High-hydration sourdough

sourdough bread

High hydration bread has received a lot of attention lately, specially among the sourdough bread enthusiasts. And to be honest, this is my favorite way to go, even though it did require a lot of time, practicing and perfecting the method.

sourdough bread
Thin crispy crust



What is not to love about a high-hydration bread, be it a baguette or a loaf. The thin crispy crust and the gelatinous open crumb is the ultimate bread goals. Am I rite? It is such a pleasure to slice through these crusty bread and they are the best when toasted.

baked bread

My baguette recipe is a high-hydration one. Naturally, baguettes are higher in hydration than other breads as we need that moisture to obtain the signature irregular, open crumb.

Open crumb

The high water content makes the crumb gelatinous as it bakes, and hence the chewy bite that we all adore. So the crumb doesn’t go mushy, when you dunk it in a broth, curry, or a stew.

Baked bread in dutch oven

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Enough talking and lets get bakin’. So here are the step by step process that I follow and found to be most aligned with my daily schedule. I mostly make the bread in the evening/night and bake it the next day evening. But feel free to attempt this anytime of the day and it is okay to tweak the process here and there to fit to your personal liking.

starter

First step is getting the starter ready. Feed the starter with 1:1 water and flour mixture several hours before making the bread. (the time depends on your starter, room temperature and the amount of culture that you feed. Read more on this here.

starter

Starter should be at it’s peak. I usually feed my starter with bread flour and before feeding mix the flour and water thoroughly and make sure to mix well with the culture. The mature starter will be spongy and full of bubbles.

starter and water

Measure 220 g water into a bowl and add the starter into the water directly. Look how they float on top of the water. Dissolve the starter in water before adding to the flour.

In the mean time, measure 20 g of water and 6 g of salt into a separate container and set aside.

Mix flour

Mix flour (300 g) and starter+water in a large container. Just mix until incorporated, do not knead. I’m using a locally sourced, freshly milled strong organic bread flour here. This flour is great, it is a thirsty flour and of 13% gluten. But feel free to use the flour you have got at hand, but the results may slightly vary.

dough

This is how it should look, it is just combined, make sure all the flour is wet (well hydrated). Now close the lid and leave this for an hour.

This is autolyse. Meaning the flour will absorb as much water as it can and gluten will start to form and enzymes will get activated.

add salt

Bring the dough onto a non stick surface, and add the salt+water mixture. Make sure all the salt is in. Start to rub the water into the wet dough, gently. No not try to mix vigorously as I have found that it will break/dissolve the gluten and become a sloppy mess.

hafl way

The dough might start to look like this and it is perfectly normal. At this stage, I find the “slap and fold” method works best. Use water to lubricate your hands and slap and fold until a smooth dough is developed. Check the next picture

dough

After a few folds, the dough will come together. This whole process of adding salt should not take more than a minute or two.

Now cover and let this rest for 45 minutes. Use the same container. Do not over knead.

dough

After the first 45 minutes, the dough will be spread like this. Give a coil fold / stretch and fold, whichever you prefer. Simply make this back into a tight dough ball. Like the next picture.

dough

Dough is tight again. Every stretch and fold will strengthen the gluten structure. Now cover and let rest for another 45 minutes.

rested dough

After the second 45 minutes, the dough will look spread again. Do another coil fold and bring the dough together to a tight ball. Like in the next picture.

dough ball

This time the dough will feel much more elastic and you will see air bubbles here and there. These are signs of gluten being strengthened and fermentation. Check my folding video here. Now, cover and let this rest for another 45 minutes.

dough

This will be the final fold. This time around, the dough is much stronger. Be careful when you fold. Do not do more than 2 coil folds. Notice the bigger air pockets and the dough has grown slightly too.

dough ball

After the final fold, the dough is much stronger and now we are ready for the final hours of bulk. At this stage we are done strengthening the gluten, now we need to give undisturbed time for the yeast to do their job. Close the lid and let this ferment for two hours. My room temperature was around 19C. If yours is warmer reduce this to a 1 1/2 hours. If its colder you can give it up to 3 hours. Decide that by looking at the dough.

At the end of bulking, the dough will look plump and a bit wobbly. Dump the dough on to a lightly dusted surface and pre-shape.

pre-shape means; tuck the lose ends underneath and bring the dough into a tight ball.

pre-shaped

Pre-shaped dough. This will feel super strong and stretchy and elastic like a balloon.

rest

Cover this and let it rest for 30 minutes. This will help the gluten relax, so we can shape this into a loaf easily. Otherwise, the dough will be too elastic and would try to unwind when you shape.

rested dough

This is the rested dough. This is now ready to be shaped. Check shaping video here. This is only one way of shaping, you can find many more methods on the internet.

place in basket

Once shaped, place in the banneton basket. You don’t need a special basket to proof a dough. Check this video where I have a loaf pan with a tea towel.

This is a 10″x 5″x 3″ size banneton. Alternatively, you can also use a loaf pan of similar size. Cover the loaf pan with a thick tea towel and dust it generously with flour/semolina.

cover

Cover the whole thing with a plastic bag and place in the refrigerator until you are ready to bake(usually next day). This slow fermentation is called retardation( we are actually slowing down the fermentation) This could be anywhere from 18 – 24 hours. I left it for 24 hours.

scoring

When you are ready to bake, first preheat the oven, with the dutch oven in (if you are using one) or your baking stone in. I use a dutch oven. Thermometer placed inside should read 500 F / 260 C. Let the oven heat for another 30 minutes or an hour even after the temperature reaches this.

Now, take the loaf out from the fridge and tip onto a parchment. Score the bread, and place in the dutch oven. Bake 25 minutes lid on, and then reduce temp to 450 F and bake another 20 – 25 with lid off.

baked bread

Once baked, let the bread cool on a wire rack.




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24 Comments

  1. I made this and it is delicious! Mine isn’t as pretty as yours, because I didn’t have a stencil and I forgot to slash it, but it is a chewy, delightfully tangy loaf with big open air spaces inside.

    The bottom crust got a little too hard; wondering how to mitigate that, or if it can be mitigated with a loaf like this.

    1. I am so glad you liked the bread. Well done!
      Oh I didn’t use a stencil. I score bread with a blade, you can find my video on (IGTV) Instagram vindiskitchen. Yes slashing is important, it helps bread expand. When the bread expands, the outer later becomes thin so may be this is why you got a hard bottom.
      Under proving is also a reason for the hard bottom.
      Also the bottom heat could be a reason. But we can’t do much about this in home ovens, unless you have control over top/bottom heating elements.

      I hope I answered your question.

  2. Hi!
    Thanks for your detailed recipe and method.

    What size dutch oven do you have? And what kind of flour do you use in your banneton and for dusting before scoring/baking?

    1. You are welcome πŸ™‚
      I use a Lodge Cast Iron 5 Quart double dutch oven (L8DD3)
      I use all purpose or bread flour before scoring.
      For the banneton a mix of flour and semolina, sometimes just flour ( all purpose mostly).

    1. Dutch oven is not used for steaming, but to generate even burst of heat around the bread, cos most ovens don’t get hot enough.
      If you don’t have a dutch oven, bake on a normal tray. If your oven is hot enough, you’ll still get nice bread.
      You can also use a pizza stone or a cast iron skillet if you have got any of those.

    1. You can use flour, just dust some on top, do not try to over knead.
      You can always leave the bread rest and give an extra coil fold to strengthen the dough.
      Too much kneading in high hydration bread, will disturb ( dissolve) gluten

  3. Hi Vindi,
    I had a question regarding the maintenance of my sourdough starter. My starter recipe started with 1:1 water and flour and during feeding was asked to weight 25g of the starter and discard the rest and feed with 1:1 water and flour. Now I got my starter in my chiller and after I need to feed in 1 week time so do I still weight out 25g of the starter and feed with 1:1 water and flour? Hope u can enlighten me. Thanks.

    1. Now that you have got the starter matured, its easier to feed/refresh.
      -get the starter out and let it sit at room temperature(or in a warm place) until you see some activity ( I leave it for 2-3 hours)
      -then save roughly about a tablespoon of the starter and discard the rest ( do not throw away the discard, use it in another discard recipe)
      -Feed this tablespoon of starter with flour and water puree like below
      -I don’t waste time measuring water and flour, I just get about 1/3 cup flour and add water until it start to looks like a porridge
      -then mix the starter with this porridge and let ripe
      I have a separate post about starter and you can find all these information there

  4. Hello! I had great success with this recipe, but I had a question.

    Why do you retard the dough after shaping as opposed to during bulk ferment? What would happen if those were swapped — a long cold bulk ferment followed by a short final proof? Would love to know how this would affect the final product!

    1. This is only one way of making bread, you can change the process to suite your schedule.
      If you check, a lot of my sweet breads get this long bulk (retarding after the bulk).
      It’s all about the science behind this. During bulk we want the yeast to multiply rapidly ( that’s why the name bulk) so it will have a healthy/fast final proof.
      If you delay the bulk, you are essentially delaying the whole process, so it is up to you and also depends on the recipe/ingredients and the rest of the process.
      Hope this helps!
      Cheers

  5. Hi, love your baking blog! I would like to make this my basic recipe for crusty sourdough loaves, but have the following questions:

    1. How should I adapt if I wanted to add flavours to the loaves?
    2. Can I just stick to the recipe and add the flavours (in particular I am planning to add 1. spice powders 2. raisins and 3. leek and bacon) right before bulk fermentation stage?
    3. Or should I be adding them at a different stage?

    Look forward to your advice!

    1. Hi Lizzie, Thanks.
      To answer your questions,
      1.Yes you can absolutely use this recipe with a little tweak to water % (make sure to use strong bread flour) to make flavors.I do this all the time.
      2. If you are adding moist stuff like leek, use a little less water 78% – 75%. For dried fruit, spice etc, you can use the same recipe.
      3. Yes add them before the bulk. When you incorporate stuff, take care not to overmix ( fold in or stretch the dough and spread stuff and roll back) Also you can add spices in the beginning at the autolyse stage too, so they will be better incorporated.

  6. Hi, love your baking blog!

    I am thinking of using this recipe as the basic recipe for my sourdough bread, and to add flavours such as spices or leek/ bacon pieces or raisins.

    May I know if the recipes will need to be adapted, or can I just add these ingredients before bulk fermentation?

    Also, is it absolutely no-no to use a mixer for these high hydration breads? Thanks so much!

    1. You can use this recipe, but just tweak the water %. If you are adding stuff with moisture, fresh vegetables, fruits then reduce water in the recipe. I would normally go between 75% – 78% depending on what I add. For dried fruits, cheese kind of stuff, you can use the same hydration. Make sure to use strong bread flour in either case. And yes with high hydration, they are best added just before bulk and do not over-mix.

      The thing with high hydrated douhgs is that it’s easier to over mix and destroy the gluten (dissolve) if you use a mixer, specially small quantities at home. But if you take care, then you can use a mixer for the initial mixing bit. But for the rest of the process, you should use folds ( that’s what we did in commercial bakeries too)
      Hope this helps.
      Cheers!

  7. Hi your recipe and all posts fascinate me! I am so going to try your method for my next bake! Just one question: if I am not going to retard in fridge after shaping, how long do I need to wait for the second proof before baking?

    1. Thanks πŸ™‚
      If you are not retarding, just let the dough rest for about an hour after the folding and bulking part is done.
      Then continue with pre-shaping, shaping and let it proof as usual.

      1. Hi again, thank you for your reply! May I know how long is the proofing after shaping (without step 11) before going into oven?

        1. In sourdough, there is no specific time for proofing. It could be anywhere from 3-5 hours depending on room temperature, starter strength, recipe etc.
          You should be able to tell when it is proofed (this is the tricky bit that you have to master over time)
          Best way to know if a bread is proofed is to do the “poke test”
          poke test: when you gently poke the dough with a finger;
          -if it spring right back (like rubber)then it is under proofed
          -if it spring back in slow motion but not all the way back then it’s proofed (perfect! ready to be baked and will give nice oven spring)
          -if if doesn’t spring back and leave a dent(imprint), then it is over proofed ( it will still bake into a good bread but with minimal oven spring)

          hope this helps!

  8. Hi,
    I’m loving your blog, and currently trying out your sourdough croissant recipe (it’s a long 24 hours wait before laminating! πŸ˜‰ )

    I’ve been experimenting with sourdough bread for a few years now and can produce a pretty good loaf.
    However, I have just tried making a high hydration loaf from my current recipe by just adding more water. I pretty much failed at the first hurdle and ended up having to add more flour. I was surprised that this actually worked and the final result was more like a cross between my normal loaf and a high-hydration one, but very tasty nonetheless!

    Having just read through this page I think I now know where I went wrong. Firstly, I think I over-kneaded the dough, not realising that folding would be a better method for this type of bread. Secondly, I had a vague idea of shaping and what it did, but didn’t realise how much you can develop the structure of the dough by shaping.

    Thanks to your blog, I’m going to give High-hydration dough another shot in the next couple of weeks, but I do have one question. I bake my bread on a granite stone in an electric oven, the oven temperatures and baking times in your recipe are for a Dutch oven, will they be the same for baking on a stone?

    1. Thanks you. I am glad you find my blog helpful. I was struggling too, once, so I know the pain. πŸ™‚

      Yes the temperatures would be the same!
      I use a Dutch Oven mainly because my oven is a conventional (old fashioned/ what came with the apartment) and it doesn’t get hot enough for bread. Back at home I had a good accurate electric oven and I didn’t use a DO.
      So if your oven is accurate and heats up evenly (convection) then you wouldn’t need a DO and use this same temperature to bake bread.

      Cheers!

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