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Liquid in bread... why are there different amounts?

Posted by Bee & John on March 19, 2012 at 5:55 AM

I had a very interesting question from a client yesterday...

If the recipe for spelt rolls, basic bread, foccacia and pizza dough have the same amount of flour.... why is the liquid (water/milk) required so vastly different.  Ranging from 280g to 400g.  (These are recipes from the Everyday cookbook)

The answer - when you put logic to it - is that they are very different breads.  You need liquid in bread, that's a given, but the amount of liquid required depends on a couple of things.

  • The result you want to get.  
    • A very sticky/wet dough will make a very soft bread.  Foccacia, for instance, is a very soft bread.  However, a bread that is designed to be sliced, ie: a loaf, would not be useful being too soft.  It'd be too hard to cut into slices.  Whereas very dry doughs are used to make crackers for example.
  • The method of cooking.  
    • Going back to the foccacia - foccacia's are traditionally flat and thinish.  That means there will be a greater surface area open to the heat in the oven than a loaf in a tin.  That means that it will dry out more.  Having a little extra moisture in the dough to begin with will make sure it is STILL soft when it has finished cooking
    • Pizzas, although flat and thinish, (depends on how thin you want it I'm guessing) will NOT get the chance to dry out in the oven because of the toppings.  In fact, having a sauce and some nice gooey cheese may even ADD a little moisture to the bread - therefore the pizza dough is a little dryer than the others.
  • The other ingredients in the recipe.  
    • You may be putting less water or milk in, but does the recipe call for more oil?  An egg?  Some butter?  These are all liquids really and have to be counted in the dry to wet ratio
    • What is the other liquid?  Maybe the liquid asked for is more or less dense, requiring more or less?
    • The other ingredients in the bread.  Are there other ingredients that may soak up the liquid like dried fruits or dried seeds, that you have to allow for?  When I add some dates and/or apricots to the Brioche bread (our favourite fruit loaf) I always add an exta 10-20g of milk.

Basically there are a variety of reasons why there are different levels of some things in recipes than others.  My advice?  Try the recipe just how it is stated in the recipe.  Then... if you feel like something different - try it a little wetter, a little drier - or change the liquid to something else (eg: coconut milk, almond milk, veggie juice) and see if you get the bread to suit your needs and taste buds.

My favourite bread?  I like doughs that are sticky.  Don't worry about cleaning the bowl - for a start, use the quick pulse on Turbo to flick any remaining dough off the blades - get as much out as you can and then just use a Thermomix brush with some cold water - it's easy really and well worth the effort with the lovely. yummy, soft bread.

Categories: For your interest, Breads, Owner's Stories