The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Handling Wet Dough

wnmoore's picture

Handling Wet Dough

I’ve just found your web site and I’m impressed with it!  I’m a long time amateur baker, and have learned a lot by trial and error and reading books on the subject.  However, I have been disappointed in most books.  They don’t seem to cover things I need to know as well as they might.  In the last few days, I have been reading the forums and lessons here, and some of my self taught lessons have been confirmed and I have learned some new things.


I have been trying to duplicate a loaf a bakery calls “Tuscan Bread”. This post asks members to comment on my most perplexing problem to date:


 How do I get a rustic loaf with a crumb with large holes and spongy interior, while still having a loaf that is manageable in handling, shaping and slashing before baking?


While I have had success getting the desired crumb, it has come at the cost of having a loaf which is so fragile, it deflates if I try to slash it, and is impossible for me to handle, so I do the last rise, placing in the oven and first 10 minutes of baking on parchment paper.  I do not slash.


Here’s my latest effort:


Tuscan Bread


They were made with 20% “All Trumps” high gluten flour, 80% unbleached “King Arthur” all purpose flour, mixed with an overnight pre-ferment, 72% water, yeast and salt.  During the first rise, I twice poured the dough on a work table, flattened the dough, stretched it, folded it twice, and returned it to the bowl.


The dough was so wet, the loaves did not hold their shape (they flattened) when rising, even though I shaped them by flattening and rolling the dough as the loaves were formed.  Even so, when I baked them, I got a good pop in the oven, the result of starting with a preheated 525 degree pizza stone, then lowering the heat to 400. Overall I’m pretty happy with the crumb and the loaves, but looking for better techniques.


Are these problems normal for dough like this, or are there more tricks for making the dough  more manageable??

sphealey's picture

I don't slash the really wet doughs (such as Floydm's Daily Bread). Trying to slash a mass that is that close to liquid just causes it to deflate, as you noted. They puff up fine and generally don't burst. I don't get the burned edge, which I like, but my family prefers that the bread not have the burned edges anyway.



breadnut's picture

Almost all my loaves are at 73% hydration, (with an overnight pre-ferment). What I found helpful was the longer fermentation times with more folds. I normally Let the dough ferment about 8 hours with about 4-5 folds at 90 minute intervals. This takes the dough from a very messy stage to a manageable dough.

Here's the dough initially


Here's the dough after 4 folds


The only thing I do differently than the above pics now is  i use oil instead of flour to work the dough. I rub a small amount over the work area and it makes the dough easier to stretch and fold as opposed to using a lot of flour, and this way I don't dilute the hydration level by adding more flour to the dough.

I let the dough ferment in a pretty cool room (not the fridge) and following fermentation, I shape, let it go through its final rise for about 2-2 1/2 hours, and toss the dough in the fridge overnight . The next morning, I take the dough out of the fridge and let it sit covered for about 25 minutes, then I slash it with an extremely sharp oiled blade, and let it bake at about 525 for 20 minutes, and 420 for 40 minutes, creating steam the first 5 minutes.

I think a dough that is so high in hydration will not hold it's shape once taken out of it proofing basket, even if the dough was in the fridge. An extremely hot oven will help out a lot with the spring. Try fermenting longer and folding more. I don't think 2 folds is enough. Normally the second time I'm folding, the dough is still really wet. I have gone from 4 to about 7 folds, depending on what I'm trying to do, but I think 4 folds should be the minimum to get a manageable dough. Hope this helps.

This loaf was done over the week-end

HUGO's picture

I find the best way to proof and insert wet dough in the oven as follows. (no parchment)

after folds and ferment round dough, seal, and place near the handle of a well dry rye floured pizza peel. As it proofs(and spreads flat) tip the peel towards the front while turning the wet dough 1/4 on its edge. By the time it is ready for the oven, it will be on the tip of the peel and slightly oblong shaped like a bullet. Tip the peel again and roll it on the hot stone and bake. the loaf will roll on the stone high and rounded. The oven spring will insure the loaf stays ''round and high'' ( at this moment, i'm making a sour dough loaf of rustic whole wheat.) by the way sourdough lady----your starter is as good as it gets!

p.s. Tomorrow is election day. Be careful who you vote for---your life may be depending on it!

UnConundrum's picture

I agree that folding is the key to a wet dough.  It builds the gluten and pulls the dough together.

earwax's picture

I agree that folding works for highly hydrated doughs, but I have had better luck developing the gluten with part of the water, then adding the remainder. Since I discovered this, my ciabatta, et al, have been as good as any I've seen or tasted. Also, allowing full fermentation of the dough, using the right amount of yeast or "punching" down to get a full four hours for a dough filled with air, then handling reasonbly gently when forming--not "moulded," rolled, or slashed, but rather stretched and cut--liberally flouring all surfaces, helps to keep the exterior more easy to handle, while the interior isn't as vulneralble to taking on more flour.

thechilibuddy's picture

I've been trying the No-knead bread recipe for a few months and I've ended up with really wet dough. A few suggests are to fold it even more till it doesn't become so wet. Am I understanding this right?

I use 2 1/2 cups plain flour + 1/2 wholemeal flour
1 1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp yeast
1/2 tsp bread condition and leave it for almost 18 hours in my unheated mircrowave because I live in a very breezy area that doesn't help the dough to rise.

My dough rises about doubly but its incredibly wet and it doesn't seem to rise as much as in the videos or large air structures in the pictures. It tastes great but doesn't lookquite like what I keep expecting it to after watching youtuve videos of it over and over.

I am wondering what I'm doing wrong. Please help!

mrfrost's picture

You did not mention how much water you are using. Also, what is the temperature inside the proofing box?

It's no crime to back off on the water, a wee bit. Also, the longer the mix ferments, the wetter it becomes. This may also be the case of too high a temperature, and/or too much yeast.

You might try try one(or more) of the following:

1. Decrease the water by 1 oz(29 ml or gr). I think I read there is one recipe that calls for 13 oz water, but really should be 12 oz.

2. Use a little less yeast. Really 1/4 tsp or just a scant more should be enough.

3. Try a shorter initial rising period; maybe just 12 hours, especially if you use more than 1/4 tsp yeast.

thechilibuddy's picture

I use 1 cup and just a little more tepid water. I'm not sure what's the temperature; I usually zap a little bit of water in the mircowave oven for about 30 secs to warm up the rest of the cup for the yeast and then put the mixture in the oven. I don't think the temperature is too high, but I might cut down on even less water.

But some of my research has seemed to suggest that more kneading is actually going to help make the dough less wet - is that going to be helpful for this 'no-knead' recipe is that what's going to turn the tide?

I'm going to try again this weekend with your suggestions and see how it turns out. I'm hoping for some bigger crumb structure/holes in my bread!

great boules of fire's picture
great boules of fire

I thought this was better added onto this thread rather than to start a new one on a similar subject.

I've been progressing onto sourdough and mainly using James Morton, Brilliant Bread which has done me well up till now, but has frustrated me with sourdough. 

I'm practicing on a simple white sourdough, 75% hydration, and am finding it not just wet but so sticky, it flows like cake batter, won't hold shape and sticks even to a well floured board. I must be doing something very fundamental wrong. Here's the receipe (sorry for the different measures we use this side of the pond):

500g flour

200g starter (50% hydration, normally kept in the fridge during the week and fed every few days, taken out near the weekend and fed 12 hourly to get it active)

10g salt

275g water

After mixing I leave it 30minutes to autolyse.  I then knead it sometimes by hand, sometimes in a stand mixer, for 10-15min until it passes the windowpane test. Then leave it to prove at room temperature (62-68F) for 4-6 hours or overnight in the fridge. Then try to shape it into a ball and place it into a proving basket and leave until doubled in size, perhaps 2-3 hours. Turn my splat out onto a peel with baking paper on and transfer to the oven at 430F with some steam before turning it down to 395F. Receipe strikes me as quite different from what people have been talking about above. 

I assume it is something about the starter or sourdoughs generally because I have successfully made half-way sour loaves with 7g dried yeast and 100g of starved starter for flavour, still at 75% hydration, and they've been much easier to handle.

Perhaps I could change receipe but then I wouldn't learn what I'm doing wrong or what is wrong with this receipe, and valuable learning will be missed. What do you all think?

KathyF's picture

Are those numbers right for your recipe? Those numbers don't come out the 75% hydration. Do you mean your starter is at 100% hydration?

In any case, maybe it's your flour. Some flours don't absorb water and hold up as well as others. I would suggest either trying a different flour or dialing back on the hydration a bit. Or it could be the high amount of starter. The yeast and bacteria do break down the flour, so maybe try reducing the percentage of starter.

Maverick's picture

I too don't see where this is 75% hydration. If it was a 50% hydrated starter then that would mean it would be 133g of flour + 67g of water. The total hydration would be 54%. So I have to assume you meant the starter is 50% water (which is 100% hydration), but even then it is only 62.5% hydration when factoring in the flour and water from the starter. Once mixed well, this should be pretty firm. 75% would require the addition of another 75g of water.

ETA: By the way, a lot of us on this forum use grams even if from the U.S. It is much easier to scale.

great boules of fire's picture
great boules of fire

I spotted the other error- should be 400g flour not 500g. That, plus the 200g of 100% hydration starter and 275g water gives 375/500= 0.75 

Sorry about that. 

great boules of fire's picture
great boules of fire

Well spotted, my starter is at 100% hydration. 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

They tend to loose their shape more during rises than a loaf raised with yeast.  It's because you got all those extra bacteria in there helping out with fermentation (even though it takes longer)  So...  

So so so (thinking here) when you see the dough rise more <out> than ûp or loosing it's shape (easy to watch when dough is on table covered with a bowl)  flip the dough over and do some folding to stretch the skin around the dough blob and firm it up.  Turn your puddle back into a loaf again.   I tend to do a simple fold from each of the 4 directions pulling out the dough and stretching it over the top of the mass.  Then do the opposite side.  There is more than one way so enjoy the fun and watch the changes.  

If the dough stretched like crazy and I think I can do another round of folds without tearing the dough surface, I do. When done stretching, flip the dough back over and tuck under any protruding corners and let it continue to bulk rise.  :)