The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Sticky sourdough and no time for kneading!

IndianaJane's picture

Sticky sourdough and no time for kneading!

My husband and I are fairly experienced bread makers - using commercial yeast - but we've just started with sourdough, hoping that we can make it fit better into our busy schedule.  I bought 'Tartine Bread' on a recommendation and we've been trying to work with the standard recipe, but we have not yet managed to get the silky-looking dough the pictures show after the first rise.

One major problem is that we just cannot manage to schedule the bulk fermentation into a time when we're around to turn it in the bowl, and there seems to be no alternative given in the instructions.  When we empty it out of the bowl - after an 8-hour overnight bulk rise - it is drippy and not right, so we generally add a huge amount of extra flour, but it's still way too sticky to knead, turn or generally do anything with.  On one occasion I have been reduced to tears, with hands absolutely covered in sticky, wet dough, which was running off the worktop and which I could not get to develop any kind of tension.

Do we reduce the water in the recipe?  Or is one turn right at the beginning of the bulk rise - all we can fit into the schedule - going to be enough to develop the tension?

Please help!





Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

upper top left corner of the page...

I ran one search under:  Tartine hydration problems and THESE LINKS showed up.

cranbo's picture

My husband and I are fairly experienced bread makers - using commercial yeast - but we've just started with sourdough, hoping that we can make it fit better into our busy schedule.

Maybe I'm reading this wrong, but it seems that using commercial yeast would help with scheduling issues. Reliable sourdough takes patience and the dedication to get the right timing. 

Aside from flour type and hydration adjustments, I would also by looking at your starter activity in more detail. Is it sufficiently active, or is it overactive or too slow? All of these will mess with the end result. But being fairly experienced bread makers, as you know getting it right will require tweaking for your ingriedients, tools and environment. 

Olof's picture

At what time of day can you be there to manage the dough? Could the bulk ferment happen during the day (after mixing in the morning) instead of overnight?

I like this recipe, Norwich Sourdough,  because I can move the work around to fit my schedule. It is easy and turns out a soft crumb and a blistered crust. Another forgiving recipe I use as well is San Fransisco Style Sourdough. The third recipe I use a lot is a Vermont Bread.
Using the refridgerator for the dough might be a solution. It will affect the flavor, make the bread more sour, but who will object to that in a sourdough bread! The two first recipes use the fridge. Perhaps you can work around that.

isand66's picture

I use a 65% hydration starter which works very well for my baking.  I also use Peter Reinhart's procedure for bulk fermenting the dough in the refrigerator for up to 3 days which helps with the time issues.  If you buy his book Artisan Breads Every Day it has recipes for sourdough with adding a little yeast or with no yeast at all.  I have posted many recipes on this site and my other site at mostly using SD starter only.  I find this technique turns out great bread with terrific flavor and fits into my schedule.  If you use the little bit of yeast he suggests which is around 1.2% or around 7 grams for most of my recipes it will save you more time.  I prefer not to use the yeast since I think the end result is better, but I've made great bread both ways.

I hope this helps.

dabrownman's picture

By retarding the fermented and developed dough either in bulk to be formed later or already shaped and in baskets,  tins,  etc this allows you make the bread according to your schedule, no matter what it is, rather than its schedule.  Plus many SD  breads are better in most regards when retarded for a few hours in the fridge.   Baking this way is no muss and no fuss taking  all the anxiety out of it.

Happy baking

All at Sea's picture
All at Sea

... seem to go hand in hand around here. Well, perhaps that's an exaggeration, since I suspect few have resorted to actual lachrymosity like yourself, but certainly this recipe has been the cause of angst for a fair few. But first a sense of proportion, dare I say? Bread making should be fun! It's not life and death; the world won't end if you get gunked to the eyeballs in delinquent dough. And today's mysterious Tartine dough misbehaviour is tomorrow's Eureka moment of wild-yeast triumph! So no more tears, IJ ... besides, you'll only over-salt and over-saturate the dough which would never do! :0)

Do we reduce the water in the recipe?

My advice would be No. Not until you've first managed to incorporate some much-needed SFs or even substituted the SFs with a bash session of Bertinet-ing. 5-10 mintes of Bertinet technique will lick that rumbustious gloop of lawless dough into polite and tame civility. You may still need to tighten the gluten at some later point in the bulk ferment, but it won't be such a train-smash if you don't, and instead you could leave that extra conditioning until you come to pre-shape and shape. But I see no point tweaking the recipe until you've managed to find time to help the formation of gluten first.

Or is one turn right at the beginning of the bulk rise - all we can fit into the schedule - going to be enough to develop the tension? Please help!

Depends what you mean by "one turn". To me that does not sound anything like enough, I'm afraid. Dough needs several sets - or turns of SFs to ensure proper gluten development for good elasticity and extensibility. You mention your husband's and your own experience with commercial yeast breadmaking - so you clearly know how a dough should feel when the gluten is ripe for shaping. Sourdough is a little different, in that it develops much more slowly, and it tends to get wetter as it ferments, which requires more delicate handling, but it requires the same gluten development as commercial yeasted breads. By that, I mean it has the same needs - or even better, the same need for kneading/SFs/slap-folds/whatever.

Some excellent alternative recipe suggestons above, so perhaps you'll enjoy a happier SD experience trying one of those first - before going back into battle with the tricky Tartine.

All at Sea


Davo's picture

Be interesting to know what times you do have available. Then you might get some advice about how to shedule SD around that.

It may not suit you to use my schedule, but mine works for a working week - all I need is two evenings in a row when I am around at home, and can do bits of bread-making in betweeen chasing kids into bed, and other stuff.

I warm up my starter for 24 hours after taking from the fridge, with two 12 hr interval feeds. The morning after taking it out, I make up a levain (usually about 1 kg for ultimately four approx 900g loaves - 100-120 g of starter at about 65% hydration, 540 g of flour (200 rye and 340 white), and 400 g water). This levain ferments during my day at work. If it will be really hot in the house I take it to the office with me!

That night, I mix the levain into bread dough (about 3.5 kg total, adding about 1 kg (or so, it varies with feel) water and 1.45 kg flour, 40-42 g salt). I let this rest for 20 mins after mixing well (by hand for me). This rest is not a normal autolyse, because I put the salt in during the initial mix of the bread dough. Most don't add the salt until after that 20 mins, but I'm a bit lazy and have noticed no difference having done both ways. So I put salt right into the bread dough mix. This is pretty sticky on mixing (200 g of wholemeal rye - which has all been in the levain - means it never goes "silky"), but that rest helps it to bind together (relatively speaking - it still is sticky when you start to knead!). For kneading, I wet the bench and wet my hands, and do "slap and fold" kneads, only for a minute if that, then I put it into an olive oil-wiped bowl, and scrape anything that's stuck on my hands back onto the dough. Trust me, wet hands at this stage reduces stickiness, and handle the dough fast and light - don't let it grip you! Then give it 10 or 15 mins of further rest, rinse your hands and go do something else. Come back and - again with wetted hands on a wetted bench, do a few more slap and folds - like maybe 6 (15 or so seconds worth). It will feel like someone has been kneading your dough for you, and it is far less sticky by now. Do another couple of these "short kneads" at 10 min intervals, and it should be pretty smooth and resilient. It's now around an hour after mixing. I am really keen on the wet hands kneading, and the slap and fold method. Other kneading styles just don't work for me, and using extra flour messes with the hydration. I figure using wetted hands is just offsetting a bit of evaporation anyway.

(If you can't do a slap and fold knead - like it's too firm and won't fold over, you need to add more water next time - because your hydration is too low.)

Now rest it for 30-40 mins , and do a stretch and fold, but now do it on a floured bench with dry hands. rest for another 30-40 mins. Do this a couple more times until around 2.5 to 3 hours after mixing, then shape the loaves, put into banettons/bowls/whatever. Now put the shaped loaves in the fridge. Flour the top and tie in plastic bags to stop them drying. This saves needing to shape/prove the next night, which is reserved purely for baking.

Next night take them out and poke test them. You have to judge if they are ready to bake straight up, or need one or two hours to warm up and finish rising. Often for me it needs 1 hour which works fine as that is the time it takes the oven and baking stone to warm up properly. Then I invert onto a peel, slash, slide onto the hot stone, and voila.

rogerm's picture

I've been working on the Tartine basic recipe for about a year and had the 'too wet' experience as well.  (Followed by the it's not baked enough).  All of the comments before this are very good and worth careful consideration -- namely try a different recipe; use at least the prescribed number of stretch and folds, be certain your starter really is active.

For me that last one was key.  And key to getting a great starter is preparing it for 72 hours and throwing half of it at each refeeding.  First I tried just adding to the existing starter with each feeding -- that doesn't work!  (for good instruction see:

Also, note that Chad Robertson uses slightly different techniques in the baker than those described for the home baker in the book.  Watch this master class video: for a better understanding.

After all that:  only try to make the bread when you have about 24 hours that you can dedicate to it;  leave out the last 50 grams of water; and machine knead for about 4 minutes after letting the initial mix sit for about 30 minutes.

Finally, the choice of flours does make a difference.  The higher the protein content, the dryer the dough for the same amount of water.  Today I'm trying bread flour from Wheat Montana.  The dough looks and feels very much like that shown in the master class video.

Have fun baking!


nicodvb's picture

I was about to advice that choosing the right flour is of paramount importance, as you wrote before me. Sourdough breads generally require stronger flours than yeasted breads because the latters need less time and involve less enzymatic activity, thus stressing less the flour. With sourdough instead there are many more reactions to consider and if the flour is not up to the job ... a disaster! Moreover the starter itself can lead the dough to collapse in little time.

placebo's picture

I'll admit I'm not familiar with the Tartine recipe, but the eight-hour bulk fermentation sounds long to me. I've noticed that sometimes the dough gets stickier as it ferments, so the long bulk rise might be part of your difficulties. In fact, one of my first attempts exhibited this increasing stickiness. I can totally identify your frustration trying to handle your dough.

I'd try a different sourdough recipe, one which fits into your schedule. As someone said above, with sourdough, you're going to have to set aside a good block of time at least initially. Once you get a feel for the timing of a particular recipe, you can figure out how to make it impact your schedule the least.