The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Worktops and hands, floured or oiled?

Grenage's picture

Worktops and hands, floured or oiled?

I use an oiled bowl between folds, and other such proofs, as I'm sure most people do; I also use oil on the worksurface when folding and shaping.  I don't use anything while kneading.

My dough is generally 71% hydration, which while not a problem to handle, keeping any sort of shape is a pain.  I have some bannetons on the way, but I'm wondering if a floured surface helps with surface tension; the loaf I shaped at lunch time was done in such a way as a trial, but I'm curious how others work.

thomaschacon's picture
thomaschacon (not verified)

I work on a granite countertop.

Most of my breads are 70 - 80% hydration and all mixing is done by hand.


When mixing/kneading, I don't oil or flour the countertop (unless I'm adding flour to reduce dough hydration).

When shaping, I lightly flour the counter before removing the dough from the bowl. (I don't want too much flour on the shaping surface. Too much flour wreaks havoc with surface tension development and seam-formation.)


If I'm working with a high-hydration dough, I keep a bowl of cold water nearby and repeatedly dip my left hand in the cold water to keep it from sticking to the wet loaf. The right hand invariably holds a bench knife. I use the bench knife almost as if it's an appendage. I use my left, wet hand to fold/stretch/knead. I use my right (holding bench knife) to lift, move, scrape.

If I'm working with a lower-hydration dough, just my hands, with no flour on hands unless the dough it too tacky or sticky (and even then I use a very small amount of flour).

When I'm making many loaves (or making high-percentage ryes, which are terribly sticky), I use rubber gloves so I don't have to keep washing my hands.

Grenage's picture

Ah so a drier surface is less likely to assist is shape-holding, then; I suppose that's all down to the proofing receptacle, so I'll tough it out until some bannetons arrive. ;)

I saw what you meant when it came to the seam.  I normally don't need to press dough together, but the flour really made a difference.

proth5's picture

but I have had this pounded in to me by "my teacher."

First - the correct response on oiling bowls, fermentation containers, etc is always "How the baker in charge tells me to do it."  :>) - because I've been told to do many and various things and I obey the head baker.

When I am in charge - the voice in my head (see above) tells me the following:

Never to oil the bowl or proofing container.  Because if you are using plastic conatiners (like the Cambro containers some of us know and love) you risk getting an oil build-up on the container and well, it's mostly wasted product and motion.  Also, that oil compromises "lean" doughs - just slightly, but it does.  After many years of working this way (after spending my mis-spent youth oiling the container), I find minimal sticking to the container (even if it is a glass or metal bowl).  When I release dough for folds or whatever, if the dough is a slack dough, a dusting of flour around the edges and a plastic scraper  applied to the edges (think "scraping down the sides of the bowl and getting the flour to flow down") combined with inverting the container to let gravity do the work provides easy release.

For shaping and folding - except for rye doughs where wet hands are a good thing, flour only on the bench.  Minimal flour for shaping - as required for folding - but always brush flour off the dough when folding.  When sticking occurs during shaping, flour hands first, then try pushing the emerging form into a floury area, and then the bench only if absolutely required.  I've worked exclusively with flour even on very high hydration wheat doughs.  However, I work on wood for dividing and shaping and would never spray it with spray oil.  If you work on another surface - still none of this spray oil stuff.  I'm sorry, I have strong feelings on this.  You can't get the right "grip" of dough to bench with spray oil to get a good shape.  (And you will be getting oil in a lean dough- if it is a lean dough.) I don't know how this got started.  I took a class once where the instructor had us use spray oil on the bench to shape baguettes.  I had to walk outside and calm down before I could deal with such an instruction.

Again, I'm in a distinct minority on the not oiling the bowl front.  Most people do.  I don't know why they do, but they do. 

My opinion.... Hope it helps.

thomaschacon's picture
thomaschacon (not verified)

I very lightly oil the bowl and then add the dough (usually in boule form) to the bowl and swirl it around to lightly coat the surface of the dough to prevent it from drying. Then I cover it with plasti-crap, etc.

That's the only reason I oil: to prevent drying.

I didn't have to do so in Seattle, where 2000% humidity is the norm, but Denver is -10,000% humidity (I drink 2o+ cups of water a day just to stay hydrated) and will dry out a dough in t-minus 30 seconds.

proth5's picture

bake in Denver (with perfect humidity) and never get dried dough.  I do cover bowls tightly with vinyl bowl covers (no plastic wrap for me - because the dough will dry right out) and,well, despite (what some consider) their deadly toxins love my Cambro containers because they give a good seal.

No oil.  No dry dough.  Cover tightly.  Must obey voice in my head...

thomaschacon's picture
thomaschacon (not verified)

He's the one who got me started with the spray oil to prevent drying.

Perhaps I should reconsider, although I can't hear the voice in your head. Does it sound like Fran Drescher?

You're in Denver, huh? And your dough doesn't dry out? Perfect humidity? What Denver is this? What planet? :D

proth5's picture

the "voice in my head" is much more qualified on bread baking than The Nanny.  I hear it as though the individual were standing beside me.  I am fortunate to have worked so closely with such a teacher and although I won't name names, am proud to have learned from such a source.  Although we have had some odd and funny moments.

Dough never dries out.  Seriously.  I work fast and keep it tightly covered at all times when not working with it.  Tightly is the key.  None of this "loosely draping with plastic wrap" - because your dough will dry right out. 

Mile High City.  In sight of the state capital.  Yep.  Once you adjust, anywhere else will feel damp.  Takes a couple of years.

thomaschacon's picture
thomaschacon (not verified)

And I still haven't gotten used to the humidity.

I lived in the swamp for 18, Alaska for 6, Hawaii for 2, Seattle for 6, and all of those (except from Fairbanks, AK) are humid.

I like it though, just have to drink myself drunk with water all day long just to stay alive.

Stay off the bike trails today; I'm getting back on the bike after a long haitus. :D

proth5's picture

Thanks for the warning.  But I travel 100% for my job and am currently elsewhere - where the humidity is way too high.

Oh, you'll get the hang of our lovely, perfect dry air.  I've been "living" in Denver for over 20 years and really have no desire to live in a more humid climate. 

But really, cover bread dough tightly and all will be well.

Have fun!

FlourChild's picture

I use oil for kneading/ stretch and fold and coating the bulk ferment container, but then switch to flour for shaping.  Either way, I try to keep the added oil or flour to a minimum by wiping oiled surfaces with a paper towel to remove excess, and if the dough is quite sticky I just let it stick.  I find flour helps make a thicker crust that holds its shape a little better- wet doughs don't spread quite as much.

The only exception are doughs where I want some olive oil in the dough (pizza comes to mind), then I don't worry about adding extra.

Both Peter Reinhart and Rose Levy Beranbaum use spray oil, and they sell a lot of books, so I can see how the practice might be widepsread.  RLB maintains that a small amount of oil actually helps bread rise higher by greasing the gluten strands.  But others (Glezer, Silverton) keep lean doughs lean by using flour for everything and say that oil compromises a lean dough. 

Now I'm tempted to bake a couple of test loaves and see if my minimal oiling has any effect.  Since most of my loaves contain at least some whole grain, I wonder if there will be any discernable effect.

proth5's picture

But I have visions of "my teacher" waving bulk ferment containers in the air and asking not only his/her students, but her/his employees about oiling the container.  Employees snapped to the "no oil" line.  Me being a fast learner said "However the head baker tells me."  And then "my teacher" told me.

Having gone through all that - I just can't do it any other way.  Gives me the willies - geez...

I suppose the authors that started this (and there was no such thing as those containers of spray oil when I started baking) had their reasons.  And if it works for them - I guess it does. 


Grenage's picture

Thanks for the input!

I think I'll try switching to no oil for a while, and see how it pans out; it's probably a good idea to get a feel for the differences.  I don't have any spray oil (I assume that's just an aerosol of vegetable oit?), just big bottle of olive oil.  Trial and error time! :)

Doc.Dough's picture

The extremely smooth surface of the Cambro containers means that you don't need oil if the dough is developed sufficiently (and of course no abrasives when cleaning up).  A glass bowl has nearly the same surface smoothness.  Polished stainless steel is similar but only until it has been cleaned with Scotchbrite or steel wool one time, after  which a little oil may be desireable for high hydration doughs (though the flour around the edges trick works well here).

I am in the camp with the water and dough knife crowd.  I prefer Cambro containers that have a depth to width ratio of less than 1:1 (big enough and shallow enough to reach down to the bottom and lift the dough out), and of course well developed dough.  Even with a very wet dough, after a few stretch and fold operations, you don't need much water to get the dough loose.  But do be careful not to use too much water since you are messing with the total hydration.

Grenage's picture

Well it requires a bit of technique rather than 'cover in oil and handle', but I've not been having any issues, and shaping has become a little easier. The added table friction is a plus when trying to tighten then bases, and the lack of oil stops the folds sliding apart as much.

I think the bottom line is that I was using too much oil, but if I can get away without adding any at all (looks promising), I will do so.

tn gabe's picture
tn gabe

I'm I the only one who ones a plastic dough scraper? I was using buckets, but I've quit doing bulk retards and now I'm back to large stainless bowls covered with plastic (of what type I won't say....) when the dough does happen to come in contact with the plastic (usually just my Focaccia dough when I've gotten busy with other breads) I scrape that off too. No problemo, no oil. Wet hands for folding in bowl and not so lightly floured work surface. White SD with around 11% protein flour is around 77% hydration and WW blend SD is around 82% hydration.

And seriously, anyone who would move to Fairbanks is clearly insane and not to be trusted! ;) Although it may have been temporary since he doesn't live there anymore :D

thomaschacon's picture
thomaschacon (not verified)

I truly horrible place.

So awful it doesn't even deserve bread! :)

Funny thing, I moved to Anchorage, where I was almost immediately hired to move back to Fairbanks.

I told them in salary negotiation that they'd have to pay me 3x what they were offering.

They thought I was joking.

I was not! ;D


Sorry, off topic.