (water) to flour, by weight. The factor had four levels: 60%, 70%, 80%, and 90%.

The water was brought to 100F and mixed with 3/4 tsp (approximately 1 baker’s percent) of active dry yeast in a non-metal bowl. This mixture was left for 10 minutes to allow the yeast to become active. Then 200g of flour was mixed in until none of it was dry, to the extent that this was possible. The 60% dough was unable to incorporate all of the flour with the mixing method utilized; this was likely due to experimenter error as even drier doughs have been recorded in the literature. The results of this step are shown in Figure 1. All doughs had an internal temperature upon mixing of approximately 75F in a 62F room.

mix_collage
Figure 1. Doughs upon mixing. From upper right, clockwise: 60%, 70%, 80%, 90%.

The resulting mixture was left to autolyze for approximately 20 minutes. During this time, the flour absorbs water, which then allows enzymes in the flour to break down some of the starches into sugars. The yeast feed on these sugars and multiply before the addition of the salt, which limits their growth. The absorption of water by the flour also makes the dough feel drier, which is helpful for working with higher hydration doughs. After this pause, 3/4 tsp (approximately 2 baker’s percent) was incorporated into the dough. The results of this step are shown in Figure 2.

autolysis
Figure 2. The doughs after autolysis. Clockwise from upper left: 80%, 60%, 90%, 70%.

The dough was then left to ferment for 2-3 hours, until doubled in size. Approximately every half hour, the dough was stretched and folded as described in Robertson and Wolfinger (2010).

An exception was made to this method for the 60% dough, which would be less likely than the others to develop and organize its gluten in the later stages (as the method used here was developed for higher hydration doughs). It was kneaded for a few minutes, short of fully developing the gluten. In contrast, the 80% and 90% doughs developed gluten to the point of showing translucent windows with only these occasional folds.

gluten_windows
Figure 3. Translucent “windows” show effective gluten development in the 80% and 90% doughs. These took little to no effort to stretch (the 80% one was created by accident when a the dough stuck to the author’s finger) and no kneading.

When doubled, the dough was preshaped into a boule, with focus on creating some surface tension on the top of the boule. During all steps, the dough was covered with plastic wrap, but from preshaping on a layer of olive oil was added between the dough and the plastic wrap to prevent rupture of this top layer upon removal of the covering.

The dough was then rested for 30 minutes and shaped again. This began the phase of proofing, which varied in time. When available, the proofing dough was inverted into a floured banneton to support the boule’s shape. Proofing was considered to be finished when the dough slowly recovered from being poked; unfortunately, successful proofing did not guarantee an available oven and the 90% dough may have been overproofed while waiting for space.

When ready to bake, the oven, containing a tagine, was preheated to 500F. The dough was inverted again into the tagine, scored in a square pattern with a lame, and put into the oven covered with the tagine lid. The oven temperature was reduced to 450F (see for example Lahey, 2009) and the bread was baked for 20 minutes. Then the cover was removed but left in the oven to remain preheated for following bakes (see Appendix A), and the bread was baked uncovered for an additional 20 minutes. An exception to this was the 60% bread, which was done after the first 20 minutes and removed. All loaves were cooked to an internal temperature of at least 210F.

The loaf was then removed from the oven and left to cool completely on a wire rack.

Results

We present here the raw, baked data.

60percentprofile
Crust of 60% dough.
60percentcrumb
Crumb of 60% dough.
70percent_profile
Crust of 70% dough.
70percentcrumb
Crumb of 70% dough.
70percentprofile
Crust of 80% dough.
80percentcrumb
Crumb of 80% dough, complete with actual crumbs.
90percentprofile
Crust of 90% dough.
90percentcrumb
Crumb of 90% dough.

Figure 4 shows the relative size of the loaves in ascending order of hydration. Figure 5 gives a bar chart of hydration level by loaf height. As predicted, higher hydration correlated with larger loaves containing larger holes and thus softer crumbs. The hole size did not reach levels found by others with high hydration doughs, which may be due to such factors as fermentation duration and expertise in the techniques of stretch-and-fold, shaping, and scoring.

crusts
Figure 4. Effect of hydration level on loaf size.
barchart
Figure 5. Barchart showing the height of loaves as hydration increases.

Additional differences are observed among the loaves. The 60% bread browned much faster than the others, and its crust failed to develop shine and crackle. This is likely due to the fact that the tagine cooking method, a local variant of the well-known Dutch oven cooking method, relies on the bread’s own steam being released inside the cooking vessel. The low hydration dough would have released less steam than the others, failing to regulate the temperature inside the vessel, so that browning was possible even while it was covered. The lack of steam failed to make the crust glossy, an effect of starch gelating in the presence of water. However, there was still too much moisture to allow the crust to fully dehydrate, so it did not get crisp or make the characteristic crackling noises upon cooling that signal a superior crust.

Grigne width increased as hydration increased, while ear height (never especially high) decreased. Loaf height increased and then decreased as hydration level increased. However, we found that a confound was introduced during experimentation. Doughs were mixed in ascending order of hydration, and despite being spaced out in time to some degree, they were often ready to be baked before their predecessor had left the oven. Meanwhile, the room was heating up, accelerating the rate of yeast activity and thus proofing. The last loaf was therefore likely overproofed. Its reddish crust corroborates this, a sign that much of its starch had been converted to sugar, which is used in a browning reaction. This overproofing would contribute to a lack of height and ear development, so we cannot conclude that its hydration level is to blame.

Discussion

The crust of the 60% dough suggests that for lower hydration doughs, an additional source of steam is needed. Its crumb, however, was excellent for a dense bread, indicating that the difficulty of developing the gluten was not a barrier to good bread. This surprised us, as we were completely ready to sacrifice the 60% dough to the compost bin gods.

Nor was the high hydration level of the 80% and 90% doughs a barrier to working with them, contra some accounts in the literature. Higher protein flours, like King Arthur Bread Flour, absorb more water than lower protein flours such as all-purpose flour, so reports that 90% hydration dough is a pain in the ass may be due to poor flour choice. The 80% dough in particular was reported to be “a fucking delight” by one lab technician, who is also the PI and sole author.

The primary contribution of this work is to show concretely the textures of both dough and final product that can be expected at these landmarks in hydration space when working with King Arthur Bread Flour. However, these findings are not comprehensive, as these doughs were subject to short fermentation times relative to current trends in artisan baking, and were executed by an experimenter who has not actually read the books on which this recipe was based. Regardless, the predicted trends were supported by the data: higher hydration appears to cause greater oven spring and more open crumb structure.

Conclusions

We conclude that 80% hydration is an excellent ballpark for those desiring oven spring and open structure in breads made with King Arthur Bread Flour. We cannot generalize from these findings to other flours, as their different protein and ash contents would make the hydration levels map onto different outcomes.

Additional research is needed to further improve oven spring. We suspect that a large factor is the difficulty of scoring soft doughs, but additional factors are of great interest. Similarly, a followup study on proofing levels of high hydration doughs (see https://forums.egullet.org/topic/82234-demo-proving-bread/) would be useful to determine what heights the 90% dough is actually capable of.

Appendix: Importance of Lid

In a pilot study, we found that when the lid of the cooking vessel is removed from the oven during the uncovered phase of baking, it cools down, raising the concern that it might crack if replaced into a 500 degree oven for the next loaf. Thus, the second loaf was baked uncovered. As both loaves were from the same batch (of a different recipe than that given here), this provided a controlled study of the effect of covering the dough while baking it. The results were quite pronounced, as shown in Figure 6. Not only oven spring, but also crust texture and color, were affected. Note that flour coverage varies due to unrelated factors. Covered initial baking was found to be a far superior method for wet doughs.

tagine_study
Figure 6. Left, bread baked covered for the first half of baking. Right, bread baked uncovered for the entire duration of baking.
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Posted in baking

Liege Waffles, Quicker

making the waffles
It’s important to dress for the occasion when you make Liege waffles.

Years ago I started making Liege waffles and blogged about it. I’ve made that recipe several times, and it’s always gone well, but recently I wanted to make Liege waffles and I didn’t have time to start the dough the night before. So I tried keeping the ingredients the same but changing the method.

I also multiplied the recipe by 7 because I was serving them at a party. That didn’t pose any problems, but it did require me to divide the dough into two large mixing bowls. It would’ve been smarter for me to make it in two separate bowls from the beginning, rather than guessing on how to halve it in the middle of adding ingredients. I ended up with 38 waffles.

Another change I’ve made since my first couple times making these waffles is that I ran out of imported pearl sugar and switched to bashing sugar cubes in a ziploc bag with the end of the handle of my chef’s knife. They still caramelize, so it seems like a fine compromise to me. This post suggests making pearl sugar by mixing sugar with maple syrup and letting it dry. I don’t know how real pearl sugar is made but that doesn’t sound like a bad idea at all since we know maple syrup tastes great with waffles.

Ok, so the quicker method:

1. Wake up your yeast.

Mix water, milk, yeast, egg, and half the flour in a bowl. Let sit for a few minutes.

2. Let the flour absorb the water.

Add the rest of the flour, mix well. Let sit for 20 minutes.

3. Make gluten.

Knead until the dough is elastic.

4. Add all remaining ingredients except pearl sugar (or sugar cube pieces).

This is where you put in the salt, which makes kneading difficult, as well as the brown sugar, honey, and butter, which make gluten formation difficult. It’s also when you add the vanilla extract, but I don’t think it really matters when you do that.

Getting the butter incorporated is hard if you’re mixing by hand. I recommend microwaving it until it’s melty but not liquid.

I got worried at this point, since I usually mix it in a machine but this time did it by hand, and the texture looked awful. But during the rise it rallied.

5. Let rise.

Let it sit for an hour.

6. Redistribute bubbles and yeast, divide into servings.

Punch it down, fold it a few times, and then shape it into a bunch of balls that are a bit smaller than each section of your waffle maker (because they’re going to rise).

7. Let rise.

Let it sit for another hour.

8. Cook.

Put them in your waffle maker. Mine does best on level 4 out of 5 for less time than my waffle maker thinks is necessary – I go by smell and intuition, and checking on them doesn’t really hurt.

finished waffles
No one knows how long Liege waffles keep for.

Cleaning your waffle maker is interesting after making Liege waffles. The trick is to let the caramel harden and then break it out with a fork. Then eat whatever caramel isn’t burnt as your prize for having to clean this thing.

Do you lose anything by speeding up the process? Possibly. I haven’t compared them side by side and these were perfectly delicious, but it is true that letting yeast work slowly at a cool temperature produces better flavors than having them work fast at room temperature. But I think there’s so much else going on in the flavor of a Liege waffle that it probably doesn’t matter.

Posted in baking, candy, custard, foam

Daring Baker Challenge: Fraisier

 Jana of Cherry Tea Cakes was our July Daring Bakers’ host and she challenges us to make Fresh Frasiers inspired by recipes written by Elisabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson in the beautiful cookbook Tartine.

 

Fraisier

Instead of the Daring Baker recipe, I used this recipe from Food Lover’s Odyssey. It uses genoise cake instead of chiffon, meaning the eggs aren’t separated but are heated and then beaten to make a foam, and it uses an ungodly amount of butter to make the cream stand up instead of gelatin.

I used half the amount of butter it calls for – the strawberries in the center of the middle layer did most of the work of holding the cake up.  My boyfriend and I picked the strawberries ourselves! And the blueberries came from the same farm.

The cake shrunk as it cooked, naturally, so my springform pan had a little extra room when I used it as a mold for the center layer. The result was the strawberries hanging kind of low. If I had started with the cream it probably would’ve worked better.

Regardless, it was delicious! Decadent and summery at the same time. We ate it on the Fourth of July. I would definitely make it again, but probably in the structure of a regular cake just to make my life easier.

Posted in baking

Daring Baker Challenge: Phyllo Dough and Maple Baklava

Erica of Erica’s Edibles was our host for the Daring Baker’s June challenge. Erica challenged us to be truly DARING by making homemade phyllo dough and then to use that homemade dough to make Baklava.

I was a little daunted by the idea of making my own phyllo dough. Even Alton Brown doesn’t make his own phyllo dough when he makes baklava.  I have now made something more from scratch than Alton Brown.  But I did decide to compromise.  I made the bottom layer myself and used store bought dough for the rest.  I also tweaked the classic recipe by making mine round and using maple syrup instead of spiced honey.  I liked the idea, but I don’t think the spices that you mix in with the nuts complement the maple flavor that well.  I doubt it’s the cinnamon, so it’s probably the allspice or the clove, or both, that’s not playing nice with maple.  That didn’t stop my friends from enjoying it, though.

homemade phyllo dough
The dough got pretty thin and translucent.

The full recipe is here.  I’ll just add a tip for rolling out the phyllo dough, if you are ever possessed to do this yourself.  It’s not as hard as you’d think, and you can use a regular rolling pin even though they suggest a wooden dowel.  But when you roll out dough, you create new surface area, and so even though you floured the dough and the counter, you still get sticky areas.  If you’re rolling out something this much, you have a lot of sticky area. So I tried buttering my work surface instead of flouring it.  After rolling a piece, it came right off of my counter instead of needing a lot of gentle prodding like before.  And then I had a head start on the buttering that you do to make the baklava.

I only baked mine once, for about 30 minutes, whereas the recipe has you do that twice.  Mine probably could’ve used some more time in the oven, but I think another full 30 minutes would have been too much.

 

Posted in baking, candy, custard, emulsion, foam

Daring Baker Challenge: Mousse in an edible container

The April 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Evelyne of the blog Cheap Ethnic Eatz. Evelyne chose to challenge everyone to make a maple mousse in an edible container. Prizes are being awarded to the most creative edible container and filling, so vote on your favorite from April 27th to May 27th at http://thedaringkitchen.com

So yeah, it was supposed to be maple mousse.  But I got inspired to have a Red and Black party, so I made chocolate mousse in red tuiles.  I shaped the tuiles by putting some in mini muffin tins and draping others over the tops of wine bottles, so that they made bowls to hold the mousse.  They came out looking like rose petals.

I made my chocolate mousse from David Lebovitz’s adaptation of Julia Child’s recipe.  I tripled the recipe and, of course, made some minor changes, so mine came out like this – but be warned, this is for WAY more mousse than you really want to make.

  1. Mousse in the making
    Mixing the chocolate emulsion with the custard.

    Melt butter and chocolate with coffee.

    • 4 sticks butter
    • 510g dark chocolate (fair trade!)
    • 3/4 cup coffee
  2. Make zabaglione.  (A sweet custard with an alcoholic liquid.  Traditionally marsala wine; Julia’s recipe used rum; I used cognac and it was delicious.)  This is done by heating the ingredients in a double boiler until thick enough to coat a spoon, and then beating (an electric mixer is a good idea) off the heat (with the bowl in cool water, even) until lighter in color and thick enough that when you drip some, a trail remains.
    • 12 egg yolks (I bought jumbo by accident so I used 10)
    • 510g sugar
    • 6 Tbsp cognac
    • 3 Tbsp water
  3. Make meringue.  Beat egg whites; when it’s all opaque, add the sugar.  Keep beating until peaks form but aren’t too stiff.
    • 12 egg whites
    • 3 Tbsp sugar
    • a few pinches of salt
    • 1 tsp cream of tartar
    • 2 tsp vanilla
finished mousse
Blurry picture of finished mousse.

Gently mix the first two together and then fold the meringue into that.  This means you’ll be eating uncooked egg whites.  If you’re not ok with that, make a Swiss meringue instead, which is where you heat the egg whites and sugar to 160F before beating them.

This mousse was amazing, y’all.  Totally worth all the different ingredients and components.  The zabaglione alone was amazing, I’ll definitely make that again.

I did run into a hitch – my chocolate emulsion broke.  I googled around about this and came to the conclusion that humans do not fully understand chocolate, because what I found didn’t make a lot of sense.  But basically, I think it broke because I heated it too much, and what ended up working was cooling it in the fridge, and then heating it again, very slowly.  I tried this trick where I took just a little of it and mixed it with some heated corn syrup.  That bit re-emulsified, but as I added more of the broken mixture to the fixed mixture, it got fixed and then I added too much and it all broke again.  So I guess that last addition of broken mixture lowered the temperature too much.  So, chop your chocolate and butter before starting, so everything can melt fast and evenly, and if you run into this problem, cool and reheat slowly.

tuiles
Rose petal tuiles.

Now the tuiles.  I used this recipe without the almonds, and multiplied by 4.  These were really simple, and I had been so worried!  I used LOTS of red food coloring, and flavored them with cinnamon, but then added a little cocoa powder too because I wanted the red velvet color to come out right.  I didn’t add any liquid to the recipe to make up for this; maybe if I had they would’ve come out a little crispier, like I expected, but the texture they had was good for shaping them.  I’d skip the cinnamon next time; I wanted a red flavor to go with the red color, but I wasn’t crazy about the result.

Finally, I made some cayenne syrup to go on top.

  • 1.5 cups water
  • 1.5 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Boil until the thread stage, 130F.  Unfortunately, even though I stopped at the thread stage, mine eventually crystallized.  But it was a nice mixture of hot and sweet, and I love spice with my chocolate.

The official drink for the party was something that’s apparently called Devil’s Blood – it’s a vodka cranberry with black vodka.  I layered it by pouring the vodka from a measuring cup over the back of a spoon onto the cranberry juice, which worked well.

devil's blood
Layered cocktail.
Posted in baking

Daring Baker Challenge: Cranberry Spice Stollen


The 2010 December Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Penny of Sweet Sadie’s Baking. She chose to challenge Daring Bakers to make Stollen. She adapted a friend’s family recipe and combined it with information from friends, techniques from Peter Reinhart’s book, The Bread Baker’s Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread, and Martha Stewart’s demonstration.

The Recipe: I altered the flavors and mix-ins.  I used 1 tsp of cinnamon, 1 tsp of cardamom, 1/2 tsp of allspice, and a 1/2 tsp of nutmeg.  I kept the vanilla and orange extracts.  For mix-ins I used slivered almonds, candied ginger, and Craisins, and I mixed them in differently.

    Mix-ins, evenly distributed
  1. Mix yeast and water, wait five minutes.
  2. Add other wet ingredients.
  3. Add dry ingredients.
  4. Add dried fruit and nuts. (I didn’t yet.)
  5. Knead.
  6. Refrigerate overnight.
  7. Let come to room temperature for 2 hours.
  8. Roll into a big rectangle. (Mine didn’t make it to 16×24 in.  Also, I learned that rolling gluten-full dough on top of wax paper doesn’t work, because it shrinks and pulls the paper with it into lots of crinkles.  It worked so much better on a clean bare countertop.)
  9. My way of mixing in: Put mix-ins on top of rectangle and then run a rolling pin over them.
  10. Roll dough like a jellyroll, starting from one of the shorter sides so you end up with a long log.
  11. Bring the ends of the log together, and fit one into the other.  Shape into a nice circle.
  12. Dough ready for the oven.
  13. Slash the outsides of the circle every 2 inches or so.
  14. Let rise for 2 hours.
  15. Bake for 40-50 minutes at 350F, rotating pan halfway through, until bread is 190F.
  16. Cool.
  17. Brush melted butter on top.
  18. Sift powdered sugar on top.

My method of mixing stuff in was probably nicer to my hands and the gluten since there weren’t slivers of almond involved in the kneading.  But I did seem to underestimate how much to use.  I guess the bread rose enough that the amount of mix-ins got diluted.  It was good, though, and the flavors were not at all overpowering.  In fact, I wish I had tasted more cardamom.  But it was a really fun challenge, to make something so seasonal and have it come out looking like it should.  Happy holidays!

Posted in baking, candy, foam

S’more bars

This summer, foodgawker was inundated with recipes for s’more bars and I’ve been dying to make some.  My friends’ housewarming seemed like the perfect opportunity.  But when I looked at the recipes (the ones that didn’t involve strange ingredients like granola), they were all exactly the same: it’s essentially a cookie dough with some of the flour replaced with graham cracker crumbs, topped by chocolate and marshmallow fluff and more of the same cookie dough.  I don’t know where it originated or I’d link to it.  Anyway, delicious as that sounds, I decided to try to go a little more traditional with it and use a graham cracker crust like you’d make for a cheesecake – just graham cracker crumbs and butter – topped with chocolate and homemade marshmallow.  I omitted the top graham cracker layer so I could flambe the marshmallow, because I don’t know about you, but I like my marshmallow seriously singed.

I based the graham cracker layer on this recipe, ending up with the following:

  • 2 cups graham cracker crumbs (12 crackers)
  • 1 stick butter, melted
  • Bake at 350F for 10 minutes.

Based on the ubiquitous s’more bar recipe, put 6 Hershey bars on top of that.  I put this in the turned-off but still hot oven for a few minutes to melt them.

Instead of using marshmallow creme like the s’more bar recipe says, I made marshmallows according to Chef Thomas Keller’s recipe via Cooking For Engineers.  (The Keller link no longer leads anywhere, but that’s what CFE cites.)  It’s really easy: make a hard-ball stage candy while you bloom gelatin, then beat both together until it gets opaque and thick and voluminous.  Then I poured it over the chocolate and let it cool.  I didn’t use the whole recipe on the s’more bars – I saved enough to fill one of those short square Gladwares because it just made too much.  I still think I ended up with more marshmallow on the bars than I should have had, but I guess that just makes it indulgent.

I took the bars to my friends’ place and flambeed them, which melted the top of the marshmallow but didn’t get it really burnt like I like it.  I tried to take a picture but the picture put the fire out somehow!  Next I’ll try setting the reserved marshmallow on fire.

If I made the s’more bars again, I think I’d go with different chocolate – something darker.  I stuck with Hershey’s milk for tradition’s sake, but it really was a little too sweet for me.  I must be getting old.