The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

wet dough sticks!

davesixstringsperry's picture

wet dough sticks!


This being my second post, and what with y'all turning out to be very nice indeed, I feel I can now ask dumb questions.

So this is it: I make baguettes with 74% moisture, and this makes for a sticky dough. It sticks everywhere: to my hands, to the work surface...And yet, when I watch instructional videos, wet dough doesn't seem to stick anywhere, apart from to itself when it's needed (eg when creating a seam). What is this, Schrodingers Dough - simultaneously sticky and not sticky???

I find the stickiness of the dough constantly militates against the kind of smooth shaping that I'd like to achieve - I roll it out into a baguette and rather than forming a lovely, smooth roll it sticks here, sticks there, gets a bit uneven and patchy here, bulges in places rather than being a uniform roll...whereas on the videos it sort  of bounces away from the surface and does whatever the baker wants it to do.

Also, by the time I've formed a seam and then rolled it around, and created a patchwork of deformities and unevenness, it's pretty hard to tell which side the seam is on!

Am I using the wrong surface (wooden kitchen surface)? Is there something wrong with my hands?? Any insight gratefully received.

I'm typically using standard strong white flour, instant yeast, salt and 74% water. For a baguette I'm resting the dough for an hour or so before shaping into balls which rest for 5 minutes or so before shaping into baguettes.



Danni3ll3's picture

doesn't use flour to do his final shaping, he uses water. I am hoping he (Alfanso) will pop in here and direct you to the videos he has made using that technique.

As to me, I try not to touch the dough as much as possible and I used lots and lots of flour. I am finding that shaping on a granite counter rather than my butcher block counter is allowing me to reduce the amount of flour I was using drastically.

I know others will pop in with more ideas.

Jokerman's picture

Good timing for this post.  I just started working with Bouabsa"s baguette recipe which is 75% hydration.  My first time it went pretty well and I was able to do a pretty fair job of shaping them.  However, the next two times it was a real struggle.  I was either fighting the stickiness and making a mess, or I was using too much flour and couldn't really get the dough sealed along the seams.  I work on a plastic laminate counter top.  Any suggestions are welcome.  I want to figure this out because the bread is fantastic.  Best crust and crumb that I have been able to repeat with consistency.  Just need to get the handling under control.

MonkeyDaddy's picture

to contribute his baguette genius to your dilemma, take a look at his video.  Bear in mind, he has been practicing this for a long time, but he shows a few tips and tricks that are very useful to see.


gillpugh's picture

Wonderful video by alfanso.  I'll have to try the double hydration tip myself. 

Lazy Loafer's picture
Lazy Loafer

Trevor Wilson gives a wonderful (and funny) description of the difference between an experienced baker and a newby, shaping loaves, in his e-book "Open Crumb Mastery". I urge you to download and read it yourself. But most important, he talks about 'bread hands' and how it just takes time and experience to develop the touch. It's a combination of perfectly fermented dough, well-developed tension (the 'skin' of the dough), a very light touch and knowing when and when not to use flour.

You aren't doing anything 'wrong', really, just need to keep working on it!

oldskoolbaker's picture

The more you work with dough, the less it will stick to your hands.

Alan.H's picture

I have suffered in the past from video envy when I have seen the demonstrator emerge from his/her labours with hands completely free from sticky dough.

However I notice that you mentioned using strong white flour which to me suggests that you are in the UK. I think it is generally accepted that flour obtainable in the UK is less absorbent than USA flour and that if following an American recipe you can use 5-10% lower hydration and enjoy the same non sticky dough results that you see in those instructional videos.


and other entries.

Of course if you are not living in the UK you can ignore all the above.

More recently I have found that a long autolyse also helps. Whenever I can fit it in to my routine I use Trevor Wilson's overnight autolyse or shorter variations of it.

The long autolyse not only makes the dough more extensible but for me much easier to handle and less sticky.


alfanso's picture

But first a word from our sponsors - thanks Mike for that vote of approval.  

I've changes a few things around since that video was made as that was still on the earlier side of my home baking hobby.  And as we all should do, I kept applying learned experiences as adjustments as I went along.  Still do.  Basically the technique is pretty much the same now as it was then.  

David keep in mind that every dough and every formula has its own unique characteristics.  

"I make baguettes with 74% moisture, and this makes for a sticky dough. It sticks everywhere: to my hands, to the work surface..."

If you are trying to learn the craft, drop the hydration down to as low as 65-67% and you'll find that the dough is "drier" and much more manageable, easier to manipulate, etc.  As the skill builds, allow the hydration to rise to match your abilities, if you wish.  

There is no magic or big deal in making higher hydration doughs, excepting the "challenge" of doing it - a worthwhile endeavor to be sure.  And nothing wrong with making lower hydration doughs, and everything right with it.  Right now I'm in the middle of making a Hamelman Vermont SD dough for baguettes at 65% hydration.  And if you think that you can't get a somewhat open crumb and good shape from 65% hydration, have a look at the above link.  Plenty of people on TFL do make, and do prefer, lower hydration doughs.

"by the time I've formed a seam and then rolled it around, and created a patchwork of deformities and unevenness, it's pretty hard to tell which side the seam is on!"

By the time that you form a seam , your shape should look somewhat like a fat cigar with few if any "deformities".  If it doesn't look like this then your pre-shaping and initial "folds" for final shaping are likely not executed correctly.  Keep in mind that early mistakes are magnified on subsequent steps, so you want your pre-shape to be carefully formed.   For baguettes I don't make a small ball, which doesn't make it wrong, it just isn't what I do.  Either a rectangular pre-shape or rolling that rectangle up would be my recommendation.  I find that the final shaping works better for me when I do it that way.

One way to keep track of your seam side is to start the rolling out of your baguette with the seam facing directly up.  If you do this then each roll back and forth should start and end with the seam side still up.

If you are hell-bound on working with higher hydration dough, then follow the advice of Lazy Loafer and Alan H.  Be forewarned that Trevor Wilson describes his work as designed for the intermediate SD baker.


davesixstringsperry's picture

Hey, it's been a while but I wanted to come back and say that I've really tried to take a lot of your excellent advice on board and am making some steps forward...I've been using a lower hydration (between 65 and 70%)...I've been working harder on sealing the seams...I've acquired a flipping board (transformation!)... I'll try to attach a pic of today's bake which I'm really proud of...only a slight bit of splitting on one of them. Thanks again for all your advice! I don't think I've got baker's hands yet but I'm getting there!