Water is one of the essential ingredients of bread, and it plays a vital role in dough making and baking. The required amount of water depends on several factors, including the type of bread you choose to make, and the quality of the flour.
The purpose of my post is to explain the role of water in bread making and what happens if you don’t add enough of it to the dough.
If you add too little water to the bread dough, it will be dry and difficult to work with. Dough made with too little water can result in bread with a small volume, poor shape, dry crumb and dense texture. • The water turns into steam during baking, thereby raising the bread dough and helping to make the finished product airy. • With insufficient water, the flour will not be properly hydrated, and therefore the gluten that provides the bread's structure cannot develop properly. • Lack of water inhibits the activation and fermentation of the yeast.
Bread made with too little water will not rise sufficiently. On the other hand, if you add too much water to the bread dough, the bread will become flat, dense, and shapeless.
What is the purpose of water in bread making?
Water and other liquids that we use to make bread dough have several functions, all of which are very important:
- Yeast is a living organism that needs water to activate and ferment. The yeast must be suspended in water so that it can be evenly distributed in the dough.
- Flour needs water so that the gluten can develop and the starch can swell sufficiently. Gluten gives the bread its structure and allows it to rise well.
- The starch granules in flour need water to swell. The starch turns into sugar and feeds the yeast. The sugar also caramelizes, helping to form the brown crust.
- During baking, the water evaporates and raises the dough, which helps to increase the volume and create an airy structure.
A well-made bread dough is flexible, malleable, and can be easily shaped by hand.
How much water should you add to the bread dough?
Depending on the type of bread, the amount of water is usually 57-80% of the weight of the flour. When making homemade bread, you need a certain degree of experience to determine precisely how much water is required.
The best starting point is to choose a simple and precise basic bread recipe. Recipes that specify the weight of ingredients (grams/oz) are more accurate than those that specify volume (cups, teaspoons, tablespoons). If necessary, you can slightly change the amount of water and flour.
The amount of water required for bread dough depends on the protein content of the flour. The higher the protein content of the flour, the more water it needs. The amount of water needed may also vary based on the moisture content of the flour, and the environment.
Yeasted bread made using the straight-dough method usually requires less liquid than pre-fermented bread.
Does the quality of the water affect the quality of the bread dough?
Water hardness refers to the mineral content of the water, which mostly consists of magnesium and calcium. Too soft and too hard water can negatively affect the yeast and the development of gluten. Tap water of average hardness is suitable for making yeasted and sourdough bread.
The high chlorine concentration in tap water can also adversely affect the work of yeast in bread dough. If the water in your area is extremely soft, hard, or chlorinated, you may get better results with bottled water.
Can you use other liquids besides water to make bread?
In addition to water, you can also use milk, buttermilk, or beer to make bread dough. Each of these liquids affects the bread dough in different ways. I prefer to make bread with whey rather than water. You may also wish to learn more about the main ingredients in bread and their functions.
You can replace some or all of the water required for making bread dough with milk. Due to the fat content of the milk, the crumb and crust of the bread will be softer.
Milk fat makes the dough more malleable and easier to shape. Milk also contains proteins and carbohydrates, which increase the nutritional value of bread.
The caramelization of the milk sugar helps in the formation of the brown crust of the bread, so adding too much milk can result in bread that is too dark. Caramelized milk sugar gives the bread a characteristic, pleasant taste.
Milk also increases the acidity of bread, as lactic acid is produced by the fermentation of milk sugar.
Whey and buttermilk
Whey is a byproduct of cheese making. It is acidic and rich in proteins. Buttermilk was originally the acidic liquid that was created as a byproduct of butter churning. However, the cultured buttermilk currently available in stores has nothing to do with butter making but is a milk product fermented by lactic acid bacteria.
The acid and protein content of whey and buttermilk have a beneficial effect on bread dough, especially for yeasted bread, as they increase the acidity of the bread. By using whey or buttermilk, you can make bread with a pleasant taste and a soft crumb. While on the subject of acidity, you may be interested in my article on the causes of the vinegary smell in bread dough.
When making quick bread, baking soda reacts with the acid in the whey or buttermilk to produce carbon dioxide, which is necessary for the bread to rise properly.
Both beer and bread dough is fermented with yeast. During fermentation, a small amount of alcohol and a lot of carbon dioxide is formed in the bread, while the reverse happens when brewing beer. Milder-tasting beers are better for making bread dough.
The water in which the potatoes were cooked can be very useful for making yeast dough, but only if you don’t add salt. A significant part of the potassium in potatoes remains in the cooking water. Potassium helps yeast activity and speeds up fermentation.
Water is a very important component of bread dough, as the amount of liquid affects the texture of the finished product. Bread made with too little water will be dense and small in volume. Water is necessary for the fermentation of yeast, the development of gluten, the swelling of starch, and the generation of steam during baking.
With time and some practice, you can learn exactly how much liquid is needed to bake good-quality homemade bread. You may be also interested in my apple bread pudding recipe, which is a great solution for using up leftover bread.