“Cold and soft makes the baker rich” is a saying that has been used in the industry for many years. What it meant was to add a lot of water to dough in order to keep the end products fresh for longer (and to sell more water to the customer in order to save money). Furthermore, this method was intended to improve the long process of dough swelling.
The saying is certainly true at its core, but it carries a great risk because the term “soft” is too general. In the following we will deal with this in more depth.
Basically, the phrase indirectly addresses the question of how much water a dough can tolerate. This approach, however, is completely wrong: because of the ever more interesting raw materials and processes that bind water without this being noticeable in the firmness of a dough, there is only one other measure that can be used – taking into consideration the amount of water that can bind the crumb in the baked end product.
Sadly, among many bakers there is still one… let’s call it “TA horniness”. Bakers are proud to be able to add a lot of water to dough and still manage to process it. If the quantity is exaggerated, and there are plenty of such cases, the water can become a disadvantage. For example, let’s think of a soft leathery crust. This is basically somewhere the water from the inside of the bread has to stay. However, a wet crumb that is too moist is often the unattractive result of too much water. Water streaks can also occur, or the crumb in the upper area can tear off. Another aspect that applies particularly to baked goods with a higher rye content is a lower volume of baked goods. A clear indication that the hydration is too high is also when the crumb clenches while being chewed, and the bread in the mouth is felt more and more.
To illuminate the subject from all angles, we will first examine the way in which water is added to dough. The traditional way is to mix flour, salt and yeast. The poured liquid is largely absorbed by the protein in the flour or swollen by the pentosans (to a greater extent in rye flour). The outer layers of a whole meal flour also bind the water.
The problem occurs when there is a high proportion of spelt in the dough. Its protein consists of a higher proportion of gliadin (by comparison to the predominant glutenin in wheat). This protein in turn stores considerably less water. This results in softer doughs with the same amount of water. In purely mathematical terms, 6 TA points less must be assumed, which can be poured on spelt and must also be compensated.
This procedure allows the baker to add some of the water that the crumb needs to gelatinize during the baking process to a dough that is not too soft. Of course, the flour quality also has a certain influence here. And this, of course, must also be taken into consideration.
Very often it is said that freshness can be improved by using pre-dough and sourdough alone. Naturally, a certain amount of swelling can occur here, but the amounts of bound water are significantly less than what a bread or roll should have today to play in the royal league. However, these precursors have an important meaning and should be included in recipes. But they are not the only factor for keeping food fresh.
Additionally, when using raw materials based on already gelatinized starch, it is possible to bring bound water into doughs when it is already cold. For this purpose, you can use old bread (breadcrumbs), cooking and brewing pieces, potato flakes or flours, thermally broken flours (extrudates) and much more.
This way it is possible to adjust the consistency of the dough as desired. In purely mathematical terms, 100 grams of (whichever of the above products) cereal or potatoes bind an estimated 1.2 to 1.5 times more water in their proportion. Clearly, 4 times the amount of water can be used for soaking or blanching, but most of it is released during the kneading process.
It is therefore no problem to add 30 to 40 TA points of additional water to a dough this way. Without it becoming too soft. But this is exactly the problem: in many cases the crumb in the baked bread can no longer completely bind this water. Depending on the type of pastry, the above-mentioned consequences may occur.
However, if you want to proceed using these very high quantities of water (those that are higher than what the starch in the crumb can gelatinize during the baking process), you will inevitably have to work with thickening substances. The most useful product range for the bakery sector is psyllium seed husks. It also works with guar gum and locust bean gum. A somewhat more discreet support can also be created using ground chia seeds. These raw materials guarantee a very good stability of the crumb and a lasting freshness with the ideal amount to be added. The breads can be perfectly sliced immediately after baking and cooling.
There is also a physical limit here, though: too many attempts unfortunately result in rubber-like baked goods.
Recognizing and acting on problems
How is it possible to determine whether a certain bread is a “defect” or a bread with good freshness? Or what exactly tells me whether the amount of water in the bread roll or yeast dough is too high?
The most important aspect is to be honest with yourself. Naturally, it is good to be able to sell more water to the customer. The customer is also pleased that the bread has a long shelf life. But sometimes it is too much of a good thing. Normally, breads that are too moist are quickly recognizable. Faster than those that dry too quickly. Signs such as a slippery structure and a balling crumb are clearly perceptible. Then it takes courage to act. A sentence like “The customer wants it that way” is not appropriate here. By contrary, it’s a mistake which has to be corrected (promptly).
A recipe can be adapted in many ways. The first step you could take goes in both directions:
- Reducing the amount of water solves the problem very quickly. When the dough becomes too firm, the amount of bound water must be reduced. This is done by exchanging gelatinized starch for ungelatinized starch, i.e. extrudate, or potato flakes for flour.
- When hydrocolloids are not yet in use, for example the addition of flea seed shells. Exactly in the right quantity.
Evaluating baked goods regularly and acting promptly helps to convince customers of the quality of the products used in the long term.
The complexity of the issue has probably become clear by now. This text should serve to help people examine their own bakery products in detail under the mentioned aspects. We will discuss the concrete implementation of the possibilities on our forum, as usual.