The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

newbie baking percentage question -

pb9003's picture

newbie baking percentage question -

Hello all, Phil here.  Kind of new to baking bread but have turned out quite of bit of it already.  I've always been 'uncomfortable' with the recipes that instructed to keep adding flour until the dough 'cleans the sides of the bowl', and thought that the 'percentage method', me being a numbers guy in real life, was perfect.  So I jump in with a 65% hydration, do my math, check it, and off I go knowing that this is how much flour, this is how much water, and we're not going to guess about it.  Using a KA mixer, everything goes in and gets mixed, but a) the dough never 'cleans' the sides of the bowl, b) i can barely touch the dough without it sticking to my hands, and c) I end up adding more flour so I can at least knead the dough somewhat, which is what i've tried to avoid to begin with.  I'm beginning to suspect that perhaps I just need to continue with kneading to get to a nice satiny dough that I can touch, shape, etc??  Usually the total time for mixing, kneading etc. is about 10 minutes or less from the time the bowl is empty to the time it's empty once more.  While I ultimately get a loaf of bread, it usually tends to be a bit dense and always has a crumb much finer than what i'm shooting for.  I've just begun using the paddle to mix about 2/3 of the flour with the water, yeast and salt, and then switch to the hook for the final addition of flour but haven't noticed much difference.  I did however make the quick ciabotta loaves that just get beaten with the paddle and did notice that even with all that water, the bowl does indeed clean itself, which is what's leading me to think that if I spend more time mixing/kneading perhaps I'll get that nice soft satiny dough I keep seeing on you-tube.  OTOH, I have read that mixing or kneading too much can contribute to too fine a crumb and that's what's making me keep the time in the mixer minimized.  I'll also add that even whilst using explicit instructions such as "2-3 minutes of mixing will bring your dough together", that never happens in my mixer(KSM5, about 15 years old) - at that point I still have all kinds of flour around the perimeter and a very liquidy batter in the middle. So I then crank up the speed to like 5, and knead there, although still not getting a dough that cleans the sides of the bowl and is almost impossible to knead on a table without scraping the sticky mass back together.   Your thoughts? 

Thank you for any insight you might provide



OldWoodenSpoon's picture

Hello Phil, and first:  welcome to The Fresh Loaf.  I see you joined some time ago, and have now ventured into the forums.  Good for you!

I cannot answer all of your questions, but I can tell you that I am a numbers guy too, and one of the first and most difficult lessons I had to learn was "Baking bread is not a numbers exercise!".  I'm afraid there is no escape from some of the nebulous generality implied in that "keep adding flour until the dough 'cleans the sides of the bowl'".  It is necessary to learn the feel of the dough and how to deal with the variations in flour, temperature, humidity and all the rest of the variables that bear on the outcome.  We start with formulas and numbers.  We apply consistent methods and practices.  We also, however, have to approach every batch as an individual exercise, and make the adjustments that practice and experience have taught us.  Much of that practice and experience results in edible but imperfect results that improve as you learn more from each effort.

I can also tell you, again from personal experience, that it took me a long time to get used to dough sticking to my fingers. I hasten to add that once I did my bread got significantly better very quickly. Study and practice working with wet dough because it is an important and profitable skill to hold.

A 65% hydration dough should be pretty workable, but if your flour is more moist it may require a little more flour to make it come together.  If it is a little dryer then the dough will be stiffer than it would otherwise be, and you may need a little more water.  Many bakers, myself included, hold back some of that water from the initial mix until we get the feel of the dough, and then only add the portion needed to get the result we want.  Even with the same flour and formula it can vary from day to day because of the conditions in your kitchen.

Your description of your process did not mention it, so I assume you are not using an autolyse when you make up your dough.  I would suggest that you try it, after initially mixing your dough.  Mix the ingredients, withholding the salt, until the dough is rough and shaggy, then just let it sit under cover of a damp cloth or some plastic wrap for 25-30 minutes, then add the salt and resume kneading.  This gives the flour a chance to absorb the liquid, and it gives the gluten-forming chemistry a head start without the salt to inhibit it.  You will be amazed at the difference this will make in your dough.

There are other things to say as well, about working with wet dough, about kneading times and such, and I am sure you will get plenty of advice here.  One thing that will be helpful to ellicit more specific advice would be to post a/the specific formula that you are working with.  It is always better to discuss these things in a specific context, even though the discussion applies to a more general case.

Good luck and keep at it.


pb9003's picture

although honestly I was hoping for the 'miracle' answer that would suddenly make my bread as perfect as the formulas used to make them! :-)  Seriously, I've done a lot of reading here, and am doing one or more batches of bread each day, so I'm trying and experimenting.  As for the flour sticking, I don't have a problem with that except that it seems that when I watch videos (Hitz, Rheinhardt, et al) they don't seem to have the sticky mess that I have.  I'm continuing to work though, and appreciate all the sharing of knowledge here.

Happy holidays.


proth5's picture

No miracle answers from me, but one thing to remember is that the more rapidly the dough moves (faster speed in a mixer, quicker hands) the less the same dough will stick.

The "big dog" bakers all have some serious hand skills and can wrangle high hydration doughs with no sticking at all.  Firm, light, rapid motions require practice.  Perform a firm, light motion slowly and you get different results than a firm, light, quick motion (and you can construct various scenarios by choosing your adjective...).

Also - flour your hands not the dough.  Again, you may or may not observe in the videos what I have seen in person.  The baker will rub his/her hands on the bench.  This covers them with just enough flour to tamp down on the stickage.  I use that little trick quite often.

Hope this helps.

pb9003's picture

16oz     AP flour

10.5oz  h20

1 1/4tsp yeast (SAF, less than 3 mos. old, stored in fridge, brought to rm temp before use)

1 1/2tsp salt


leucadian's picture

Is there any chance you are using volume measurements (i.e. 2 cups of flour)? I didn't see any mention of weighing ingredients, and as OWS and Larry both mentioned 65% hydration dough should not be too sticky if it's wheat flour. Volume measurements would yield a very wet dough, more like a batter. 

wally's picture

First off, a 65% hydration dough shouldn't be that sticky, so I wonder what type of flour you are using.  Typically, with a countertop mixer, you should be able to get a dough with moderate gluten development after mixing 6 - 8 minutes.

Second, if you're mixing your dough in a mixer, why are you then kneading it by hand? 

One way to approach the issue of proper gluten development (and stickiness) in doughs is through a number of stretch-and-folds of the dough over a period varying from one hour to two and a half hours, with the procedure performed at spaced intervals.  If you are unfamiliar with the concept, you can do searches on this site or google it - you'll quickly find any number of videos demonstrating the technique.  It quickly adds both strength to your dough and rids it of of any residual stickiness.

Finally, if you lightly wet your hands before handling dough you'll find that the stickiness problems disappear.

Good luck,


Janknitz's picture

Bleached flour will be stickier too.  Is that a possibility?  Usually (not always) unbleached flour is best.   

A lot of doughs you will see here are wetter and will not ever clean the sides of the bowl, though a 65% hydration should be fairly easy to work with.  Sometimes it just takes time to develop a feel for doughs with higher hydration than you are used to.  Conventional recipes may have even lower hydration levels.  I learned to bake bread from my KA mixer book, and that book called for the dough to clean the bowl--so I was ending up with some very heavy doughs because I added too much flour.  It took me a while to brave stickier doughs with higher hydration levels and avoid the temptation to incorporate a ton of flour to make them "manageable". 

There is also a trend you will see here against doing a lot of kneading.  Instead, the dough is allowed to come together in a rough ball, perhaps autolysed,  and then an amazingly few "stretch and folds" (look it up) will align the gluten and give you a supple, easy to handle dough.  It's almost magic!

Look around for pictures or videos of someone using a dough scraper--that's an invaluable tool if you are working with a wet, sticky dough.  I feel lost when I can't find mine (elusive little bugger--it likes to hide in odd places when I'm busy with other things). 

pb9003's picture

I truly appreciate the help.

this morning I'm going to autolyse, as suggested, and see how that turns out.  Also will cut back on kneading after the first rise and be gentler with the dough when shaping.

To answer some questions, I use KingArthur exclusively, I do some hand kneading after the mixer cuz I like to and because I'm so paranoid about overmixing that it seemed like a good idea, I do use a bench scraper, never tried wetting my hands but do flour them (wetting seems counter-intuitive but I've read about it so I'll try it), and no, I'm not using volume measurements.

I'll try and post some pics later when todays loaves are done.