The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Hand kneading high hydration % doughs

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badmajon's picture

Hand kneading high hydration % doughs

Today I did my first high hydration % dough, as I made Peter Reinhard's pain ancienne. This is about 80% water to flour... He says you are better off using a stand mixer, and kind of leaves it at that aside from the same explanation for kneading dough that he gives for the regular French bread. This dough however was a totally different animal! Weighing it out carefully, it hardly resembled the 70% French bread I've made several times... Very sticky and pretty much UN knead able. I just did my best for about 6 minutes by flouring my hands constantly, then threw it in the fridge. Am I doing it wrong or is the gluten going to develop itself through autolysis or something? I love rustic breads with large crumb so I can see myself running into this problem frequently... And I do have a stand mixer its just 8000 miles away, so I'm not going to buy another one.

Nate Delage's picture
Nate Delage

I've been faced with similar sticky messes when I knead by hand. I've had the best results with a rough mix (dough will still be shaggy) then an autolyse of 30min to 1hour. It's really a different beast after the autolyse. Then continue with stretch and folds to build the gluten. Working these high hydration doughs by hand really takes a different technique and unfortunatley more time, since you need to hand around to do the stretch and folds.

BakerBen's picture


Don't get frustrated - you can do it.  I have baked an 84% hydration Italian loaf - 8 loaves a week for a two years now - and I knead the dough by hand using a technique called "slap and stretch".   Check out the following thread - it provide a link to a video demonstrating the technique.  Although Richard is making a sweet dough he states it works for all doughs.  I love this technique - by hand mixing you are as close to the dough as you can get.  You get to actually feel the dough develop and change as you work it - I usually slap and stretch for about 10 minutes, but let the dough tell you when it is developed (i.e. may take longer or shorter based on your dough and you and the environment).  You don't want to just keep adding flour - yes, this might make your life a bit easier but you are decreasing the dough hydration and basically changing the formula in a very uncontrolled manner. 

Bottom line, learning to handle high hydration dough takes time and practice.  If it were easy everyone would be doing them.  Don't give up - the final result is worth the effort.



badmajon's picture

Wow that link pretty much answered my question spot on! Looks like fun too. :) thanks a lot.