One of the things I bang on about during my bread classes is how different flour can be. Even using the same brand of flour can be different from bag to bag. It will depend on so many factors: where the grain was grown – country and even county can make a difference; the soil health and type; weather conditions the grain was grown in; whether it’s spring or winter wheat; the variety of grain; how long it has been since harvest; how long since the flour was milled; how it was milled – roller and stone grinding produce very different flour texture and flour composition; whether the grain was tempered before milling; the moisture content of the grain at the time of milling; the protein content of the grain; the gliadin/glutenin ratio of the grain etc.
See what I mean? There are a lot of variables even if you are considering what may seem at first the same type of flour, i.e strong white. All of these factors will make a difference to how the dough absorbs water. Then if you bring in the difference between using white flour, wholemeal flour, adding in rye, einkorn, spelt, emmer, kamut the absorbency of the flour changes again.
This morning I have been preparing starters ready for my sourdough class on Saturday. I have used my wholemeal starter as a basis for making a white, rye and spelt to show how it is possible to have flexibility with your starters without maintaining four different starters all the time. I take my wholemeal starter and refresh it about four times in the next two days. By then, it has changed its appearance, its aroma and its flora. When I mixed them up this morning I used 20g of my wholemeal starter, 50g of flour and 50g of water. Here is how they all look:
I hope this illustrates that these different flours have very different absorbency rates. The rye will take a lot more water than the white and the spelt. Whilst the spelt needs a little more water to get to the same consistency as the white.
When you are making bread use your senses – touch, sight and smell, to adapt your recipe. Don’t follow a bread recipe word for word. If it asks for 325g of water, add 300g and then splash more in as you mix. Use your sense to tell you when your dough has had enough water. Let your dough sit for at least ten minutes and then see if it needs a bit more water. If you think it does, wet your hands and use the remaining water on your hands to mix the dough a bit more. Keep doing this until the dough feels right. Bread making is all about your senses and getting used to how the dough feels in your hands and adapting to each batch of flour and each loaf by learning from experience.