Dough Basics 101

When you enter this world of baking, you soon realise there are a lot of new terms and concepts to learn - even with a bit of mathematics thrown in for good measure. Here are some of the most important things to understand. 

Baking Percentages
Baking percentages are the base of every recipe. These help bakers adjust the actual quantity of the ingredients up or down, depending on how much bread they have to make. It also a very easy way to give recipes. All ingredient weights are a relative percentage of the total flour mass.

Flour mass (FM) is always 100%. So if you are using different types of flour then the total weight of all of these together will always represent the 100% baseline in your recipe.

Water is measured relative to the total flour mass. This is called Hydration. Hydration varies from 60% for a stiff bread dough to 100% for a very wet dough. To calculate the amount water required in a recipe you multiply the water percentage by the weight of the flour.

The complication is that you also need to include the flour and water in your motherdough to arrive at an accurate hydration calculation. Hydration is important as it influences the texture, crumb and crust of the bread and varying hydration is a factor in the type of bread you want to make. 

Let's assume you have 500g flour. You require a dough of 70% hydration. The calculation would be as follows: FM 500g X 70% = 350g water.

If you add 90g of Motherdough to this recipe you know that you always refresh your Motherdough at a flour:water ration of 2:1 or 50% Hydration. This means that in 90g of motherdough you have 60g flour and 30g water. This would increase FM to 560g. This means that the water required for 70% hydration would be 560g FM X 70% = 392g water. So 350g water from the original calculation, plus 30g water in the Motherdough = 380g, so you need to add 12g water to achieve accurate 70% hydration in this recipe. 

Salt is usually added at 2% of FM

Oil and fats vary according to the recipe from as low as 2% for oils to as much as 100% butter in very rich brioche doughs. 

We have created a Hydration Calculator that does all the thinking for you. Click here to calculate the water and salt needed for your recipe. 

A starter is a mix of flour and water that naturally ferments. The starter is fed and refreshed indefinitely, and prior to a bake. This starter can either continue life as a liquid or as a solid like Motherdough. 

Refreshed Motherdough
This is a piece of Motherdough taken from your Motherdough after she has been fed. This ready to use 2-4 hours after feeding or when doubled in size. This provides the dough with a starting population of yeast and bacteria to give you rise.

Is the process to mix the ingredients in your dough and add strength to the final product. This can be done by hand or with a mixer.

The importance of kneading lies in the mixing of the flour and the water. When these two ingredients are combined and kneaded, proteins in the flour expand and form strands of gluten which gives bread its texture. The kneading process warms and stretches these gluten strands, eventually creating a springy and elastic dough.

Kneading is not always necessary and depends on the recipe. Gluten develops passively when hydrated dough rests. This is one of the benefits of a long slow rise.

Read our detailed post on kneading here

Stretch & Fold 
Bakers use the stretch and fold technique to improve the quality of their sourdough bread. When done correctly, it will strengthen the gluten and gently incorporate air into the dough without kneading. The benefit is an increase in volume and a better spring. 

Autolyse is a step in the baking process where only flour and water are mixed together, always at the beginning of the whole process. You do not add anything else at this stage.  

Not only does it initiate enzymatic activity in the dough which helps draw out sugars from the flour, but it also increases its extensibility (the ability for the dough to stretch out without tearing). Increased extensibility is a good thing: it allows the dough to expand and fill with gasses, resulting in a light & airy loaf. This is particularly useful in high hydration dough (80-90%) as it helps the flour to hold more water. 

The "lyse" is pronounced like the "lease" in please for those of you repeating the word in your head wondering exactly that! 

Bulk Fermentation
This is the first rise of the dough as a single mass before any shaping or dividing and takes place after mixing the flour, salt, and motherdough.

This rise could be static, i.e. that you don't touch the dough after mixing until the rise is complete.This rise could also be after kneading to a smooth consistency either by hand or mechanically. No all recipes require kneading, but may require the "stretch and fold" technique during the bulk rise.  

The fermentation process during this step is critical and provides flavor to the dough in the form of alcohols & acids and also leavens the dough through gaseous byproducts. This can be done either at room temperature or a long slow cold rise. 

Shaping is the technique to give the bread tension and structure to form the desired shape of loaf. Typical shapes are "boule" which is round or "batard" which is more oblong. 

The final rise takes place after shaping. This can be done slowly as a long cold rise, or at room temperature. After the dough is divided and shaped it continues to ferment, further strengthening the dough and giving it rise prior to baking. 

Dough Temperature
Dough temperature is the temperature of the dough right after mixing all ingredients together. Naturally, each ingredient (motherdough, the flour, the water, and the ambient environment) has a temperature and while most of these are out of our control, we can adjust the water temperature. Adjusting it enables us to influence the temperature of the mixed dough.