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A friend and I was to make bread together. We quickly found that we had been taught differently on how to make the dough.

I had learned to first just mix flour, yeast and water evenly. Let them sit quietly for half an hour to allow the flour to absorb the fluids. Then add salt and knead the dough.

He had learned to mix everything, knead fully then for the last minute add salt.

Can someone suggest the pros and cons of the two tactics?

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2 Answers 2

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Salt has an effect on the enzymes in flour, as well as how the water affects gluten development and yeast activity. Generally when salt is added later in the mixing process, it is to allow more time for enzymatic processes to happen before the salt inhibits them. (Alternately, you can add salt at the very beginning with all the other ingredients as long as it doesn't come in contact with fresh yeast.)

Kneading dough without salt can help the gluten to develop faster, and give you a very smooth, extensible dough. The problem is that then you have to knead dry salt into a developed dough, which can be pretty hard to do.

Letting the dough sit without salt (called an autolyse) allows for enzymes to do most of the gluten development work before you start actually kneading it, letting it form a developed dough very quickly. The advantage of this is that the dough is not yet fully developed when you add the salt, so it's a lot easier to get it incorporated.

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The main challenge with adding salt in a bread recipe is:

  • Getting it distributed evenly throughout the dough
  • Not inhibiting yeast growth

Most recipes are 2% salt or less, which does not have a huge effect on yeast growth so that is not the primary concern.

Therefore, the easiest way to do it is to mix it with the flour, or with the wet ingredients early, so that it will be well distributed. That is much harder to do once a dough has formed and started to develop structure.

However, if you are using a preferment (also called a biga, paloush or several other things) where you start fermenting some of the flour and water with the yeast early, you don't want to put salt in the preferment, as it would be much more concentrated, and the only purpose of the preferment is yeast development.

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