The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Dough elastic but never silky and smooth

devineharris's picture

Dough elastic but never silky and smooth

This is my first post ever so forgive my poor use of the jargon!

I'm posting this in the general section because this is an issue I've had with all of my yeast doughs. The pictures I'm including are for one of my first sourdough loaves, if this has any relevance, but I digress. I can never get my dough to become "smooth" and elastic - the elasticity of my dough always develops well, but when I knead the dough tends to tear and look like the surface of the moon, or wrinkly. It doesn't acquire the silky look and feel that I have seen pictured. I knead by hand (though I do have a stand mixer which I rarely use).

I've looked this up before and tried numerous fixes. I let the dough rest ten minutes before I knead it, and let it rest periodically between turns. I understand that the dough will tear if the gluten is not relaxed, but even giving it numerous opportunities to rest it always looks wrinkly, not silky. I also knead for a considerable time. In total I probably kneaded this dough for about 30-40 minutes, and it is two medium loaves worth. I followed the recipe at Sourdough Bread | Annie's Eats. This is 3 cups all purpose flour and 2 cups bread flour (I was a little scant in my original mixture but the amount that was kneaded into it makes it about 2 cups or a little more). This is also my first really legitimate sourdough starter but that's irrelevant to my issue with the kneading, because I've encountered it pretty much universally.

^ About ten minutes in

^ Ten minutes later

^ And thirty minutes in

^ After 40 minutes I couldn't get it better than this (it would tear even with rests!) so I resigned myself to this. The wrinkly texture bothers me! It looks smooth but it wrinkles when i handle the dough.

I've tried different methods of only using the bare minimum flour on the counter, and contrarily using more so it moved more easily. I really am at a loss. I wonder whether the dough sticking to my hands contributes to the tearing, and I've tried dipping the heel of my palm into a pile of flour every three or four kneads to ensure it won't be sticking, but it doesn't seem to make a difference. I really don't know what I am doing wrong because I cannot achieve the silkiness that I would love to see in my dough! 

It is absolutely elastic, but the silkiness is hard to achieve. The dough I made before this batch I kneaded for at least 90 minutes, with breaks to allow to gluten to relax, but still it would tear and look wrinkly/dimply. Anyone else have this issue or any tips for me? I just dumped my boyfriend so I need baking to fulfill my soul! ;)

pmccool's picture

The recipe you are using never uses the term 'silky', which is a good thing.  That's a term I usually associate with doughs which contain some kind of fat.

Smooth is another matter.  The recipe calls for 5-6 minutes of machine kneading; you will probably hit an equivalent texture in 10-20 minutes of hand kneading.  It looks to me like your bread is adequately kneaded in that time.  If you were to shape it into a boule with a tight skin at this point, the surface would no doubt be smooth.

You may want to experiment with some different kneading methods to see if some are more effective than your current method.  There are lots of videos that demonstrate various kneading methods well.  

One thing that I see in my classes are that students are too gentle or tentative when kneading, as if they fear hurting the dough.  Consequently, they don't actually work the dough nearly as much as they think they are, or as they should.  They also tend to use excessive flour to kill stickiness, which makes their doughs stiff and hard to work.  

If you have a friend who bakes, or if you can find classes, soak up as much information from them as you can.

Happy baking!


Wild-Yeast's picture

Congratulations, you are now a dough watcher - an important aspect of successful sourdough baking.

"Silky", "Satin", "Smooth as a Baby's Bottom" and "Silky" are all terms describing the dough's visual appearance indicating sufficient gluten development. A more reliable physical test is the "window pane test" - wherein the dough is pulled apart using both hands to form an ever thinning "window" of dough, thin enough to become translucent to light "without" tearing - keep kneading the dough til it passes this test.

One suggestion is step up the amount of protein flour in the mix. Too little protein (gluten) will lengthen the amount of time required to develop what gluten there is in the dough. Adjusting the gluten upward will result in less kneading time.

The following is an encapsulation of the dough development process I use without fail:

  • Use your mixer to combine only the water and flour in the initial dough build (~4 minutes to combine mixture)
  • Allow the water/flour mixture to rest for at least 30 minutes after initial mixing [autolysis rest]
  • Knead by hand or machine until the dough mixture passes the window pane test (~16-20 minutes) - keep the dough slightly on the "wet" side
  • Combine (knead/mix by machine) the levain (starter) in chunks to the developed dough and finally add the salt (~6-8 minutes)

It's important that the gluten be developed in the initial flour/water mixture. Gluten development is inhibited by the acid in the levain (starter) and the addition of salt - It's instructive to watch the dough tighten-up in a kneading mixer. It will become very rubbery as the salt is mixed in. The dough will relax in the bulk ferment - the next step...,

Bien Cordialement