You may have heard of it or may have tried to bake a high hydration sourdough bread yourself. But you came to realise that handling a high hydrated dough takes quite a lot more work than a lower hydrated one. Being put off is very normal- but instead of that, you are now searching for a way to overcome this challenge. Well, you have come to the right place. In this article, we will walk you through a good guide for shaping a high hydration dough before baking!
New to sourdough baking? Read this sourdough beginner guides!
In this article, we are going to explore:
- What is a high-hydration dough and how is it different?
- Shaping a high hydration dough properly
- How long should the proofing last?
- Why is a banneton necessary for a perfect shaping?
- Final words
Let’s dive in what hydration means in sourdough bread baking.
From the very first step of your sourdough journey, dough hydration should be what you keep in mind.
Simply enough, hydration means the ratio of water and flour in your dough, which you manage by the feeding schedule you use for your starter. For example, if you want to make a low-hydrated dough later on, you have to start by following a ratio of, let’s say, 1:1, which means when you feed your starter an amount of flour, it should also be fed with the same amount of water.
Lower hydrated staters (at the rate of 50-70%) are firm and stiff while higher hydrated starter (100-125%) are very watery. When in dough form, these two kinds act very differently. As the hydration goes up, your dough becomes stickier, requires more technique to shape, and needs longer as well as more careful proofing. However, on the bright side, high hydration dough is more stretchable, which makes it easier if you aim to bake a pretty open-crumb bread. Besides, high hydration sourdough breads are rich in moisture, softer on the inside and crustier on the outside.
While there are lots of skills you have to pick up along the way, shaping could be one of the most challenging steps.
Why? As mentioned earlier, high-hydrated dough is very sticky: it sticks to everywhere: the bowl in which you mix the dough, the table top where you try to shape it, even your fingertips. Moreover, there is always a high chance that you over-work your dough, causing it to lose the structure and may never fall into shape.
To save you from all that troubles, our friend, Inna, has below an amazing tutorial video: she’ll show you how she works with her high- hydrated dough and how she succeeds in a same-day bake with it:
Well, you may have figured it out, kneading may not be the greatest choice when it comes to shaping a high hydration dough as at your dough is moist and very sticky. A skill set of folding, patting, stretching and pinching is then, what you need. After bulk fermentation, of course, Let’s see how Inna shapes an oval dough:
First, do not forget to flour the surface on which you are going to handle your dough. And be generous! This amount of flour is what keep your dough from sticking around.
Gently spread your dough on the floured surface. Keep in mind that it’s very important to treat your dough gently the whole step as otherwise, you risk breaking the structure and losing all the gas inside.
Start by grabbing one side of the dough and folding it over itself, pat the dough gently before repeating the same steps with the other side.
Gently raise the top of your dough, pull it out a little and roll it inward, using your thumbs to tuck your dough in.
Repeat rolling and tucking your dough for several times till you see it in a good roll.
Now, it’s time for the pinching: gently pinch your dough on both sides to close it into a perfect oval shape.
Grab your banneton and dust it with a good amount of flour. You will want to use a cloth liner if you are working with a high hydration dough. Carefully put your dough into a banneton basket.
Here, you can create extra- tension on the dough by sealing the seam: pinch the upper surface of the dough. Just remember to be gentle!
Finally, to the proofing stage, cover the banneton with a cloth liner to prevent the dough from drying out while proofing.
For a high hydration sourdough bread, it is recommended that you proof your dough for 24 hours in the fridge with the cloth cover. The time depends on how much yeast you use and the temperature, as well.
If, otherwise, you are in for a good same- day bake, you can try Inna’s advice: she often lets her dough proof in her banneton for 30 minutes at room temperature and then put the banneton in the fridge for another 30 minutes while her oven is pre-heating.
You know when your dough is ready by using a little test: gently press the surface for 2 seconds and see if it springs back slowly. If it does, your dough is now ready to score and bake!
Wanna know how to best use and care for your bannetons? Read this rundown!
Bannetons proofing baskets gives your dough support during proofing and give your dough a good shape. Especially if you are proofing a high hydration dough, which is very moist, easy to “blob out” and lose shape.
Without the cloth liner, the rattan bannetons leave beautiful liner patterns on your dough skin, and these patterns go on to become a print on the crust of the final bread- a characteristic of an artisanal baked loaves.
More over, cane bannetons wick a little moisture from the skin of your hydration dough while still protecting the moisture inside. Thanks to this, the dough becomes less sticky and easier to score and can perform a nice crumb openning during baking.
Baking high hydration sourdough bread can be a bold and challenging move for sourdough beginners, especially when it comes to shaping and handling the dough. However, it’s completely worth it.
Prepare to be blown away by the perfect open crumbs and super moist final bread that you can bake using high hydration baking receipts. Don’t forget to use your bannetons after shaping your dough to make sure your high hydrated dough is most securely protected and nurtured!