The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

why is my dough so stiff?

MattR's picture
MattR

why is my dough so stiff?

I watch videos of people making dough and it just seems that my dough is much stiffer, even with 84% water. And when I add salt and starter it's so stiff I can barely work it. The result is there's very little strength by the time I put it in the oven. If I put the resulting dough in the fridge overnight it seems to rise better. Anyway, here's what I do in more detail and if someone could point out anything obvious I'd appreciate it.

First of all, I live at 5000' above sea level and it's very dry.

I mix 60% KA bread flour (12.7% gluten) with 40% KA whole wheat (14% gluten) and 84% water. At 80% the dough is just too stiff to do anything with without tearing it.

I let it autolyze for 3 hours. If I stopped after an hour I'd never get a windowpane.

At this point I can pull up a piece and I get a good windowpane, but it's so much slower than what I see other people do in these videos. The result is that as I mix in the salt and starter (2% and 20%, respectively) it gets even stiffer and I don't really mix it all in. They might say do folds for 5 minutes but I get 2 or 3 folds and then it has to rest for a while or else the dough will tear.

The result is that, unless I refrigerate the dough over night, the dough just spreads out when I put it in the oven.

What does work is I stretch out the dough after autolyze, I smear on the starter and salt. I roll it up, let it sit 15 min, do 2 folds, sit 15 min, 2 more folds, let it rise 4 hours, a couple of folds, rest an hour, form it, put it in the basket, final rise, put it in the fridge and bake it the next day. Parts of the dough rise fine but some parts are fairly dense.

The saving grace is it all still tastes good. I'd just like a bit more flexibility and a more even crumb.

Thanks!

 

Rock's picture
Rock

I can understand the dough spreading out in the oven at 84% hydration. I live at 7,800' above sea level and my wettest dough is under 75% and all my breads are baked on a stone. Yours seems more like a ciabatta.

Sorry if I'm not understanding this, but I feel like we're missing some information here. Your dough is wet but too stiff to work and parts rise and parts don't. Maybe you could start with your complete recipe and process.

Dave

idaveindy's picture
idaveindy

Matt, Welcome back!

I would also be curious as to...  Is the flour past the best-by date?

How long since the flour bags were opened?  Do you store the flour in the bags?  in airtight containers? room temp? fridge?

If your flour is old or too dry, that could make it harder to handle.

Are you measuring flour and water by volume or weight?  

As Dave requested your specific recipe/formula, please include actual measurements, not just bakers percentages, because there is often confusion on how to include the flour and water in the levain in the overall hydration%.

Please include your starter maintenance, as to feeding ratios, what kind of flour you feed it, and schedule/timings. If your dough is too firm prior to, or upon, adding starter/levain, but spreads out too much by bake time, the starter/levain may be too strong or too acidic. (or you didn't develop a good gluten cloak/skin during shaping and final proof.)

--

I've never seen a recipe/formula that expects a windowpane from the autolyse. That's new to me.  The windowpane test, when called for, has always been part of the bulk ferment (first rise) in the recipes/formulas that I've seen.

--

What bread books or video channels do you follow?

Happy baking, and bon appétit!

phaz's picture
phaz

I was going to start with the starter as I have seen cases of hard/stiff dough due to an off starter, but then we have the "what does work" part. And that makes me think it could also be starter related. 

So - starter into needed, as much as you can tell would be very helpful.

It would appear something is awry with the gluten mechanism of that flour, and that could be a few things, starter included, but wrong with just water and salt leads to a flour issue.

Swap flour to test the starter, try yeast to test the flour. Enjoy!

MattR's picture
MattR

Thanks for your replys. I will try and describe what I'm doing in as much painful detail as I can think of. First, though, I'm not tied to 84%. 80% was just a brick.

Anyway, I'll start with the ingredients. The flour best-by-dates are feb '21 for the whole wheat and july '21 for the white bread flour. The bag of white was just opened. The whole wheat was opened in March. Both are stored in the paper bags they came in.

The salt is Kroger iodized table salt. The water is out of my tap. My water tastes good (not chlorinated like some that I've tasted in other parts of the country.

The starter is kept in the fridge and I make a new batch for each loaf. So, the night before I mix 20 gr of starter to 40 gr of water and then mix in 40 gr of flour and let it sit out. By the time I need it the next morning it has grown considerably, is all bubbly, and as best I can tell is good starter. But, I might be wrong. The "mother" starter is renewed roughly weekly but sometimes over 2 weeks.

The recipe I used for my latest brick: 450 gr flour (250 bread flour and 200 whole wheat), 378 gr water (84% of 450). I use 10 gr of salt which is 2.2% of 450. I use 100 gr of starter or 22%.

To mix the flour and water I first mixed up the two flours, scooped out a hole in the flour, pored in the water and, using a rubber spatula, starter stirring from the center and slowly incorporating more flour into the slury. As soon as all of the flour was wet I put a lid on the bowl and let it sit for 3 hours.

At this point, I would assume that all that water in the flour would make the dough really easy to stretch out. Put 3 fingers in and stretch it out by a foot or so. But it doesn't. I'll pull up the entire dough out of the bowl.

Next, I try to mix the salt and starter into the dough. I can honestly say I'm not sure what a good way is to do this. I spread the dough out on the counter, I smear the starter on, I roll it up in one direction and then roll it up in the other, let it rest for a few minutes, stretch it out again, spread the salt on, and roll it up again into a ball. As soon as I put the salt on it stiffens up a lot. It also pulls water out of the dough.

At this point I can't do much with the dough. I can use a dough knife and stretch out one side and fold it over, stretch out the other side and fold it over, turn the dough 90 degrees, stretch and fold one side, and the last stretch and fold is a small stretch. Any more and I'm sure I'd tear it. That's pretty much all I can work the dough. If I let it rest 15 minutes I can just about repeat this.

In just about every description of what to do after mixing everything together there is something along the lines of work the dough for about 5 minutes. I can't do that. I kept increasing the water hoping it would be easier to work.

I hope that helps.

 

fotomat1's picture
fotomat1

I assume you work the dough in some way during bulk fermentation?? How many folds and at what intervals? And then what are you doing? Oven temp? Stone? Banneton?

Or are you saying you cannot get past the autolyse?

Where are you keeping the autolyse and what is the temperature?

Also check your scale for accuracy.....a nickel should weigh 5g

MattR's picture
MattR

I mentioned most of the folds and timing above. It's not that I can't get past the autolse it's that the initial 5 minutes of working the dough after I add the salt and starter is not like anyone else describes. I can do the few folds mentioned above and that's it. Any more and I'd tear the dough. This is where I'm focusing right now because when I get to forming the loaf it really doesn't keep it's shape at all and I assume this is because of what I didn't do when I mix everything together.

But, to answer your questions ...

The autolyse is kept in a covered bowl. The room temp is around 68 - 70.

A nickel is 5g on my scale. I tried with several other weights zeroed. I did notice a Tbsp of water is only 13 grams so now I understand why you wanted a nickel weighed.

I have 3 split fire bricks in the oven and below that a drip pan with towels and boiling water to make steam. That part seems to work well because when I open the door after putting that in I have to keep my face away from the steam coming out. And the bread really doesn't brown until I pull the tray of water out. I warm the oven to 475 and let the bricks heat up another 30 minutes. I turn it down to 450 right before I put the dough in. I slide it in on parchment paper.

I can get a tasty loaf of bread if I reduce the water to 83% and only do the few folds I mention and put the dough in the fridge overnight before baking it. I'm just trying to expand my skills. And from what I can tell, 83% is a lot of water. I should have a giant sticky mess and it's not at all sticky.

I'm going to try bottled water, just to possibly rule the water out. I know that my city water is considered soft (it's all snow melt) and the city has to add minerals to get it up to something normal. I have no idea what that results in.

I'm also going to try 25% less salt and also adding it in differently. The salt seems to instantly stiffen the dough, but probably only near the surface of the dough where it's sprinkled on, I would think there's a thin strata of stiff dough with thick layers of not stiff dough running throughout. All of the tension is being put on the stiff layers and they tear resulting in the thin layers easily squeezing out. That's a better description of what I see. I'm not sure if that helps.

 

fotomat1's picture
fotomat1

Banneton? 

I am trying to duplicate your loaf as we speak. I am east coast 700 miles above sea level....I have autolysed 3 hours...mixed in both salt and starter...I am on my 3rd set of folds over the course of 2 hours...after which I will leave undisturbed for a 2 hours at room temp..form the loaf in a round banneton....fridge overnight and bake in the AM...I will report back with pics.

 

fotomat1's picture
fotomat1

Initial mix at 84% pretty wet. 

MattR's picture
MattR

Fotomat1, your pictures are helpful. My initial mix was not nearly as sloppy looking as yours. In fact, if I had gotten the wet gob you did I'd be rather happy, as that's what I'd expect. I don't have a picture but to get all my flour wet at this hydration takes a few minutes of stirring things around. It also sounds like you had no problem mixing in the salt and starter.

From what I've read, the water should not be an issue but I'm going to experiment with that and the salt. Is it possible  that salt is nothing more than a mineral that is used to stiffen the dough? So if I already have hard water than maybe I need less salt to compensate? I'll try the 7gr salt.

Right now I'm out of town and not able to experiment. I will keep you posted.

fotomat1's picture
fotomat1

 water and sea salt not iodized. My water too ,is hard beyond normal standards and have my cold tap on the kitchen filtered. My flour of choice is King Arthur as well because of its consistency but opted for Bronze Chief whole wheat because of supplier issues. I have been quite happy with it as a temporary replacement. Try to keep consistent as many components as possible since there are alway variables in baking that you can’t control ( ambient temp humidity oven fluctuations) Good luck

fotomat1's picture
fotomat1

Change much after the 3 hour autolyse. Folded in the starter then folded in the salt

fotomat1's picture
fotomat1

I duplicated your recipe at exactly your specs. I found no problems with stiffness at 84%. That is more than my hydration for pizza dough(80%) which bakes up flat with a raised edge or cornicione. Even with an overnight retard in the fridge I found the dough loose and near impossible to score correctly. Baked off on a stone at 450 rise was as expected from a nearly flat start. Improvement in my opinion would be dramatic at 75 percent. Hope this helps.I would also reduce salt to 7g

Rock's picture
Rock

fotomat1, good job and a nice picture. I go along with the hydration level too.

Dave

fotomat1's picture
fotomat1

Dave.....its always interesting to experiment.

Rock's picture
Rock

MattR, both the salt and the sourdough starter will cause the gluten to tighten. Salt will wick moisture from the dough and cause this the most, causing you difficulty when trying to work the dough immediately.

Dave

 

MattR's picture
MattR

I made 3 loaves and the bottom line is the most important thing seems to be leaving the dough in the fridge over night.

The 3 loaves I made (and had to eat, that's why it took so long) all had 250gr white, 200gr whole wheat, salt mixed in with the water and flour, refrigerated for a few hours, pulled out at night to warm up while a new batch of starter was made.

loaf 1) 78% bottled water, 7gr salt, baked in the afternoon

loaf 2) 75% tap water, 9gr salt, baked the following day

loaf 3) 75% bottled water, 9gr salt, baked the next day

The last loaf was the best and this was probably due to better timing of when to put it in the fridge, but the second 2 were good. The first loaf just didn't rise very well in the oven. The second 2 loaves were much like what I used to make with 83% water. So, I can still get a loaf of bread that tastes really good and I'm happy for that but I'm no where closer to getting a dough that's easy to mix.

Someone asked for an example video of what I'm talking about and here's one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1timJlCT3PM. This is Peter Reinhart's explanation of stretch and fold. Never mind how he's doing it just how goopy the dough is. His dough is 80% water and I've done 83% and it looks a lot like what I just did with 78% and 75%.

I'm wondering what happens to the dough when I leave it overnight twice. The first time it's just water, flour and salt. I put it in the fridge for  a couple of hours and then pulled it out. My house is at 61 degrees at night but warms to 68 around 6:30. After adding the starter (I spread out the dough, smear on the starter and roll it up) I let it rest for 15 minutes, do 4 folds, rest 15 more minutes, 4 folds, and then let it bulk rise. The second set of 4 folds is hard to complete because the dough is tight enough. The second overnight is after the bread is in the basket and supposedly done rising. But I do notice that it does rise some more by the following morning. I take it out of the fridge right before putting it in the oven.

So, what happens to dough when it rises over night in the fridge? For me it makes the bread. The crust is much better than trying to bake it when it's done rising and the oven spring is higher. Also, what happens to the dough when it sits out overnight before the starter is added? I got that idea from Trevor Wilson at Breadwerx but when I tried to work the bread like he describes to add structure or strength it just never worked. Again, he talks about working with the dough for considerably longer than I can do without tearing it because it just gets so tight. I figured it was tight enough and so I just do the few folds I do.

I think my next experiment will be the above recipe with loaf 3 only with 100gr of rye. That will effectively lower the total amount of gluten (and, with some caraway seeds will taste wonderful)

Any other suggestions or explanations will be appreciated.