The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Is my dough really supposed to be this sticky?

eukaryote's picture

Is my dough really supposed to be this sticky?

I'm a newbie to the bread making hobby, and so far have made a basic rustic / pugliese type bread a few times using an overnight "biga" starter. The breads always come out very tasty, good crust, etc, but the dough is just unbelievably sticky! Kneading is almost impossible, and I end up with about a half inch of dough coating my hands up the wrists every time I touch the dough. My wife just thinks the whole show of me trying to get it off my hands is hysterical. I do use a little flour / greased bowl per the recipe, but it seems I would have to add way too much dry flour to really solve this problem. Is there another way?

Any tips are appreciated, even to just let me know this is the way it's supposed to be.


Floydm's picture

If you want the big, uneven holes in your bread that really are the defining characteristic of rustic breads then, yes, I think it really is supposed to be that sticky.

A mixer can help you keep the mess down, and folding a couple of times during primary fermentation will definitely give the loaf more body, but I don't think there is getting around the fact that rustic doughs are messy. Just make a slightly larger batch of dough than you need to expect to bake and accept that your going to lose ten percent or so of your dough on your hands while kneading. I also keep a "dough-only" scrubbing brush near the sink to help with clean up.

LDighera's picture

Nancy Silverton, the owner of La Brea Bakery demonstrates how she makes rustic bread, starter and more in these PBS Julia Child videos:

All would be bread bakers will find this most interesting.

Larry Dighera

lgslgs's picture

I mix in a Kitchenaid, and while shaping I keep the tap running cold water at a trickle, and work with wet hands and wet bench scraper.

I also really like folding to help build up a nice surface tension to support the loaf as it rises.

For clean-up, I wash everything using hands and water only (no sponge or brush) at first until I get most of the starch and gluten off the utensils or counter. (Counter is cleaned with water, hands, and bench scraper.) Sponge and soap only come out for a final clean and polish at the end. If there is a lot of dough to clean up, I rinse all of the starch out of it and compost the remaining gluten mass to keep it out of our septic system - though thinking about it now I should probably just scrape it into a lump and cut it into dumplings for soup.

Sticky doughs are actually a lot of fun to work with if you keep your hands wet. And the bench scraper is the best tool on the planet. (Mine is actually just a plastic drywall scraper from the paint/spackle aisle at Walmart.)


SteveB's picture

The stickiness of your dough can also be a function of the characteristics of the flour you are using. The percentage of protein in the flour, the degree of damage to the starch granules, etc., all have an impact on the amount of water the flour can absorb and hence, its stickiness.

Prokaryote :)

Ricardo's picture

rub your hands with little oil before handling the dough

Elagins's picture

I almost always work with very slack doughs ... generally 70% - 75% water to flour, without much dough loss. I do the following: let the dough ferment in a spray-oiled bowl and use a bowl-scraper to turn the dough out onto a large kneading surface that i've liberally coated with flour. I then heavily dust the top of the dough and shape it into a rectangle, taking care not to degas it any more than i have to.

I use a pastry cutter dipped in flour to cut my loaves. (Incidentally, when I proof en couche, I generally put the dough onto appropriately-sized strips of spray-oiled and semolina-dusted baking parchment, which allows me to handle the loaves with minimum loss of CO2.) My scraper is far and away the most useful tool I have for dough handling, especially slack doughs. Also, I try not to worry too much about perfectly shaped loaves: the dough will do what it pleases and the results are consistently great.

TomH's picture

I have been making bread (99% baguettes) for a little over a year now. I was inspired by a trip to Paris.

I started with Peter Reinhart's recipe from The Apprentice. It evolved to something that was OK and many friends waited for my surplus loaves. But I knew something was missing.

I bought a DVD from King Arthur Flour on artisan bread making and it was most informative. However, they used a poolish and I had been using a pate fermente. It was quite different but the results were very pleasing. I got a much better crumb and the crust came out crackling - just like the video said. But, I still felt like I was struggling to shape the loaves. I find it hard to believe that I over kneaded so what are the other factors that contribute to "too much gluten" (or too strong, I'm not sure what it is). I gave it 20-30 minutes to bench rest but it still seemed like it was too elastic. Any help will be appreciated.

hug5901's picture

Hi TomH,

 I used just the normal plain flour or all purpose flour and it worked. My loaves were still sponge and elastic enough and the crust is still great.

KNEADLESS's picture

Can TomH please explain what a "pate fermante" is? Thanks.

Floydm's picture

pate fermante is old dough. You either make a small batch (like 1/4th a full batch, I'd guess) of french bread dough the day before and throw it in when you make your final dough. Or, you bake two days in a row, holding some of the first day's dough back and tossing it into the second day's. That is the way bakeries most often do it: they just hold back a small amount of the previous day's dough and toss it into the next's. You get much better flavor doing this than if you start a brand new dough from scratch every day.

TomH's picture


Well explained - better than I could have stated. But I am still looking for the answer to what makes bread too elastic and not extensible enough. Any ideas?

Floydm's picture

Meaning that it snaps back to its original shape when you try to shape it? I think that is just gluten doing its stuff.

The easiest way I've found to deal is to let the dough rest for 5 or 10 minutes. In that time the gluten relaxes and the dough becomes extensible again.

I never make baguettes or braids or anything highly shaped without a number of rests. Preshape the dough into a ball, let it rest; shape it into a log, let it rest; stretch the log out 4 or 5 inches, let it rest; finally strech it one last time. Without those rests, the dough will either snap back or tear, neither of which you want.

I hope that answers your question.

TomH's picture

I do make a point of letting the dough rest at the intervals you mention, with little success, the loaves still want to "snap back" to their shorter state. I wonder, does gluten develop just in the process of the poolish sitting and fermenting and could I be over fermenting it? Also, does the amount of protein in the flour determine the amount of gluten? And thirdly, how do you find out the protein and ash content in flours? Doesn't appear to be evident on the packaging.


cnemmers's picture

I am new to bread baking but if you have tryed everything what about dough relaxer would that help? And if that is a really stupid question please explain why not.

TomH's picture

I'm not familiar with dough relaxers but I did have much better success this week-end which I can attribute to one of two things ( or maybe a combination of the two).

I didn't let the poolish ferment as long. Previously I was giving it 12-14 hours. This week-end I only let it ferment 10 hours and it appeared to look pretty well fermented. The other thing was that I kept the dough wetter. I should have limited myself to one change but that's the way it goes.

So tell me about dough relaxers - always like to learn new things.

cnemmers's picture

Dough relaxers(conditioners)are used in yeast doughs. It acts by slightly disabling the gluten protein in the wheat making the dough easier to roll out and not fight back. Dough relaxers are made up of all natural ingredients that enrich and tenderize the dough like non-fat dry milk, diastatic malt powder, ascorbic acid, ect. It is not recommeneded for yeast doughs made completely with whole wheat or other whole grain flours, or breads baked in the bread machine. If your interested you can make your own dough relaxer or you can order from the Baker's Catalogue or from the King Arthur's Flour website ( I have heard that dough relaxer is esp. great for pizza dough..but so far taking alot of rests has always worked out for me. I am new to baking breads and I have a feeling that the Artisan bakers would NOT be caught dead with dough relaxers? I would like to hear the views on this subject from people who really know what they are talking about? How about it ALL YOU ARTISAN BAKERS WHAT DO YOU THINK OF DOUGH RELAXERS?

Elagins's picture

i've found that the best relaxer is an overnight proofing in my refrigerator after i've shaped the loaves (which i leaven with barm). i give them a final stretch when i put them on the peel ... works like a charm, and adds immensely to the flavor.

cnemmers's picture

Elagins- I know I should know this but could you please explain what the heck is barm? I would greatly appreciate any info on this term.
Enjoy learning new things!

oslagle's picture

Orin Slagle

Thanks to Elagins for the description of how to deal with wet dough. My question is: Do you put the loaf onto the stone with the parchment paper in place? I made two loaves of ciabatti, yesterday, and the hardest part was trying to put the dough from marble slab to couche and from couche to stone. Any tips on how this can be done, successfully, would be greatly appreciated.

Bread baking is for romantics!

TomH's picture

I got an idea for how to transfer your shaped loaf (in my case baguettes) from the couche to the stone from an artisan bread baking video put out by King Arthur. He used a "bread board" (don't remember if that's the term he used or not). He slipped the board under one edge of the loaf and then rolled the loaf onto the board and then rolled the loaf onto a peel and then slid the loaves onto the stone.

I made my own board (his was made by a woodworking neighbor who liked artisan bread). I started with an old painted piece of shelving and cut it down to a piece about 18" long and 7" wide and planed it down to about 3/16" thick. Then using a belt sander I beveled one edge down to about 1/16". I oiled it with mineral oil and voile', I had the perfect tool. The cruddy looking old board was revealed to be a beautiful piece of old growth douglas fir - the grain was tight, straight and vertical (roughly 20 growth rings per inch for you wood butcher's out there).

I transfer the loaf onto a bread peel (that I made but won't describe the process) that I cover with parchment paper. Haven't had the guts to try just using flour or cornmeal instead of parchment, bt some day I will. One of the best parts of baking bread is the evolution of the process. I can't wait to try making some ciabatta. Hope this was of help to someone.

naschol's picture


Yes, you can transfer the bread and parchment to the stone. There is no need to remove the parchment. You can take it out after the bread has baked for 15 minutes or so, or just leave it there until the bread is ready to come out. It will be totally separated from the bread at that point. The parchment will brown where there is no bread, but the parchment under the bread doesn't.


TomH's picture

I refer again to the DVD I bought from King Arthur on Artisan Bread Making (I don't have a financial interest, just thirsty for knowledge and this provided me quite a bit for about $20).

In the video he shows how to "knead" the dough to thoroughly mix the ingredients and develop the gluten. He picks up the wad of dough and lets it stretch downward, due to gravity, then flips the part he is holding down over the sagging part. Then, much as in traditional kneading, he turns the dough 90 degrees, picks it up and lets it sag down again and repeats the operation (very hard for me to describe). You do have some dough stick to your hands, but not the mess you'd have if you try to knead the traditional way.

If there is interest, and I can figure out how to do it, I'd post some pictures of the process. Let me know.

cnemmers's picture

TomH- I have been thinking on purchasing the king Arthur DVD on Artisan baking. Do you think it is worth the money and if so why?
More importantly, has the DVD inspired you to try things that you never would have without seeing the video?
Please post pictures if possible it would be greatly appreciated!
THANK YOU for the generous offer hope it is possible!

andrew_l's picture

If you buy Richard Bertintet's book "Dough" he has an excellent kneading method - and a video to show how how does it. No flour on the work surface either. Also Dan Lepard's book "The Hand Made Loaf" has an excellent, almost no - knead method, which works like a charm and is a. not messy flour on work surface c.makes fine bread.

TomH's picture

Worth is a very subjective concept. I feel it was certainly worth it to me and yes it did inspire to try something I probably wouldn't have otherwise. I started making bread based of Peter Reinhart's "Apprentice". I was using his pate fermente, which is a much lower hydration that the poolish I am now using based KA. I think if I had tried using a poolish without seeing someone habdle the dough I would have been discouraged. I think I picked up some other pointers from the DVD but mainly it was a gradual realization that things aren't quite as cut and dried as I believed. I learn best by seeing and doing rather than reading, so the DVD was good for that. I am anxiously looking foward to attending an artisan bread baking class this July in Grand Marais, MN, on the north shore of Lake Superior, where I'll be able to see, do and ask questions.

I'll try and get some pictures this week-end - maybe that will be enough to encourage you to try this method. It was a big inprovement in my bread making.

Thaddeus's picture

Just one more thing that seems to have been left out on this post. When I make Ciabatta (greater than 75% hydration), I usually develop most of my gluten not in the primary kneeding but in the incremental folding during the bulk fermentation. I usually pick the dough up and let gravity stretch it (being careful not to tear or degass too much) before laying the dough out on a lightly floured surface, and pulling the stretchends into the middle. I then rotate the dough 180 degrees and repeat. With really wet doughs this seems to be the most essential part to having good "slippers" prior to the bake. Hope this helps...


dough-re-mi's picture

Thanks for the tip on the summer bread class in Minnesota
Chez Jude . I know of one other class (near Akron, OH), but I don't have the link for it on this computer.

Besides the San Francisco Baking Institute and King Arthur's class in Vermont, do people know of other artisan baking classes? i would like to be near somebody doing it live, to get theri sense in addition to their words and demonstrations


swtgran's picture

Dough-re-mi, I would be very interested in knowing more about the summer bread class near Akron, OH as that is very close to where I live.  I have always wanted to attend a class on bread making.  If you could find the link and post it I would really appreciate it.  Thanks, Terry

jimmyfitz's picture

Ok, I'm making it for the first time.  I mixed the ingredients and let it rest frr 18 hours. When I turned to dough out on the lightly floured surface, it was just a gooy, sticky mess --- impossible to fold over.  After a 15 minute rest it's still too liquidy and runny and sticky to shape into a ball that hols together.  What do I do?

mrfrost's picture

Flour the surface more heavily, so the "sticky mass" can pick up enough flour so as to be manageable.

Gets easier with experience. Helps to use an appropriate flour.

Also helps to seek out videos of the process. If your mass of dough does not look similar to those in videos successfully showing the process(continues to be an unmanageable mess), you are probably using a bit too much water for your particular brand/type flour. It's ok to cut back (a little) on the water. Quite often, it's only about a tablespoon, give or take.

Good luck.

phaz's picture

 my experience has been that water/ flour ratios can be very specific to the flour used, along with atmospheric conditions.  that's why you usually see x amount  of water, plus our minus a little.  same with flour - x  amount plus or minus. a given ratio should be considered a starting point, then adjusted according to how the dough is doing in your particular environment. happy baking! 

david earls's picture
david earls

are the solution you're looking for. It's not words on paper or words on a screen. The simple solution is to keep making a single dough (doesn't matter which one you choose) until you learn to handle it without thinking about it. Keep good notes. 

Trust me on this -