The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

No knead bread: shaping, very sticky dough

neilc's picture

No knead bread: shaping, very sticky dough

Hi everyone,

This is my first post. I've also been baking bread for a total of three days, so I'm sure this is a very basic question. Bear with me :)

I've been making "no knead" bread using Jim Lahey's recipe (both the basic recipe and rye bread). Overall I've been loving it but I've been having a difficult time shaping the dough properly. I've been trying to make a boule, but the dough is so sticky that I find it is hard to pick it up cleanly, let alone shape it into anything resembling a ball :) Frankly it can be a challenge getting the dough into the dutch oven in one piece, let alone shaped the way I'd like it.

I've tried shaping both before the second rise and afterward. It seems a bit easier before the second rise, but the dough seems to lose most of its shape during the second rise, which seems to defeat the purpose. I've been doing the second rise on a sheet of parchment paper, loosely covering the dough with plastic wrap.

Any and all advice welcome. Is it normal that the dough is VERY sticky? Should I try longer/shorter rising times, or use more/less water? Looking at YouTube videos of people shaping dough, it seems as though their dough is typically easier to work with, but maybe they just know what they are doing :)


LindyD's picture

Hi Neilc - welcome to TFL.

If you're using Lahey's formula from his website:  then you're working with a dough of 80% hydration.  That's pretty wet, not easy to handle, and it's going to be sticky.  You might try cutting back the water a bit to make the dough more manageable.  Or try oiling your hands.

I don't have his book and haven't seen his formula for a rye no-knead, but the very nature of rye is that it's going to stick to everything it touches.  Keep your hands wet when dealing with rye.  BTW, what's the percentage of rye he calls for?  

It's been years since I mixed his original formula, but one thing I do remember doing is cutting parchment into two wide strips, long enough to form a cross in the proofing bowl.  I found it much easier to grab the ends of the parchment to lift the dough from the bowl and into the hot dutch oven, without losing it's shape.  And safer.

Funny, but the other day I was thinking of trying Lahey's no knead again.  As I recall, it's a tasty bread.  

Anyway, try holding back 10-15 ounces of water and see if that helps with the handling of the wheat formula.   And let us know how it goes.

wayne on FLUKE's picture
wayne on FLUKE

Anyway, try holding back 10-15 ounces of water and see if that helps with the handling of the wheat formula.

I assume you didn't mean 10-15 ounces, maybe grams?

LindyD's picture

Ooops - absolutely grams, not ounces.  Thanks for catching that!

neilc's picture

Hi Lindy,

Thanks for the advice!

I've been using the recipes from Lahey's book. For the standard no knead, that calls for 400 grams of bread flour to 300 grams of water (75% hydration); same for rye, except that the rye replaces 100 grams of bread flour with rye (so 3:1 bread flour:rye). I probably added an extra ounce or two of water because there was unabsorbed flour in the mixing bowl (now that I think about it maybe that isn't a problem, and the extra flour will be absorbed during the rise?).

Thanks for the tips -- I haven't been oiling my hands, but that makes sense. I'll also cut back on water a little bit.

junklight's picture

Rye makes your dough stickier. Wetting your hands works but makes the dough even wetter, oil is ok too and worth a go. 

For shaping I've been finding that *very* floury hands can help though - and work quickly (but don't get in a flap - it doesn't help ;-) ). The other trick I had some success with was putting loaves on baking parchment for the final proof - saves you from that bit where it looks great but then is stuck to the wrong thing. I'm currently doing the final rising on a glass cutting board covered with semolina at the moment (which I'm sure is not very elegant but doesn't seem to have a negative impact on the end result which is the bit that counts - I'm not a cook that you would watch in the kitchen and be impressed by - there is a sort of ongoing chaos. But I get good results)

For an 80% hydration though I'd be tempted by a dutch oven type approach especially as you haven't been at it for long. 

For the record I've had a number of shaping disasters and they all produced tasty bread even if I wouldn't want to show them to anyone. I certainly had a few weeks of 'baked puddles" 

Stick with it though (*groan*) - more practice will make it easier