The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Dealing with wet dough

sadears's picture

Dealing with wet dough

I use a very wet dough. Handling it is hard enough, but is there a technique to shape it? What about rolls. I tried to make some for Thanksgiving. After the first back was ruined ;-( I added flour to each so I could shap them. In the end, they turned out great. Just wondering if there's a way to make them and still have that open-ness I get from wet dough.

richkaimd's picture

I know your problem.  Years ago, after having made low hydration (Northern European) bread for years, I simply couldn't get a clue about making the high hydration doughs.  I couldn't figure it out from reading books either.  In the end, I finally got it from taking a class.  You needn't do that though if you can find a baker local to you who knows what the choreography is.  Such a person can teach you the moves.  You can use this website to post your wish for such a person along with a note of the area in which you live.  Barring that, if it's available and in your means, take a class.  My class was four hours long, taught by Dan Leader (Bread Alone, Local Bread, and others), turned my head around.  I was very lucky.

If you cannot find a mentor or a class, watch all the videos you can find on this web site and using your favorite search engine, put in words like "making baguettes" or "making ciabatta".  Cyril Heitz(sp?) and others have commercially produced ones but lots of home bakers have made good ones.  Watch what they do with their hands so as to be delicate with the risen dough, not de-gas it, make a skin on the formed loaf, and then slash it (to control the expansion during the first several minutes of baking.)

And then practice, practice, practice.  You do want to get to Carnegie Hall.




lazybaker's picture

Look up breadhitz and KingArthurFlour on youtube. They have segments on shaping.

I had the hardest time dealing with high hydration dough, too. I always ended up with a sticky mess on my hands. Now I just use a wooden spoon to mix the dough. Later dip the spoon or fingers in water to fold the dough. The water really helped not to make things sticky. It also helped that the dough reached to the tacky stage. You could tell when it gets to the tacky stage when it forms a membrane when you stretch it, and the dough releases without leaving behind dough residue.

As for shaping, it's ok to flour the board and your hands to make shaping easier. You can always brush off the excess. I wouldn't worry about knocking a few air holes out of the dough during shaping. I think the heat during baking is what makes the crumb more open and not letting the dough overproof.

Chuck's picture

Using flour on your hands and on the work surface (and maybe even on the dough) to minimize sticking can work just fine  ...but isn't a guaranteed fix. It's all too easy to inadvertently work in lots and lots of flour this way and upset the hydration level. You may find either of these ideas helpful:

  • Use a large shaker (like a cinammon shaker from a fancy coffee place) to spread just the thinnest dusting of flour over everything.
  • Use oil (olive oil, safflower oil, corn oil, whatever's edible) instead of flour for non-stick purposes. A teaspoon of oil spread over your work surface can work quite well  ...especially if your work surface is very hard and smooth (like formica) with no grain at all like most traditional work surfaces. (And if a bit of olive oil gets worked into your dough, you'll probably like the flavor enhancement too:-)
sadears's picture

Maybe my dough is too wet. It never seems to get past that sticky stage unless I use lots of flour. I can't knead in the traditional way as I have carpal tunnel syndrome. Even mixing dry-ish dough is hard to do. Can you knead with a blender?


clazar123's picture

There is a whole world of not kneading and having great bread. It is easy to keep it in the bowl and use a wet plastic scraper and wet fingers to stretch and fold in the bowl. Use the search box!