The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Beginner's question: How sticky is too sticky?

ctsabai's picture

Beginner's question: How sticky is too sticky?

Hello all, I'm new both to this site and to baking bread. I have so far made several attempts at a 100% whole wheat sandwich loaf, and yesterday I made 2/3 WW and 1/3 AP pitas using the recipe on this site. Every time I've made bread so far, the dough has been so sticky I can hardly handle it. When I try to knead it, it sticks to everything - the board, my hands, the rubber spatula I use to try to scrape it off. Whether I flour, oil, or wet my hands and work surface, the dough sticks - I have to re-apply the flour or whatever every second or third time I touch the dough. When I made my first loaf, I just kept dumping more flour on to try to reduce the stickiness, and I added so much that the resulting loaf was very dense and crumbly (although it tasted pretty good!). My dough seems more like a soft, gluey mass than the firm, elastic, cohesive stuff I see people working with in the YouTube kneading how-to's I've watched. So my question is, am I doing something wrong with kneading, proportions of ingredients, etc. or is this stickiness normal? If so, how the heck do you knead stuff like this?

AOJ's picture

List your recipe/formula with directions. Someone will be able to help. I would recommend starting with a more basic formula, before jumping into 100% whole wheat.

ctsabai's picture

The ingredients for the WW recipe I've been using are:

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 3 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons white sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons nonfat dry milk powder
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons margarine
  • 1 1/4 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
This was a bread machine recipe to begin with, so the directions were basically just "dump it all in the machine and turn it on."
PastryPaul's picture

Looking at this recipe I would:

  1. Add yeast to  1 cup of the warm water (reserve the other quarter cup). Stir to disolve and let set a bit so it foams (or switch to instant yeast and use only 1 tsp). I'm actually surprised that a bread machine recipe called for active dry yeast.
  2. Dump everything else in your kitchenaid fitted with a dough hook
  3. Add the cup of water with the yeast while running mixer at speed 1
  4. Mix just to combine, use the reserved water if you feel you need to, then let sit for 15 minutes to 1 half hour.
  5. Mix at speed 2 for a few minutes or until the dough pulls away from the sides and starts to climb up the hook
  6. Lightly oil a bowl and turn the dough into it. Flip the dough over so that it is covered with a light film of oil.
  7. Let rise
  8. After an hour or so, flip the dough in the bowl so the bottom is now the top.
  9. Grab the third of dough away from you. Lift it and fold it back onto the rest of the dough. Press down lightly.
  10. Give the bowl a quarter turn and repeat step 9 for a total of 4 times.
  11. Let rise again.
  12. Repeat 9 through 11 until you are satisfied with the dough's strength. I suspect that will not be required, but, hey, it's your bread. Don't repeat more than 3 times

A few points:

  1. I once asked a class of 17 students to weigh a cup of flour and got 17 different weights. Worse still, not a one got the exact weight of 128g for that particular flour (calculated using specific gravity). Measuring by weight is the way to go (measuring is not called "scaling" for nothing). Get a scale ASAP. You don't need a pricey one. For home, I got a digital scale at the local hardware store for $14 Cdn, (5 kg capacity, tare function and will weigh in grams, kg, ounces or pounds and ounces). The three cups of flour should weigh about 400g although I strongly suspect the initial formula intended it to be a pound, i.e. 454 grams.
  2. Although I believe you should always try a recipe/formula exactly as set forth when doing it the first time, substitute olive oil for the margarine if for no other reason than it is easier to measure.
  3. Given the water to flour ratio, this dough should not be all that sticky. Hydration is 65% - 75% (depending on what you decide the initial flour weight was expected). Definitely not hard but not super wet either.



ctsabai's picture

Thanks for the detailed instructions! This is basically what I was doing, but I was kind of winging it. Good to know I am more or less on the right track. 

nicodvb's picture


with that kind of dough stickyness is normal to a certain degree. Do you use soft wheat or hard wheat WW flour? soft wheat will have less gluten and stick more.

I stopped kneading bread since I discovered the stretch and fold method: every 20 minutes for 4-5 times stretch the dough as a rectangles on a slightly oiled surface, fold 1/3 over the center then do the same on the other side, then repeat along the other direction (all of this with sligthly oiled hands). Put the bread upside down in an oiled container and repeat 4 times. The bread will rise better and faster. Now my bread have always 75-80% hydratation, and almost without sticking.

ctsabai's picture

Yes, I saw something about stretch and fold on this site, and some pretty detailed drawings that somebody made showing how to do it. I tried it for one batch of bread, but I wasn't sure how long to keep going - I think the directions said to do it "as many times as needed," or something like that. How do I know when the dough is developed enough?

nicodvb's picture

Sorry, I should have mentioned the criteria to see when the dough is good enough.

With a well developed gluten you see that the dough tends to grow vertically rather than only horizontally (it's inevitable that it grow more horizontally than vertically). Additionally when you stretch the dough you have to feel that it has absolutely no lumps in it  (in the first and second phase there will still be lumps)  and that it has developed some elasticity: it should oppose some resistence to the stretching. In short the dough must keep the shape during proofing.

At that point let it rise and pay attention not to overproof or it won't grow in the oven.

PastryPaul's picture


Although you said you used a recipe from this site, that doesn't help us much. There are hundreds if not thousands of recipes/formulae here (Maybe Floyd can give a count)

Also, are you working by hand or with a mixer? Are you converting any measures? (I just screwed up a fairly simple formula because I assumed ounces were for weight when they were actually fluid ounces. Would have made a brick. 8 ounces is 227g, but 8 fluid ounces of my flour is 130g.)

Most new bakers suffer from the same issues. They overmix. They over dust. They fear stickiness so they under hydrate their dough. How sticky is too sticky? Depends. A ciabatta is an ooey gooey yummy mess. My grilling pizza dough, on the other hand is fairly stiff to avoid dripping into the grill. LOL just had a mental image of ciabatta dough cooked directly on a grill (someone else's)

Scroll down to the bottom of this page and find the LESSONS link. Run through the lessons without modifying them at all. If you don't eat white bread, make it anyway and give it away. Think of it as cheap tuition and a way to get in good with your neighbours.


ctsabai's picture

Well, the pita recipe is here:

I have been doing everything by hand, except with the pita dough I got frustrated and threw it in my KitchenAid after attempting to knead the gloopy stuff by hand for about ten minutes. I left it in the mixer for upwards of fifteen minutes with no apparent change in consistency, so I eventually pulled it out and let it rise. The pitas came out fine, so I guess the dough was ok after all. I just wish I knew a better way to handle the dough!

No, I haven't converted any measurements. I have been doing recipes written in cups, teaspoons, etc. I don't have a kitchen scale, but I'd like to get one eventually since I know weighing is generally more reliable, and the formulae are easier to figure out. 

As far as the beginners' mistakes, yes, I'm sure I'm making plenty of those just because I'm too worried about the little things! I'm sure I will learn with experience what works best - right now it's a bit confusing though!

richkaimd's picture

Sticky = when you touch it it's hard to remove your fingers without having some dough on them

Tacky = your fingers come away from the dough with no dough on them

You may be able to make your pita by the more lengthy stretch and fold, but you can and must get to tacky (or even dry, which means total absence of even tacky eventually either way. 

Sticky is not workable for pita formation, as you've noticed.  Keep adding and kneading in flour, small quantities at a time (1/4-1/2 cup, for example) until the sticky is replaced by tacky.  Don't stop until you get a good gluten window.  If you don't know what this is, use the search function. 

Always remember to use the search function on this site's home page when you've got questions.  There's much wisdom there.  Also, when you've got technique questions, look on Youtube.  You can sometimes actually watch someone else doing what you are trying to do.  For example, maybe there's a video of someone making whole wheat pita?  I know you can search Youtube for seeing gluten window testing.

When you solve your problem, write about it.  Tell us what worked.



MangoChutney's picture

Be sure to give the whole wheat flour enough time to soak up the water it needs.  It will take longer for this to happen than with refined flour.  After initially mixing the flour with the water, leave it alone for 30 minutes.  When you return to it, you should find that it is more workable.

Chuck's picture

I assume most of the time you'll find either S&F (strech and fold) or the French/slap fold easier. But once in a while you really do want to knead, and the dough is way too sticky for traditional kneading. When that happens, here's one way to do it:

Thoroughly coat your work surface. For the stickiest doughs, use both oil and flour. Put down a layer of oil first (those refillable spray misters that say "Olive Oil" on them work great with salad oil too). Then dust flour on top of the oil. (You can't touch it at all, or it will just make a big mess. So distribute the flour with a shaker [like a giant salt shaker, you've probably seen a barista use one to sprinkle cocoa powder over whipped cream].) Then plop down your dough in an oblong shape. (You may need to use the flour shaker to dust a thin layer of flour right on the dough itself too.)

Get some sort of stiff, not-very-sticky tool (a dough scraper, or how big is your rubber spatula?), and make it even less sticky by coating it with either oil or cool water. (You'll probably need to recoat it every few strokes.) Slide the tool under one end of the dough to not quite half way in. Then use the tool to pick up that end of the dough and fold it over back on itself. Then use the heel of your other hand (not the fingers, too sticky) to press down on the lump of dough a little, making it oblong shaped again.

Rinse and repeat   ...again, and again, and again, and again....  Since only the heel of the one hand ever touches the dough, "sticky" is not such an issue.

You'll get much better at handling sticky doughs over time. What seems almost impossible now won't even be noticeable in six months. I've not found a way to hurry up the process though, so for now just say some bad words under your breath and keep going.


PastryPaul's picture

"now just say some bad words under your breath and keep going."

Boy, does that cover a lot of situations


ctsabai's picture

Thanks for all the tips, everyone! I made another batch of bread the other day, and followed PastryPaul's very clear steps. I only used a cup, plus a few more tablespoons of water. It was still sticky, but when you're only doing a few stretch-and-folds (I did 3 over the course of about an hour), that matters a lot less. Thanks for the tips on this method. I love how the dough seems to develop almost by magic! You're hardly doing anything, yet it transforms almost on its own from a gluey mass to a nicely developed dough! I divided it in half and made two nice little mini loaves. Hubby said it was delicious, and he's not the sort to say it was good just because I made it. Making progress!