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Sticky dough. Why?

gong's picture

Sticky dough. Why?


I face a problem with my dough being too sticky when handling for proofing. My receipt is as follows:

flour: 400g (80% whole wheat, 20% T55 strong flour)

water: 230g

salt: 7.5g

100% hydration sourdough: 200g. (I use starter:flour:water in 1:1:1 in feeding)

I believe this is 66% hydration for the whole dough. Which isn't much and the reason I did it like this is to handle a not very sticky(wet) dough.

I mix the ingredients (except salt) for 30 minutes, then stretch and fold some 5-10 minutes till dough passed the window test. I let it rise for 12 hours (~20oC in my kitchen). In the morning the dough rose (maybe not doubled though).

When I tried to shape, the dough was a bit sticky. Well formed (I think!), soft, a bit bubbly, but sticky. I cannot handle it as other people do in some videos I have seen. And I think that every dough with sourdough I make, is a bit stickier then a dough with same hydration and commercial yeast.

Is there a trick for sticky doughs?



Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

50% starter and 12 hours bulk ferment. These numbers don't add up.

I would be able to get the bulk ferment done in just a couple of hours at these percentages. I think a rethink of this recipe is needed.

You also need to spread out your stretch and folds. The dough needs to rest in-between.

With such a high amount of wholegrain I wouldn't be able to do such a low hydration. Can I suggest the following?

Drop the amount of starter to 10%. Do 80% bread flour and 20% wholegrain at 65% hydration. Spread out the stretch and folds over an hour with 10 minutes rest in-between. Aim to finish the stretch and folds before bed then cover and bulk ferment overnight 8-10 hours. Something like this:

Flour 500g (400g bread flour, 100g whole-wheat)

Water 325g

Salt 9-10g

Starter 50g


Autolyse just the flour and water for 30min - 1hr.

Sprinkle the salt over the dough and add the starter.

With a wet hand squeeze and fold the dough till both are fully incorporated.

Over the next hour give the dough a pinch and fold with 10-15 minutes rest in-between. Keeping the dough in the bowl, wet your hand and grab a portion of the dough from the side. Pull up and over then press down in the middle. Repeat this going round the dough till you feel it resisting. Cover and rest. Repeat every 10-15 minutes. Each time should take under a minute.

Aim to finish this just before bed. After the last pinch and fold, cover the bowl and bulk ferment overnight 8-10 hours.

Come morning make sure it is ready. Should have doubled. If so, then carry on with shaping and final proofing. If it needs more time then wait till its ready.

Carry on as normal. Shape and final proof till ready. About 2 hours-ish but watch the dough and not the clock. Should be just under doubled.

gong's picture

why 50%? I have posted yesterday for this reason

Isn't 20% of preferment in my recipe? (100g flour in 500g of total flour). That's why I choose 12 hours BF.

So you say it is normal to be sticky, since the starter is too high?

Now after 4 hours of proofing dough has risen only by a little bit.

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

400g flour

200g starter

Then the starter is 50% since the flour is always 100%

You have 50% in your recipe and that's an awful long time for such a high amount of starter.

You are making a mistake in your calculations and I've just realised where you're going wrong...

It's not 500g total flour including the starter, then calculation the starter in percentages according to 500g being 100%.

Yes you have pre-fermented 20% of total flour but the total starter in relation to flour in your recipe is 50% taking the flour as 400g.


Your recipe is either...

500g flour (100%)

330g water (66%)

7.5g salt (1.5)



400g flour (100%)

230g water (57.5%)

7.5g salt (1.9%)

200g starter (50%)


The most common way of thinking about your recipe is the second way. The norm (but by no means the only way) is 10-30% for starter. Giving you a range of a few hours to 10 hours depending on various factors.

You had 50% starter at 12 hours!

suave's picture

No, the most common, and correct way is the first one.  That way you consider the recipe in terms of prefermented flour and your percentages do not depend on starter hydration.

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

I've seen is with the starter worked out for you and percentages given the second way. I regularly convert to the first way though which gives one the actual hydration. Either way they mean the same thing but you get to see how much starter is going in the second way and a good idea of how long one needs to bulk ferment the dough for. 

suave's picture

Prefermented flour is a much better indicator fermentation time.  With the second way the same recipe will change depending on the starter hydration.  Like in this case - if he had 60% hydration starter, not 100%, and therefore 160 grams of it, would it now become 40% of starter instead of 50% in your opinion?

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

Depending on the hydration of the starter which most recipes give too. When doing my own i go by feel as much as how much starter. 

suave's picture


Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

You can't take some flour off the total flour and preferment it then include back into the unfermented flour. We need to work out how long the starter is going to inoculate the unfermented flour.

Taking it out but then calculating it as part of the unfermented flour will throw your timings off. It's already fermented.

gong's picture

ok so I changed my calculations like you said:

flour: 500g

water: 350g


starter: 50g

water to flour is 70% while total water(with starter) to total flour is 71%, correct?

Regardless of the calculation, if a dough is more hydrated isn't more sticky too? Or this depend on the gluten?


Thanks a lot for your help!

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

Hydration (minus the starter) is 70%. Correct.

Final Hydration (including the starter) is 71.43% (to be exact). Correct.

Starter is 10%

Yes, the more hydrated the stickier all things being equal. But get some wholegrains in there. I'd say 50/50 would be nice for this hydration.

With an autolyse (1hr+ for all this wholegrain), handled well and good gluten formation it should not be too difficult. It might be a bit sticky but work with it and don't worry about that too much. Wetting your hands when performing the stretch and folds and flouring your hands and surface when shaping with learning how to handle the dough using your [floured] scraper to help it shouldn't be a problem.

gong's picture

so what about this receipt ??

Isn't the starter (it's a poolish, but after 12 hours doesn't it act as a 100% hydration starter) too much in the whole receipt?


Just curious...


Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

It is a starter and acts like a starter. Terminology can be confusing. 

The starter (levain, preferment or 'wrongly' poolish) is quite high but the bulk ferment is 3 hours. 

Maverick's picture

In this case, the term "poolish" is used to indicate that it is a pre-ferment at 100% hydration (no matter what the hydration of your starter is, the dilution will make it basically 100% hydration anyway). If this was a traditional poolish (with commercial yeast), then the recipe would call for more yeast to be added in the final dough. The amount of starter used here is fine because the bulk ferment is only 2.5 hours. It is more than many people use, but should still be fine.

Which brings us back to your original issue. No matter what the percentage of starter used, a 12 hour bulk ferment at room temperature will yield poor results.

Edit to add: I would use more salt in the linked recipe. It is fine for some, but I prefer 2% of total flour. This is closer to 1.6%. But that is personal taste.

Maverick's picture

By the way, some times I use my starter in place of a poolish called for in a commercial yeast recipe. I guess this is kind of a hybrid dough at that point. It works out well.

suave's picture

A.  Your fermentation time is ridiculously long.  At 20% prefermented flour and 20 °C it should be around 2-2.5 hours, may be as long as 4 if your starter is weak, but nowhere near 12.

B.  66% does not guarantee that the dough won't be sticky.  For some flours it's going to be too much.

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

He said his preferment is 20%

I simply said that the preferment was 50%

The flour within the preferment is 20% of total flour. 

Either way... 50% preferment or 20% prefermented flour at 12 hours bulk ferment is too long. Whichever way one understands it the timing is the same!

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

when fed  1:1:1  take to peak?   

Just reading the recipe I was also struck by the very long bulking time.  If the starter fed at 1:1:1 takes say... 4 hrs to peak,  I would think the entire fermenting time from mixing the dough to baking it (including all the folds and shaping) would be between 4 hrs and 6 hrs.  Toward the faster end due to the whole flour but could be slowed at 20°C and lower hydration than the starter, yeast numbers double in approx. 1.5 hrs.  (when comparing.)  The starter is half the size of the fresh flour or a one to two ratio.  With that much pre-fermented flour, the pre-shaping fermenting time would end when the dough was about one third risen in bulk (or am i off on this?)  Shape and allow a final rise.  The dough should not be allowed to double it's volume before baking.  

I would soak the 80% whole wheat 3 to 4 hours with all 1.6% salt plus water before adding.  With such a short fermenting time, I'm not so sure one benefits from bread flour.  If you find the crumb too chewy, I suggest switching to AP for the next bake.