The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

will a mixer help significantly with wet dough? Help!

liseling's picture

will a mixer help significantly with wet dough? Help!

I am really bad at getting acceptable results with wet dough. I'd like to improve and start making baguettes etc. It seems to me that my problems have to do with mixing the dough without it sticking to everything and never seeming to get it to the point where it can be an actual cohesive piece of dough. Another problem that I always have is getting it to rise properly. Instead of rising into nice loaves anything I make with wet dough just flattens out in a puddle as soon as I start getting it ready to go into the oven.

I was thinking that I could solve the problem by getting a mixer of some sort so that I could mix the wet dough with that and avoid touching it as much as possible.

first question is what kind of mixer would help me with this but that I can get for $400 or less?

second question is whether any of you have previously struggled with wet dough and making baguettes and getting anything to rise and not come out of the oven as a flat brick-like object and who have managed to overcome these obstacles? I would REALLY appreciate any advice, tips, or any other information that you could pass along to me.




flournwater's picture

A mixer can make dough preparation less troublesome but, eventually, you have to handle the dough so it's not likely to entirely cure the difficulty you're having.  A Kitchen Aid stand mixer can be had for well under the $400 figure and, as a starting point, I think they're adequate for most who make bread once a week or less.  I've used mine for a couple of years and it's still going strong.

Baguettes are typically hydrated at about 65%.  If what you describe occurs after thorough kneading, the dough you describe is likely to be hydrated well above that level.  Without enough flour in the mix there is a shortage of structural material in the dough so it has an insufficient foundation upon which to build as it ferments.  If you're not weighing your ingredients you should be.  Any other method of calculating ingredients is guess work at best.  That works for those with a lot of experience who have learned to read the dough as it develops but without that level of exprience it is virtually impossible to get consistent results.

If making contact with the dough is distressing for you, it might help if you worked with food safe disposable vinyl gloves.  Working with those during the initial phases of mixing and kneading can reduce the sticky dough frustration until the dough becomes more workable.

swtgran's picture

I have a Kitchen Aid, frustrating, a DLX, often too big to mess with, and the small, light weight Bosch.  That baby does a lot more than it looks like it will do.  Now, virtually all my smaller batches of bread spend time in that little work horse. 

I mix my wet doughs in there, pour them in a rising bucket, when doubled, pour them on my floured board, do a couple of folds, wait about 20 minutes, fold, divide and shape.  I use a bench knife, scraper thing to do my folds, eliminating a lot of the dough on my hands.


Yumarama's picture

you may be getting flattened out loaves so in order to have people guess what you may or may not be doing out of the entire range of possible things/steps you may or may not be following, it would be helpful if you could describe your current process, what you are doing, the recipe you’re using and it's hydration level, how you're baking it, is it sourdough or instant yeast, how long is your proofing, what temp is your kitchen, etc.. 

You cannot be "too" detailed when looking for troubleshooting assistance.

dmsnyder's picture

The answer is "yes."

But, can you successfully mix wet dough without a mixer? The answer is also "yes."

The "French Fold" technique works very well with wet dough. So does "stretch and fold in the bowl." The latter is attractive if sticky fingers bother you.

The answer to your baguette questions can be found by searching TFL on "baguettes." You will find formulas varying from 65 to 75% hydration doughs. Some have fairly explicit instructions for mixing.

Here is a link to a formula for baguettes with instructions for mixing without a machine:

Hamelman no-knead French bread

In the context of your other questions, I suspect your loaves are flat because of inadequate gluten development, but there may be additional factors. Providing the recipe and procedures you are using will help us solve your problem.

Hope this helps.


liseling's picture

flournwater, it's not that contacting the dough is distressing for me - in fact I like it very much and would prefer to manually process ALL my bread. It's just that unfortuanately I must be pretty dexterously impared because I cant get wet doughs to stop sticking to my hands long enough to knead it! I've read that as you knead wet dough it should eventually start to stay together more, but I find it very difficult to knead dough that sticks to my fingers so much.


I've read that if you keep your hands wet while you're kneading it will keep the dough from sticking so much, but I havnt found that to help THAT much, and eventually I get to a situation like what you described, where it's too wet.

Oh, and I always weigh my ingredients and am pretty precise down to the gram for each recipe...


To rainbowz and to give you all more information: One attempt that I've made is with one of Peter Reinhart's sourdoughs in BBA. I cant remember the exact one and my book is still in transit from the UK (recently moved back to the US from there) but I think it was the Poilane sourdough loaf. I followed the directions as down to the letter as I could and it came out as a big flat brick pancake

That reminds me: I don't have a banneton and I've been using round bowls with a floury smooth towel that I proof the dough in instead. This might be contributing to a bit of the flatness if the dough sticks a bit and I have to slowly peel the towel off, but I am very gentle in turning the dough out and even when it comes out really easily it still seems to gradually slump into a puddle and doesnt rise much in the oven.

Is a banneton so much easier to work with?

I'm totally aware that it's possible to work with wet dough by hand... it's just that I've tried it a few times and I just end up making a big mess and the dough never really get's kneaded that well because it's all sticking to my fingers so much that it has to be scraped off with a scraper. That cant be good for developing gluten, but I just cant seem to avoid it. I think my technique basically sucks.

Yumarama's picture

Ah, the ol' "dough mittens" issue.

So here are a few potential ways to go:


  • Oil your hands lightly if you're finding water isn't working for you.

  • Allow for an autolyse (if your recipe doesn't include one) of 20-60 minutes; typically, this is done after you mix the flour and water but before you add salt and yeast. This will allow the flour to absorb more of the water and therefore be less "wet".

  • Try stretch and fold instead of kneading. There's much less 'handling" required. There are videos on this site that you can watch, here's a link to my own photo Stretch & Fold Show and Tell. Do two or three of them during the bulk ferment stage. And make use of your bench scraper to avoid more dough mitten issues.

  • REALLY flour up your couche/linen, be pretty generous, rub it into the cloth well. Use a mix of 50% rice flour and 50% AP. This is like flour teflon. 

  • A cotton dishcloth may be causing you more issues than helping if the surface has lots of fine fuzzy bits. If you can, go to your local fabric store and nab a piece of 100% natural linen. Be SURE to check it's 100%, there are poly-blends that are called "linen" but obviously aren't.

  • Alternatively, you may run across stained but still fine linen napkins at a second-hand store. If they'll fit the bowl, they would do too.

If your kneading was not getting that gluten developed, that would be a fairly good candidate behind the dough not holding it's shape.

flournwater's picture

The BBA Poilane final dough works out to a final hydration of approx. 71%.  That's pretty wet but not unmanageable.  The BBA Poilane is a somewhat complicated formula and it would take only a slight error to throw the hydration off.  If you were wetting your hands with water I suspect you exacerbated the problem with stickiness.  Using flour or oil would probably have been a better choice when kneading that dough and until you developed the gluten in the dough you would have great difficulty getting it to come together.  The different types of flour used in that formula (a total of 3) contributes to the final mix coming together as Reinhart's book describes.

But there's no way of knowing for certain why your attempt at the Poilane was disappointing unless you make it again and carefully note every step as you go.  At least I think we've got your sticky dough issue nailed down.  Best of luck with the next loaf.  Just keep trying; never give up.

liseling's picture

thanks rainbowz and flournwater for your suggestions on this matter and the thought you've put into them - I'll have to make another attempt and keep this thread handy while I'm preparing the dough!


I have tried stretch and fold and oil on the hands, but maybe it's like flournwater says and I got the dough really too wet. Also, now that I think of it back then when I was attempting these wet doughs my work surface was wood - now I have a marble surface where I do all my bread and that makes it much less likely to stick and easier to scrape. 

So, rainbowz (or anyone else who's gotten it down to a regular routine), when you say to stretch and fold INSTEAD of kneading, is it that first you autolyze then add the salt and yeast and mix it up, then turn the mixture out onto the surface, stretch and fold it, then put it in the proofing bowl? That's it? No kneading whatsoever??? Plus how many times do you do this throughout the proofing and how does it ever "double in size" or whatever the recipe calls for when you're messing around with it all the time?

Thanks again...

Yumarama's picture

Probably not. Here's another page where I have collected several Stretch & Fold videos. The third video is one with Richard Bertinet. He's doing a French Fold on very wet dough. There is no kneading.

Peter Reinhart has just released a  short video where he folds a really wet ciabatta dough but I think it's a pretty poor presentation. He seriously needs to redo that clip.

But yes, you can definitely do S&F on wet dough.

Mike Avery's clip shows him stretching a more solid dough and his web site has a whole series of clips where he's showing the entire process of several folds, as the dough progresses. No kneading at all there.

You usually do two or three stretches during the bulk proofing period. Almost any recipe will give you a time frame for how long that first proof should be, just split it in three or four and in the given intervals you do a stretch.

So for example, if they say to bulk ferment for two hours, you do your first stretch (or french fold for wet dough) at 30 min., the second stretch at 60, third at 90 and you're ready to do your final shape at 120. The dough still rises but you'd be going by time more than anything. Of course, you'll want to make sure your dough is in a cosy warm spot so it does rise well.

As for dough mittens... don't get too focused on that. As you're handling the dough and it starts to come together, most of that will come off your hands, you can also rub your hands together once you see the dough "gelling" so to speak (pointless if it's still quite wet and sticky) and rub most of it off and back onto the dough ball. I do suggest once you've removed the 'mitten' to take a second to wash off the remaining layer of sticky as I've found this attracts more dough; washing up for a second gets you back to just skin and less likely to re-stick. A bit of oil again at this point may also help. But mainly you should just not get bothered by it. Work through it and most of that will get taken back up by the dough.

flournwater's picture

I think the video of the "sourdough guy" on your linked site ( comes the closest to what xxx is working with in terms of hydration and I'm sure that one will  help a great deal.

liseling, where you ask "is it that first you autolyze then add the salt and yeast and mix it up," I'm left with the impression that you're adding yeast and salt to the mix toward the end of the process.  Why you'd leave those two ingredients out of the mix until the point you describe is a mystery to me.  Why wouldn't you put them into the formula during the initial mixing phase?

ianlea's picture

Great post great videos. I have been baking for around 18 months and I am still learning.

 Feeling the dough and using that to judge the state of development is what you are looking for. Recently I had to go out and leave the dough. It had just come out of the fridge and had already doubled, I took it out to portion and warm up. I had portioned it but then had to go out. When I got back the dough had risen again but had not been shaped. Normally I let the dough rise again after shaping. So I shaped the dough into baguettes ( flattened the dough a little into squares half fold towards me turned it and a full fold then rolled it into shape) .Proved the dough as normal and got  lovely bread in fact no difference or slightly better.

Last point try not to oil or flour your board when shaping, use a couple of scrapers if necessary.

Oh and use steam in the oven, I have a high density brick on the bottom rack.



ianlea's picture

As mentioned earlier there are methods that do not require you to knead the dough.I use this method for everything and I am grateful to David and Jane and their posts regarding no knead methods.

  Put flour water starter if you use one,and the yeast into your mixer. Mix it to just combine the ingredients no more add the salt mix for another 5- 10 seconds and then scrape out into an oiled container preferably one that has a lid as the next stage takes an hour or more depending on the temperature of the room. Leave the dough for around 30 mins and then stretch and fold repeat another 2-3 times every 20-30 minutes.

 I should have mentioned use a container twice the size of the initial size of the dough to allow for the stretch and the eventual doubling, the timing is not crucial but do get the dough to double in size. I usually refrigerate before it doubles  leaving the dough to double overnight. Next day cut to size let the dough come up to room temperature and then shape. This works for ciabatta as well but I do have to use a scraper to get it out of the mixing bowl.Ian.

liseling's picture

Thank you for the videos and new techniques! I'll have fun watching those.


flournwater, when I was asking about the process of autolyzing and then stretching and folding (and adding yeast and salt later) I was referring to when rainbowz suggested that I try autolyzing the dough before trying to knead it:


"Allow for an autolyse (if your recipe doesn't include one) of 20-60 minutes; typically, this is done after you mix the flour and water but before you add salt and yeast. This will allow the flour to absorb more of the water and therefore be less "wet"" - rainbowz


I think that autolyzation is usally done at least before adding yeast.


I should watch these videos first before I ask about this, but I'll just ask now: rainbowz, when you're talking about dough mittens you say that as I work with the dough it'll eventually get more cohesive and easier to keep it from sticking to my hands... but if I'm to do stretch and fold with no kneading then how am I spending enough time with my hands in the dough for it to have changed states like this? I mean, stretch and fold only takes, what? Two minutes? Or are you talking about if I were to knead?

Thanks for describing your technique ianlea - I'll try it out.

thanks for all the help!

Yumarama's picture

Flournwater said:

liseling, where you ask "is it that first you autolyze then add the salt and yeast and mix it up," I'm left with the impression that you're adding yeast and salt to the mix toward the end of the process.  Why you'd leave those two ingredients out of the mix until the point you describe is a mystery to me.  Why wouldn't you put them into the formula during the initial mixing phase?

Autolyse: This is usually done with the flour and water only, or with starter added if that includes much of the final dough's water. You want to keep salt and instant yeast out of it since the salt absorbs the water and has specific actions on the flour. Just let the flour soak up the water. This lets the gluten develop as well. You don't want to add the instant yeast yet because you're not ready to get the yeast activity going. Since the autolyse can be 20 minutes up to an hour, that's a fair bit of time for the yeast to activate. Neither are needed for the autolyse stage.

So add flour + water, mix until cohesive, cover and let sit. The add the rest of your ingredients and go on as normal with whatever further mixing the recipe requires. Once all ingredients are incorporated, you then move on to the next stage which could be either kneading or folding, as the case may be.

Dough Mittens: If your dough is that wet that you're building up a fair amount of dough on your hands, you'll be doing the French Fold for several minutes. Watch the video to see how it's done, you'll note Mr Bertinet get a bit of dough mitten action going but the dough quickly gets it's gluten act together and there's hardly anything left. A quick rub of the hands to get most of the remainder off, wash up quickly and work the loose bits in, you're done.

Stretch and Fold might take about 30-40 seconds, not two minutes, once you get the idea.

flournwater's picture

Thanks for the clarification on this autolyze thing.  I thought I understood it but, obviously, I didn't.  Your explanation helped a lot.

winemaker01's picture

I can only agree with those talking about folding etc. I have been making "Boules" with 78% hydration and was very, very frustrated to begin with. Then I started doing three folds about an hour apart and by the end it was pretty good. Eventually they go into pannetons in the frig for 12 hours. I then place the ball into the oven within an hour of getting them out of the pannetons and get pretty good oven spring. I am using sour dough. If however, I try and shape and then place into oven it does tend to flow a bit too quickly.

liseling's picture

Wow rainbowz, you've put together quite a nice collection of videos! And they were all pretty helpful. Now I see what you meant before when you were talking about the dough mittens gradually getting better (I suspected the answers would be in the videos - knew I should have waited to ask questions!).

Well that's helpful. I think I'll probably have to practice that a few times before it works as well as it does for everyone in the videos, but it's a start. 

Does anyone have any sourdough recipes to suggest that are pretty straight-forward and would be helpful for wet dough novices?