I’m learning by drastically reducing the hydration on my dough

Continuing my How I’m Going to Learn series, I thought I’d look back on what I’m learning by drastically reducing the hydration on my dough.

It’s a bit uncomfortable to do this. I feel a little embarrassed actually to admit here on Instagram that I’ve dropped my hydration to 60%. Do I feel like a lesser baker here? Probably a little. Luckily, I’ve always been a rebel, so inside I don’t really care. It’s just part of my journey. And we each have on our own journey.

Although I’ve always thought that I needed higher hydration to make “great” bread, I’ve learned that naturally leavened bread always tastes great partly because it’s made with time, love and patience. This 60% hydration bread tastes wonderful. The texture is really nice. And my butter or honey or the cheese in my grilled cheese doesn’t fall through the holes.

I’ve learned that I now think it’s a good idea to get to know the tastes and textures of bread at a large variety of hydration levels. Why? Because when I set out to make a particular type of bread for my family or a friend, I can start with, “What hydration should I use to achieve my goals?”

I’ve learned that mixing dough with so little water is hard. It’s like mixing Play Doh. Or cement. I’ve learned that time is my friend. I now mix for a little. Let the dough sit for 10-15 minutes. And mix a little more. I might do two or three mix-and-rests to develop the gluten nicely.

I’m learning more about strength and structure. This dough starts out strong that I don’t have to do so much to develop strength. I do some gentle folds to develop structure. My dough is holding more gas than any other dough I’ve made before. It’s puffy. And cool.

I’ve learned that shaping 60% hydration dough is a joy. My hands are learning and may become those much sought after baker’s hands one day. I can really give this dough a strong shape so that I understand what this means. I’m not as worried as I used to be about degassing my dough partly because it’s so strong and full of gas, and I’m not worrying about losing the larger gas pockets because I really just want a nice even well-fermented crumb.

It just feels great to be baking naturally leavened bread!