This is going to be a short one…
After reading lots of forum posts from people saying things like, “I stretch and fold my dough like Ken Forkish says in Flour Water Salt Yeast, and my dough still seems like batter,” then seeing replies from other folks about lowering hydration, I thought I’d address it here.
Before you even think about playing with hydration numbers, look to your stretch and fold technique first. Most beginning bakers only fold the dough, but they don’t actually stretch it. You have to stretch your dough to its extents without tearing it, then fold it over.
For example, look at the picture to the left. As you can see, I’m really stretching the dough. And though it’s difficult to tell from the picture, I’ve actually pulled the dough out about 12″ from the base dough ball. Then I folded it over the main mass. While stretching the dough, I could feel the dough strengthening.
Also, another point of confusion with stretching and folding dough is the number of times you should do it during a session. As a rule of thumb, I will do stretches and folds until the dough no longer wants to be stretched, and as I stretch the whole dough mass wants to come along. For the stiffer, lower-hydration dough, that could be 3 to 4 stretches and folds. But for wetter dough, like the 82% dough shown in the picture, that could be 12-15 times!
Forkish talks about turning the dough over onto its folds after the end of a folding session. You really can only do that when you’ve created lots of tension through stretching.
What about protein content?
Though related, it’s a slightly different topic and yes, a soupy, soppy dough could be the result of using flour that can’t support the hydration levels called for in a recipe. But I’ve found that developing dough strength – or lack thereof – tends to be the culprit.