A comparison of hydration levels in different flours
To a certain extent they are right. If I tell you to measure 1,000 grams of flour, you can do that. If I tell you to add 700 grams of water, you can do that also.
And you can do that very precisely. Very accurately. And repeatably. However, will the results be what I was expecting you'd encounter? Here I have to reply with a big "maybe".
The issue here is that there isn't a single substance we can identify as "flour". Or even " bread flour". I have long felt that the results of mixing a known quantity of flour and water may not result in a very similar dough because of variations in flour.
As I worked on the flour tests, my suspicions were confirmed. In the pictures below, I have gathered the hydration pictures from the flour tests so they can be immediately compared.
You may be wondering what to look for in the pictures below. At a quick glance, they all look like little blobs of dough. The first column is the name of the flour. The second column is the dough mixed at 100% hydration, and raised on a fork. There are visible differences in consistency here. Some flow, some cling to the fork. The third column is the dough at 80% hydration. The dough is formed into a cylinder (if possible) and put on a cutting board. Some slump at once. Some turn into puddles of dough. Some retain their shape. All of which gives us an idea of the dough's consistency. The fourth column is a dough at 60% hydration. Again, the dough is formed into a column, placed onto the cutting board, and photographed. In some cases, the dough is so dry it can't absorb all the flour (Hungarian High Altitude Whole Wheat flour), in many cases, the dough is so stiff that seams cannot be sealed. In others, the dough is quite moist. This is usually visible if you look closely. All the photographs below can be seen in a larger version by clicking on them.