©2022 Michael Raven
I don’t write much about it lately, but I am still making bread and trying to find the perfect ratios (for me) of the primary bread ingredients: water, flour, sugar, yeast, and salt.
I still haven’t quite found what I’m looking for, but I’ve learned a lot in the meantime. First-off, there is a lot of variation in measurements and methods of measurement, and not all of them make a ton of sense. Take, for instance, the recipe that I tried out these last two batches, a standard free-form bread with all of the above mentioned primary ingredients. I was looking for something that was a little lighter, with more bubbles than what I had been finding with no-knead dough. While I like my bread dense and chewy, I also like it to rise a bit. The last few batches of bread before this recipe were sugar-free, but didn’t stand up well to the refrigerator treatment and were so-so when it came to terms of size and texture within, even fresh out of the bowl. So I started looking for recipes calling for a little sugar to aid the yeast to make something a little less… stonelike.
This is the second recipe that I’ve tried with sugar that was really, really, wet when I made it — too wet, in my opinion. The instructions called for adding flour as needed in 1/4 cup increments in both cases, but I don’t know what to look for until I pick up the towel after letting it rise and see that it still is going to be hard to work with because it just doesn’t want to keep form (perhaps desirable in a pan, but these have been free-standing loaves). The first time I made it, I thought i had maybe not been careful with the volume of water added, so I measured out the quantity based on mass (grams) instead of volume, and it was the same gooey mess trying to transfer to the baking stone. I felt like I was in a mad scientist experiment gone wrong. It’s ALIVE!!!
I started looking at a book I have written in the 80s-style checkout lane types of books for bread and, while the recipes are definitely skewed towards less “artisan” styles of bread and more designed to discuss add-ins for different flavor profiles, I noticed that the ratios of water-to-flour were about half that of this current recipe. This recipe was about 1:1 by mass (710g water to 750g flour, or 3 cups flour to 6 cups flour). Most of the recipes I was seeing in this book were on the order of 1.5-2 cups water to 6 cups of flour — that’s a massive difference! (pun intended). No wonder these loaves are so gooey. I looked at some of the other recipes I’ve been trying and, as you might expect, the ratios are closer to this bog-standard recipe book than they are to the one I just tried twice (with the same results both times, although I added nearly a cup of flour to the dough beyond the volume/mass given in the current recipe).
Lesson learned. You can’t always rely on internet recipes when it comes to baking, even if the star rating of the recipe is 4.5 over 40 people. The amount of water seems out of line with other free-standing rustic loaves (or bread baking in general). I recall the carrot cake made a few years back that called for twice the oil that anyone else called for (and noted well down on the comments that the oil quantity was off) and I ended up with a raw-center/burnt-edges carrot cake for my birthday. I should have learned my lesson that time.
What I might do is get something more reputable from the library for information about the science of the measurements. While these have been tasty, the texture is also a bit on the chewier side and less firm than I would like. I have a sense that I need some sugar for the yeast to munch on, at least when my drafty home is in the middle of winter — but I like the idea of bread without added sugar. As a scientist, I think I need to understand the chemistry a bit better to get better results via tweaking the recipes to better suit my desired outcome.
Until then, I’m still hunting for that ideal loaf.