The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Dough is impossible to handle.

foolishpoolish's picture

Dough is impossible to handle.

As I've posted previosuly in my blog, I've been working on improving my scoring and shaping skills - which I think they have. However I've hit an impasse.  Actually it's a continuation of the age old problem that I've been dealing with since the beginning of my 'bread adventure'.

My dough (after bulk ferment) is always way too soft to shape or score properly.  It never holds shape.  I have to rely on oven spring to prevent complete pancakes from occurring. 

I've tried different hydrations (50% through 70/80%), different starter ratios, different proofing times, underproofing, overproofing, retarded proofing, different temperature proofing, modifying salt content, autolyse, intensive mixing, minimal mixing, stretch and fold etc. etc. etc. - and while the dough usually looks and feels promising before bulk ferment, the result afterwards is always way too soft to handle.  It's not soup exactly - but nothing I do to try and develop a good surface tension in shaping holds longer than about 5 minutes.  I went right back down to basics the other day and tried a simple (commercial) yeast dough - and had exactly the same difficulties.

I try to be really gentle with shaping but the light touch that seems to be required to handle the dough is just ridiculous.  If I apply a firmer approach, I lose any hope of having a decent crumb (think bricks) or dough smeared across the work surface.

If it weren't for the amount of time and effort I've put into this (baking almost daily - sometimes twice for the past few months) - I'd say this was simply beginner's incompetence but I've been watching online videos, reading books, texts etc. over and over and over again and the doughs which I read about/see on video  seem to exist in a completely different paradigm to mine.  Nothing I see about handling dough seems to translate to what I am working with here.

This is really getting very tiresome - and I apologise if my posts seem to go through the same cycle of despair most of the time but I still haven't solved this problem - one that has been bugging me from the start.   Why oh why oh why doesn't it ever improve?  I *think* my understanding and skill has been improving *some* but I hardly ever get to put it into practice because my dough is usually unworkable.  At the moment maybe 1 out of 10 breads coming out of the oven are anything approaching decent which seems like an awful waste of flour and time.  I've taken to practicing with some 'dummy dough' (usually just flour and water mixed) but nothing learn ever seems to translate to the real thing.



Russ's picture

Is it possible that there's a problem with your water? Similar to what Mike Avery has been dealing with - maybe it's the pH or the softness?

Just a thought, really. It could be something else, but it just seems like there's some problem there that's not coming from you. If a 50% hydrated dough won't hold shape, something is working differently than would normally be expected.

I'd try contacting your local water dept (if you haven't already) and ask them about the water's conditions and even whether they know of anything about the water that might affect yeast breads. It might also be worth experimenting with bottled waters (not distilled) to see if results are any different.


pmccool's picture


Is there someone in your acquaintance--a friend, familiy member, friend of a friend, casual acquaintance--whom you know to be a bread baker?  If so, could you ask them for a "baking date"?  My thought is that if they could work with you at your place, with your ingredients, one of two things might happen.  First, they could show you methods or practices that work for them.  Second, they may be able to identify something in your approach, whether ingredients or technique or environmental, that is causing you so much grief. 

Or, is there anyone in your area who offers baking lessons?

Sometimes there's one little insight that unlocks a whole realm of new possibilities.

It can get to be really disheartening when the only consistent thing is frustration.  I wish you well in your continued endeavor.


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Is is just possible you have a bag of starch instead of flour?  Your frustration reminds me so much of my low gluten Chinese all pourpose flour.  I actually think it contained the by-product flour after the vital gluten was removed!  I could not make a loaf without a form.

Mini O

Rosalie's picture

Don't you feel stupid?  Like it's your fault?  Same here.  I keep having certain problems that NOTHING solves.  I feel so stupid.

My solution?  Don't worry, be happy.  It's just bread and it will be delicious anyway.


foolishpoolish's picture

A "baking date" might be just what I need.  Although I'm not sure how someone might respond if I ask to 'feel their dough'(!)  What I can't figure out is whether the things I'm experiencing are entirely normal and consistent with bread baking in general or it's a problem specific to me.

In other words, should I be learning to accept slack dough as part and parcel of all bread baking and just learn to 'deal with it'  or should I be concentrating my efforts on finding the problem? (assuming it exists). 

With regards to flour, I've been using a whole variety of flours ranging from all purpose, through to very strong (up to 13-14% protein...of course I've no clue how much gluten is represented in that...and what quality of gluten either)  Whole grain, sifted whole grain flours of various strengths and 'fineness' have also been used.  Likewise I've tried both tap water (live in a hard water area) and 'mineral' water without noticeable differences. 

The last couple of breads have been 'ok'.  I've been using rye starter with rye breads (varying proportions of rye to wheat flour).  The starter is ridiculously active (dough proofs in 2-3 hours!)  Crumb has been very tight although the bread is not dense...just 'fluffy'.  The rye flour is fairly coarse and I assume this to be the reason for the crumb but I'd love to hear other opinions.