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Im just starting to learn about Dutch oven breads, aka "no-knead breads" and sometimes "artisan breads."

I made one yesterday. A piña colada bread, with macadamia nuts, coconut flakes (I couldn't find any unsweetened at the supermarket! Really!), pineapple juice as hydration, and chocolate chips. It was possibly a fluke, but it came out perfectly.

The reason I say it was a fluke is because I had so much grief mixing the dough. I mixed it in the bread maker, and even though dough is at 80% hydration, I found myself having to add more liquid, just to save my poor bread machine's life!

Then, I looked at some other basic recipes for no-knead bread. Most of them are at about 50% hydration (3 cups flour to 1 1/2 cups flour, I didn't bother to convert it to weight, yet, because it seems to be prevalent). And an article in Cook's Country website says the optimal hydration is 68%. A few other recipes had the hydration at 90%, or more!

So is there a consensus on hydration for baking bread in a Dutch oven? Is there a master formula? I know that the hydration needs to be higher than bread baked in a standard oven to produce the steam that makes that lovely crust. And are there any books on the subject that aren't camping-centric? (My idea of "camping" is having to stay at a Holiday Inn Express instead of the Marriott.) I have no interest in the minutiae of how many coals to put on top the lid, and how many under the Dutch oven.

Since I'm here, one other question: Do bakers' formulas include extraneous ingredients like fruits and nuts, or cheese? And if I want to add yogurt or sour cream, do I subtract that amount from the total hydration? Honey?

Okay, I've gone a bit off the wall. I'm so eager to learn, though. I don't think I've been quite so passionate about something since I "retired" from dance and choreography. The satisfaction of seeing (and smelling) fresh bread that I made myself is indescribable. So please mentor me!

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Welcome to ChefTalk JustJoel.

No knead bread gets its wonderful crumb and crust from the Dutch oven because of what is called "Oven Spring."
The Dutch oven increases the radiant energy and the humidity of the baking environment within.
Your dough is a complex network of bubbles of carbon dioxide gas both large and small produced as living yeast consumes sugars. The bubbles are separated by thin strands of gluten. These are the structures that give the bread its crumb and beautiful crust.
The amount of water needed to fully hydrate the dough can depend on many variables such as how the flour was measured, the moisture in the air and barometric pressure. Sound strange but it is true. Recipes are merely guidelines so you'll find as you bake more that you may have to add a bit more water or a bit more flour.
Have fun with the Dutch oven bread.....I enjoy making it too.

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Welcome to the mysterious world of bread baking Hydration is one of the central components of the mystery. To better understand it I think it will be helpful to convert all of your measurements to weight. Another important concept is baker's percentages. Everything is expressed as a percentage of the weight of the flour in the recipe.

It looks like you are using volume measure to come up with your hydration %. 3 cups of flour and 1 1/2 cups of water (assuming that's what you meant above) would actually be closer to 100%. Flour weighs about 4 Oz./cup, so 3 cups of flour weighs about 12 oz. 1 ½ cups of water weighs 12 oz. In this case the weight of the water = 100% of the weight of the flour.

Generally speaking the higher the hydration % the more open the crumb can be. Regular white sandwich dread is usually around 65-68%. Ciabatta is 80+%. There is no master formula, rather there are a million J The conditions in your kitchen (heat & humidity) are different than mine, so the amount of water we need will be different in order to get a dough right.

If you don't already have one, I'd suggest buying a scale. It will make life a lot easier. This is the one I have. It costs about $35.

Things like nuts, cheese, fruit and yogurt are typically included in formulas. Since yogurt contains significant moisture it would be considered when determining hydration %. Nutz and twigs can generally be added to taste. Have a handful of Walnuts lying around? Throw 'em in.

There is no shortage of books that can be helpful and don't involve tents or sleeping bags. Some of the books I have found very helpful…

The Bread Bakers Apprentice by Peter Reinhart

Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day

Artisan Baking Across America by Maggie Glezer

Bread: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes by Jeffrey Hammelman

Ask questions :)
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