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55% Hydration Sourdough Bread

 
If you wonder why you should bake bread at such low hydration, I can tell you that testing the extremes comes with a lot of lessons learned. Learning how the dough behaves in extreme conditions provide you with the knowledge to apply the appropriate techniques when needed for other recipes.

I challenged myself to bake bread using the same great flour at different hydrations:

- at 85%, the dough was tricky but managed to get a good result

- at 75%, I felt being the most comfortable and the loaf turned as expected.

- at 65%, I've got a bit out of my preferred hydration range but I was totally impressed by the capabilities of the flour to relax.

I continued the challenge, at 55% hydration. This is way out of my comfort zone and it is far from being a preferred way of doing bread. 


Testing it was an interesting experience and these are my observations:

- after the initial mixing, the dough was that stiff that I could certainly break a window with it

- after the saltolyse, it became manageable and I've reached a great windowpane test

- relaxation time between steps is essential for such hydration

- at the shaping phase, although at 75% increased volume, the dough felt slightly under proofed in my hands so, I left it to grow to 100% after shaping. I used an aliquot jar to measure the increase. 

- shaping needs to be kept minimal to preserve the bubbles inside.

- dough didn't have a huge oven spring, although it was not surprising for such low hydration. However, even if it wasn't a real open crumb, I found it very fluffy and delicious.

- adding a lot of steam in the oven (ice cubes in my case) helped to avoid a hard crust, that on top of the improved oven spring. I knew this from previous bakes but such a thirsty dough I think it benefits more from extra steaming. The downside of extra steaming is that the flour on top tends to disappear. Stencilling works for me with only one ice cube in the Dutch Oven to preserve the pattern. For 2+ cubes, the flour absorbs the steamed water and only scoring can be used as design.


Ingredients:

  • 175g sourdough starter (100% hydration)
  • 880g strong wheat flour (14% proteins) 
  • 100g spelt flour
  • 500g water
  • 20g salt 

Directions:

  1. [Day 1, Friday, 22:00] Scaling. Start by scaling the ingredients using a balance and put them on the table to ensure that nothing is forgotten.
  2. Mix water + flours + salt. Mix the flours, water and salt until well combined. Do not knead at this stage, just incorporate all the dried flour. The dough will stay overnight at room temperature for the saltolyse (autolyse with salt) for the flour to well hydrate and form the gluten bonds.
  3. [Day 2 Saturday, 9:00] Sourdough starter. Add the preferment over the dough and mix by hand for 5-10 minutes.  After mixing, let the dough relax for 2 hours. For this recipe, the dough needs to stay during the resting periods at 28ºC. I actually set the bread proofer to 28ºC and kept the dough inside. However, due to the manipulation of the dough at room temperature, the dough temperature was around 25-26ºC.
  4. [Day 2, Saturday, 11:00] Divide and Stretch and Fold. Take the dough out of the bowl put it on the table board and divide it into 2. Stretch and fold each piece as you can and place them in squared glass bowls. Let them sit for 2 hours.
  5. [Day 2, Saturday, 13:00]  Coil fold 1. Start now a set of 2 coil folds. As the dough is that stiff, it will be difficult to perform the coil folds in the bowl, so do them in the air. Let them sit for 2 hours.
  6. [Day 2, Saturday, 15:00] Coil fold 2.  Do a second set of coil folds in the glass bowls and let them sit for 2 hour.
  7. [Day 2, Saturday, 17:00] Shape the loaves on the lightly floured board. Keep the dough manipulation at the minimum to preserve the bubbles. I actually just fold the dough in 3. Place the dough face down into well-floured bannetons and do stitching on the back if you feel it is needed. Repeat the process for the second piece of dough. Let the bannetons still rest at room temperature for 1 hour before placing them in the fridge overnight. 
  8. [Day 3, Sunday, 9:00] Score. Before scoring, you need to preheat the oven at 240ºC. I baked these loaves in a wood-fired oven but in a classical oven, you should follow basically the same temperature. Inside the oven, I also heat 2 Dutch ovens.
    Take the dough out of the fridge and reverse the banneton on baking paper. Score and decorate the bread as you like.  Immediately after, slide the loaves in the hot Dutch ovens. I also place 4 small ice cubes inside to create more steam inside.
  9. Bake at 240ºC for 30 minutes with the lid on. After these 30 minutes, remove the lid and continue to bake at a reduced temperature (~220ºC) for 10 minutes. 
  10. [Day 3, Sunday, 9:40] Cool. The bread needs to cool for at least 2 hours until it reaches room temperature. The cooking process continues slowly even after taking the bread out of the oven, so this is why it is important to not skip this step and to resist cutting it too early. If you can, of course...
  11. [Day 3, Sunday, 11:40] Cut. Now is the big moment to enjoy a slice of bread... 






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