The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Sticky, goopy dough

JakeAndBake's picture

Sticky, goopy dough

Hey guys, first post here, so hi and thanks for all the info. 

I've been working my way up towards being a better bread baker using this site, I started with the lessons and soon found myself on a tangent. I've had pretty good luck so far, except I've started running into a weird problem. I'm using a KA stand mixer with a dough hook, and this has worked in the past. However, I started using King Arthur Bread Flour in subsitution for some of my AP flour. This last recipe I did was a sourdough loaf, and it was a cup of AP, a cup of bread flour, and a cup of starter, just like the recipe somewhere around here.

the dough just doesn't get as stiff as it used to before I started using the bread flour, and looking around I've found more than one answer as to why that is, so I'm trying to narrow it down. I bake once or twice a week, this is the first time I've run across that issue. On the one hand, some people say that kneading too long (especially in a stand mixer) overdevelops gluten and makes the dough sticky. This could totally be the issue, because I don't really time how long I'm kneading in that thing, it's just worked for me in the past and it isn't really working now.

Someone else said not autolysing the bread (mixing the ingredients and letting them sit for a while before kneading) is also a possible problem. I hadn't heard of it until then, is there more to it than what I just said? Is there an FAQ somewhere I can reference on this technique?

Other than that, the only thing I figure could be causing it is the flour itself, because it's the only thing that's really changed in my bread-making technique. Maybe there's a higher level of moisture, maybe gluten development is more prounounced, I'm not really sure. Heck, maybe it's all these things.

Anyways, sorry about the huge post (you guys don't seem to be the tl;dr kind of crowd anyways) but anyone have any ideas? And thanks for being such an awesome resource for beginners like me... 

thomaschacon's picture
thomaschacon (not verified)


I jest. :D

Yes, overmixed dough causes gluten to break down, which releases liquid back into the dough. This one's easy to rule out. Does the dough come together nicely in the bowl and then become sticky? If so, then yes. It's likely overmixed. (That's good too, because an overmixed dough is also a dough that's taken on too much oxygen in the mixing. Overoxidization causes a number of deleterious effects, flavourless bread being but one of them.)

(I'd wager that, if you're watching over the dough as it mixes, it isn't overmixed. You will have seen the dough come together and will have stop mixing before it gets to the squishy stage. If the dough didn't come together at all, then the simplest answer is too much water or not enough flour, which could be caused by something as simple as a measurement error in one or the other.)

Autolysis is, at its most basic, "mixless" gluten development. Gluten will develop during autolysis without the help of a mixer or kneading. All by itself. Like magic. It just takes more time. There are other advantages to autolysis, but let's keep it simple. Are you autolysing the dough and then mixing it with the mixer's dough hook? (i.e. Are you briefly mixing the flour and water and letting the undeveloped mass of dough sit in the bowl untouched for 20+ minutes before mixing it with the mixer's dough hook for the usual period of time?)  If you are, then you're almost certainly overmixing it. You need to mix very little, if at all, after autolysis. (Also, you're putting your Kitchenaid mixer in great danger, as the surest way to break a Kitchenaid is to mix an autolysed dough (a dough that already has great strength) with the dough hook.)

The flour is probably not the problem. Bread flour has more protein than all-purpose flour and, as such, absorbs more water, so replacing 1 cup of all-purpose flour with 1 cup of bread flour (sh/w)ould absorb more water, not less, resulting in a less sticky dough, not more.

That said, a higher protein flour = higher gluten = more dough strength sooner, so we're back to overmixing again, especially if you're mixing as long as before. The same question applies: Does the dough come together nicely and then become sticky? If so, then yes. It's overmixed.

The last thing that comes to mind is your starter's hydration, essentially the flour:water ratio of the starter. You're using a lot of starter, so it could be the culprit. Is the hydration of your starter the same as it's always been? (A 100% hydration starter is 1 part water, 1 part flour. A 50% hydration starter is 2 parts flour:1 part water. Etc.) Are you feeding it the same, essentially? If so, then the problem is likely not your starter's hydration.

Overmixed then.

If not overmixing, then some other variable (or variables) that's not immediately clear from your description.

How's that for a tl;dr?

suave's picture

It sounds a bit weird since normally we expect exactly the opposite outcome when adding stronger flour.  Stronger flours, like KA BF, usually have higher water absorption than all-purpose flours and should give stiffer doughs.  But it is entirely possible that your all-purpose flour is dry, and takes more water, than bread flour.  Such things are known to happen, especially this time of year.  So what I would do is cut amount of water you add, just reserve some portion of it add slowly during mixing until you reach desired consistency.   One thing you should not really worry too much about though is overmixing.  It is virtually impossible to overmix dough using a KitchenAid, certainly not when regular wheat flours are used.  The term "overmixing" comes from Jeffrey Hamelman's book which was written for commercial bakers and their very large and very powerful mixers, and was never meant to apply to home baking.