Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

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The chemical composition of the water used to make the dough influences the dough’s qualities. Distinctly acid water weakens the gluten network, while a somewhat alkaline water strengthens it. Hard water will produce a firmer dough thanks to the cross-linking effects of calcium and magnesium. The proportion of water also influences dough consistency. The standard proportion for a firm bread dough capable of good aeration is 65 parts water to 100 parts all-purpose flour by weight (40% of the combined weight). Less water will produce a firmer, less extensible dough and a denser loaf, while more water produces a soft, less elastic dough and an open-textured loaf. Wet doughs that are barely kneadable—for example the Italian ciabatta—may be 80 parts water or more per 100 flour (45%). High-protein flours absorb as much as a third more water than all-purpose flours, so water proportions and corresponding textures also depend on the nature of the flour used.