The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Wet dough questions

Fenrir's picture
Fenrir

Wet dough questions

Hey guys,  I'm not sure if this is the right place to ask for advice, but here it goes.  I'm getting back into baking bread and had a few questions.  I've seen a bit about the window pane test and a few other tests, but I'm having trouble establishing earlier if my dough is too wet.  If its supposed to be that wet I'm having a bit of trouble handling it, if I wet my hands or the area to keep the dough from sticking I'm afraid of making it too wet too the point I feel like the dough will never come together, even with some folding. If I flour the area I'm afraid of making it too dry.  I know this is a bit general, but any advice?

JERSK's picture
JERSK

  The wetness of dough is expressed as hydration level. It is determined as the weight ratio of water in your dough to the weight of flour. In baker's pctgs. the weight of flour in the dough is 100%, being the primary ingredient usually. For example if you have 250 g of flour and 150 g of water that would be 60% hydration. 150/250 =  .60 . That would be a fairly average hydration for American type breads and fairly easy to handle. Doughs of 66% hydration and higher are more typical of European and "artisan" type breads. They're a little tricky to handle, but with practice it's fairly easy. You can also try mixing/kneading them in a tub or bowl using a heavy spatula, bowl scraper or one hand turning the bowl as you go with one hand. A lot of people on this site subscribe to a no knead method using a very high hydration dough and just a series of folds. I just can't bring myself to go that route though I use folds to implement dough structure. Also different types of flour are "thirstier" than others. Meaning they can absorb more water than others while staying fairly firm. Generally whole grain and hi-gluten flours fall in this category. Good luck. I'm sure you'll get tons of advice here.

Fenrir's picture
Fenrir

Thanks for the advice, I know a bit about hydration, but its good to see some examples of whats normal.  I guess my bigger problem is handling it.  I notice you mention kneading in a bowl for wet dough with a scraper, I guess that would solve my sticking to the work surface problems.

Woods's picture
Woods

It doesn't matter if it sticks some does it?  I've worked very wet doughs with a bench knife and it works fine with practice.  Bread baking should be fun and creative so don't worry too much!  Woods

Fenrir's picture
Fenrir

I hate to sound like even more of a n00b, but when someone says bench knife I tend to think of a form of pocket knfie, is that what you mean?

bwraith's picture
bwraith

Fenrir,

I'm curious what type of recipe you are working on. Is this a very high hydration dough, like a ciabatta, or a hearth bread? Also, are you using white flour or whole wheat, and what is the hydration level overall in the recipe?

You can describe the consistency of dough as firm, soft, or very soft. The following from Artisan Baking by Maggie Glezer: "A firm dough should sit up in a high, pert mound, and not be sticky but stick to itself if folded in half. A soft dough should spread out in a low mound and readily stick to your hands and to itself when folded in half. A very soft dough should spread into a flat pancake and be extremely sticky."

Given that description, what would you say is the consistency of the dough above?

In general, folding is very effective to bring very wet dough together. A dough that spreads out on the counter and seems impossibly wet will amaze you with it's structure later on. I usually fold at first in the bowl or on a wet counter with wet hands. Later, to avoid adding too much water with wet counter and hands, I use a flour dusted counter and hands. However, you should brush off the flour from each fold as you fold, so you don't get streaks in your dough. The dough will nevertheless pick up a little flour when you use flour dusting for folding.

As far as keeping everything at the right hydration, if you only wet the counter by rubbing wet hands on it and brushing off excess, and you shake water off your hands, the amount of water you will incorporate in the dough is fairly small. I've estimated that each time you rewet the dough and your hands, if you get rid of excess, maybe around a tablespoon or 10-20 grams of water is being added to the dough each time. So, you can try putting slightly less water, an ounce or two less, when you mix. Or, start with water and switch to flour later. I find it easier and less messy to work with the dough with wet hands and counter when it is hard to handle, and easier to work with flour dusted counter and hands later, when the dough has more structure and is beginning to get puffy.

Bill

Fenrir's picture
Fenrir

I'm sorry I don't know the hydration, I used the easy whole wheat recipe in the older version of Laurel's book.  I used KA if thats important.  At first I would have rated the dough very soft, but after a bit later just soft.  Which is what brought about my original question, I couldn't handle the dough without it sticking everywhere.  Eventually I got it to not stick too much to the counter, but I'd still go with soft for most of the time.  Not being sure of which to use, flour or water, I ended up alternating.  Thanks for the advice regarding handling, it was exactly what I was looking for!  Also, how often do you rewet your hands?  I felt like I had to do it too often, I'd say every fold or somewhere around there.

bwraith's picture
bwraith

Fenrir,

Yes, I do rewet as often as necessary. Typically, in the beginning to knead/mix the dough by hand I would squeeze it through my fingers working up and down the dough. If you squeeze hard, then release quickly, you can get a number of squeezes in, basically all up and down the dough, then a couple of folds, before it gets too sticky. However, it can be very, very sticky if it is soft and the flour is WW and hasn't been soaked. It helps a great deal to let the flour soak a while, at least 1/2 hour. I often just soak the flour all night, i.e. mix the flour, water, and maybe salt the night before.

Anyway, if it is very sticky, you would have to rewet at least several times to knead the dough enough at the beginning. Then, yes later on, each time you fold, you rewet again. At some point, the dough will come together much more, and then dusting with flour works better.

It's OK to get all messy and sticky, but it isn't that bad if you figure out the wet hands and counter tricks. The problem with using lots of flour dusting is that you end up getting all sticky anyway, and it can also fairly quickly incorporate too much flour and dry your dough too much.

One thing to realize is that time will make it better. Leave it in the bowl when it is too sticky, scrape it out onto a wet table with wet scraper and wet hands when you want to work with it. However, if you work with it some, then let it rest 15 minutes or 1/2 hour and then let it rest some more, etc., it will become much easier. Once the gluten begins to form, which happens as the acids develop and the flour fully hydrates, plus some kneading and folding, it will become far easier to work with than at the beginning. Also, salt helps improve the handling a lot when you add it.

Good luck with it. I'll be curious to know if you discover something that works for you.

Bill

tattooedtonka's picture
tattooedtonka

Here is a link to see what a bench knife looks like.

Simply put they are a flat piece of s/s with some sort or rolled edge, plastic, or wood handle.  They are used for scraping dough up off the counter.  They are great for cutting dough, if you are gonna seperate a batch to make multiple loaves.  And they are an all around general purpose bakers tool.

Some folks use plastic ones, some use odd end tools.  I know a wide putty knife works in a pinch.

Just thought I would add my two cents, to try and help.

Have a great day,

TT

Fenrir's picture
Fenrir

Thanks again for all the great advice.  It seems like I didn't do too badly technique wise, just a bit unsure :) .  It came out mediocre (http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/5201/back-baking) , but not great,  hopefully with these tips and a bit of the more certainty the next batch will be better.  Letting the flour soak is something I definitely didn't do,  As far as a bench knife goes, I'm know of them, but didn't know they were called that, I always thought they were baker scrapers.  Look an awful lot like a big putty knife to me!

 

 

Thanks  

bwraith's picture
bwraith

Fenrir,

Here are a couple of blog entries, one from Jmonkey, and a couple I did for WW recipes. Some of the soaking and mixing/kneading issues come up in those recipes.

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/4737/finally-100-whole-grain-hearth-bread-i039m-proud

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/3606/whole-grain-sourdough-sandwich-bread

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/5155/100-whole-grain-sourdough-hearth-bread

Having said that, I checked out the blog entry you linked above, and it looks like you already have baked a nice WW loaf.

Bill

Fenrir's picture
Fenrir

Thanks for the links, I'll be sure to take a look at those.  Great to know that I'm not doing too badly :D .  I'm hoping that some of these techniques and tips will help me improve.

KipperCat's picture
KipperCat

I used a putty knife for quite awhile.  It surprised me how much easier the bench knife was to work with!