The Fresh Loaf

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Sticky! Shaping Sticky Dough or When is it too Sticky?

jey13's picture
jey13

Sticky! Shaping Sticky Dough or When is it too Sticky?

I'm talking about the state of the dough right before shaping, not in any of the steps prior to that.

I completely understand that sourdough is going to be sticky. I also understand that the amount of sickness depends on all sorts of things: What kind of flour, how much water, etc. But there should be a way for a novice bread maker to tell if their beginner's dough has gone very wrong or is close to right. (I'm guessing here that if the dough comes out as a super sticky mess that it can't be right...but maybe I'm wrong?).

Yet even with basic sourdough recipes that look very similar, bakers and books are contradictory about this.

Some say: "The dough will be very sticky. Use water and the bench scraper."

Others say: "It should hardly be sticky at all! Just a bit tacky. You'll have no trouble handling it." 

And a few say: "It should stick to your finger, but then snap back."

And then, just to make this all the more confusing, half say: "Use plenty of flour. Flour good," while others say, "use as little flour as possible! Flour bad!"

I'd really like to know your thoughts on how sticky is too sticky (meaning—something is wrong), and how sticky is okay. To make things easier, let's imagine a dough that's 80% white bread flour, 20% Wheat and 72% hydration. To measure your thoughts on proper stickiness, we'll go for a 1-5 "sticky" scale 1 for barely sticky and 5 for super sticky.

Imagine you've just transferred the dough from container to board for pre-shape. You touch it with your finger:

1 = Barely sticky. Like scotch tape that has lost most of its stick. No flour needed.

2 = tacky, but not sticky. Kind of like touching the back of post-it note. The dough doesn't hold to your finger when you pull away and releases clean. You might be able to manage with no flour.

3 = sticks but snaps back. The dough sticks to your finger, pulls out like chewing gum, then releases and rubberbands back into itself. Sometimes your finger will come away clean, sometimes you end up with a bit still sticking. A little flour is all you need.

4 = Sticks like an octopus's tentacle. You have to scrape it off. It's leaving smears on your board and tools. Four is definitely needed.

5 = Wet glue. It sticks to your tools, it sticks to your hands, it leaves smears on your board which you have to scrape up, then you have to scrape that off the scraper. A sticky mess that you need to wash off. If you try to shape it, the part you fold over (if you can unstick it from the scraper) melts into itself. It's so sticky it is literally sticking to itself. The only way to save this mess is to coat it in lots of flour.

Which of these: would you love to get? Which would you consider as being "good to go?" Which would you find problematic or unacceptable? 

And on the ones that are problematic or unacceptable...is there any way to save them? If so, what steps would you take? 

ifs201's picture
ifs201

I tried to make my own recipe using an oat soaker based on some recipes on this site. Oh my goodness - wetter than wet glue. Complete nightmare. Ended up just throwing it in a bread pan. I'll be amazed if it's edible. My dought is usually between 2 and 3. 

berryblondeboys's picture
berryblondeboys

I don't have much to add as I struggle with this too, but this comment made me laugh out loud and I totally get it.

Quote: "Sticks like an octopus's tentacle. You have to scrape it off. It's leaving smears on your board and tools. Four is definitely needed."


BakersRoom's picture
BakersRoom

72 percent should be between 2 and 3. If not, probably overproofed.

jey13's picture
jey13

Thank you so much for that definitive answer. It helps us novices so much when we get answers like that. It tells us “if this happening then this is what might be wrong...” 

Okay. We overproofed. Is there anyway to save this or do we just make pizza with it? 

And how do we avoid it happening again? 

phaz's picture
phaz

My rule of thumb is to not make things any more complicated than they already are - and that may be what is happening here. A good dough for most people  should be tacky, it should release from the skin without leaving any noticeable trace left behind. This makes it easier to handle, and one would want a dough that's easy to handle (making bread is supposed to be fun, not a pain in the posterior). And no, sourdough isn't inherently sticky, at least it doesn't have to be. It also isn't necessarily bad when it is sticky as several factors come into play and can change the texture of a dough. So why is a dough sticky;

When water is added to wheat flour, 2 proteins (glutenin and giadin - you'll have to check on the second one as I can never remembered that one, but doesn't matter) combine with the water molecules. Many will say a flour absorbs water but it's really bonding with the molecules no longer making them free roaming shall we say. 

Adding water beyond the flours ability to combine with it will leave unbound water molecules and make a dough sticky - or stickier I should say. Actually, too much water will also inhibit the formation of gluten (which is the bonding of those 2 proteins with water - funny how that works). 

It also takes time for all this bonding to happen. Rushing things is usually a bad idea for anything, particularly bad for a dough. If we don't give it enough time to use the available water, we get a sticky dough that's harder to handle.

So - a dough that is sticky will/can have to much water.

The starter can also make a dough sticky/stickier. The starter is adding the fungus and microbes needed to make a dough sour and make it rise. The sour comes from acid production, and too much acid will also inhibit the formation of gluten - then we get the same as above - to much free water - stickier dough.

Why so many different things said by so many different people - it works for them - but that doesn't mean it will work for everyone, or anyone else. One should note, this is bread making, not cake or pastry making. The latter is a much more exacting science compared to making a loaf of bread. As bread makers we have it pretty easy, there's a whole lot more room for variation in our neck of the woods. Best advice I can give in bread making is to understand the basic science of it (c above) and find what works best for you. Damn the torpedoes - full speed ahead! In other words, forget how other people do it - do it the way it works for you - half the fun is the experimentation. Enjoy!

jey13's picture
jey13

A wonderful explanation...but your last comment is one I keep hearing and feel isn’t altogether helpful. Because I can’t know what’s best for me till what I do works, and it’s hard to make it work when the only advice is, “just try stuff until it works...” :-?

It’s like wandering through a maze blindfolded, asking for help, and getting back the answer: “Everyone has their own way out, you’ll find yours.” Um, yeah, I’m not having fun yet... ;-)

That said, your info IS helpful. (A) More water = more sticky, so high hydration doughs are something we novices should avoid till we know what we’re doing. Why? Because we won’t know if the dough is supposed to be this sticky or if we overproofed. (B) Don’t cut corners when it comes to resting the dough. 

Questions:

(1) Most recipes advise 30 minutes between steps (with leeway up to an hour). Would stickiness tell a novice to rest the dough longer between steps, that’s it not ready yet for that 1st fold or 3rd fold?

(2) How do we avoid overproofing if we’re giving the dough longer to rest? 

(3) Everyone advises wetting the hands to handle the dough (stretch and folds). Will wet hands/dripping water into the container, etc, add too much water and make the dough sticky? 

(4) What about using flour? 

 

phaz's picture
phaz

Sounds like you just need a better handle on the basics, of which there really is only one - add enough water to four so you get decent enough gluten development to trap the gases created so the dough will rise. I am big on trying till it's right cuz flours are different, starters are different waters are different, temps are different, schedules are different. The odds of what someone else does working for you are small. Ya really have to experiment with what you're using to get the results you want.

Yes, a novice should begin easy to get comfortable with certain aspects of the process. I wouldn't bother with high hydration at first (there's not even a real need go high anyway, you can get a very airy/open texture with 65% water), and it's a lot easier to handle.

By the numbers;

1 - Steps - I keep it simple based on my schedule. First, mix everything up, then let it sit long enough to develope flavor and gluten (minimum 4 or 5 hours or until it's stretchy, it also get a good rise in this time), then shape it, then proof it (to let it get nice and airy - when it's nice and fluffy and jiggly it's done), then cook it. How long between these steps depends on schedule, temp, and mostly, the dough. I know what works with my stuff, I wouldn't even want to give times for anothers materials. This is where experimentation and observation come in. Sorry, but much as I'd want to I can't do that for ya.

2 - we watch the dough. Press your finger into it to the first joint - it should spring back and fill in slowly to shot half way. It if doesn't fill in at all, bake it asap. If it fills in almost immediately and almost all the way, give it more time. This is probably the hardest thing to judge. Ya just gotta get used to it (I don't do this anymore, but I know what a well proofed dough looks like - been doing this for 10+ years).

3 - the amount of water added this way won't make a difference (all ya need are moist hands - don't have to be dripping wet). Better yet, don't bother with stretch and folds (sitting around for hours to stretch dough a few times is just a waste of time for me, so I don't bother). Ya don't have to either- gluten developes on its own - it just needs time. 

4 - if your dough is tacky (not sticky) as it should be you don't even need flour when shaping (maybe the slightest of dusting just in case).

I can almost here ya saying - but everyone does this, and everyone does that - ya mean to tell me I don't have to do this and/or that - correct. A lot of things are done cuz someone else does it, and it worked, so it keeps getting done. Nothing wrong with that - but doesn't necessarily mean it has to be done. Especially when science, experience, and experimentation has proved otherwise (I get a lot of free time when not playing golf in the winter!). I also like an efficient process - if I can save time and confusion - I'm all over it.

Keep on going - it does get better, and more fun. 

dusklover69's picture
dusklover69

I have got to ask you, do you mix, rise and bake all in the same day? If I am reading your comment correctly, you mix it up let it raise, shape it, proof it and then bake. Do you do it all on the counter top or do you proof in the refrigerator for many hours? If you're proofing in the refrigerator then I guess you're not baking all in one day.

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

A number of factors influence the degree of dough stickiness.

  • Obviously, the affects of hydration and flours and/or whole grain are huge.
  • If the dough was over-fermented the gluten will break down causing stickiness.
  • Warm dough is more sticky than cool or cold dough. 
  • An airy dough is less sticky than an under-inflated dough
  • *Important* - the top side (skin) of the bulk fermented dough is less sticky than the bottom. Because of this my preference is to turn out the BF dough so that the top is facing down on the counter
  • Handle (touch) the dough no longer than necessary. 
  • Hands should be kept dry and clean. If hands are sticky, stop, clean, and dry.

When starting out (learning) use a modest amount of flour, but only as much as necessary. As your dough handling skills develop you will find that you’ll use only the tiniest (or none at all) amounts of flour to get the job done.

Try to keep the flour off the parts that will be folded into the dough during pre-shaping and shaping. Any flour that gets inside the folds of the dough will hinder lamination and have a tendency to separate.

In most cases the inability of the baker to handle the dough correctly is the culprit. I’m not trying to criticize here. Trevor Wilson says it best. “Don’t grab the dough, the dough will grab you”. Use a super light touch. A dough knife is your best friend. Sprinkle a dusting of flour on both sides of the blade. Push or roll the dough, but never reach into or grab the dough. Use the stickiness of the dough to your advantage. As you touch the dough it will automatically cling to you. Use that to your advantage.

Dough handling takes deliberate practice. Be patient. As you handle the dough give constant thought to possible improvements. Such as; I could reach down and put my fingers on the side and under the dough and then pick it up. OR, I could use my floured dough knife, slide it quickly under the dough and roll it over quickly onto my lightly floured hand and then quickly move it.

Search YouTube for “High Hydration Dough Handling”.

These are my thoughts. Some may make sense and help, others not. 

Hopefully others can jump in and add to this.

Dan

ifs201's picture
ifs201

I tried making a bread using an oat soaker and 30% whole wheat, but must have done a bad job figuring out how much liquid from my 120g oats and 207g water soaker would make it into the dough. I tried to figure out the "hydration neutral" amount of water, but was obviously wrong. I tried Trevor Wilson's mixing method, but when it got to the stretch and fold stage, the dough was like pancake batter. There was no elasticity despite an overnight refrigerator autolyse. Just gloop. I hoped it would get stronger over the bulk ferment, but it never got to the point where I could do anything that resembled a stretch and fold. Probably a more talented baker could have worked with this mess, but I sure couldn't. When I took the dough out of the bowl to preshape, it acted/looked like levain and not like dough, if that makes sense.

 

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

IFS, Here is a post that should be a great help. We had a Community Bake featuring Maurizio’s Oat Porridge Sourdough.

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/59966/community-bake-maurizios-oat-porridge-sourdough

It is a long post, but there is a great deal of information that will probably interest you. Oat porridge requires specific care, but is not difficult. If I’m not mistaken Oats contain no or very little gluten.

Danny

ifs201's picture
ifs201

I actually spent quite a good deal of time reviewing that Community Bake. I probably should have tried it, but went with a soaker instead of cooked porridge (similar to something Danni posted). Next time I'll have to try this community bake and learn from all of the great comments. 

jey13's picture
jey13

Thank you so much. Those are very comprehensive, and I haven’t yet read any of those on websites or in a book. If there is a place on this site for “tips and tricks for beginners” you should post this there. 

calneto's picture
calneto

 As your dough ferments, it will naturally become less sticky. My loaves  are usually 80% hydrated and it is only after 4h or so that they become less sticky. I use 20% levain and bulk for 6h at 25C. 

jey13's picture
jey13

Again I come back to the question of how you avoid over proofing. A lot of these recipes say "30 minute rest after mixing" and "30 minute rest after adding salt," and "30 minutes between folds" so that fermentation comes out to be about 3.5 to 4 hours total, and the whole bread making process (excluding levain) comes out to be 5-6 hours.

Which is fine, but then you get someone like Trevor Wilson (here's his 70% hydration video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QHiQ5X3NKEI) who tells you to let the mixed dough rest over night, and that there should be one hour between folds (5 of them). 

At what point does all this folding and time turn into over proofing? How do we prevent this—i.e. know that we should let the mix rest for several hours rather than 30 minutes? That three folds is enough or it needs four or five? Or know that we should give it an hour between folds rather than 30 minutes? 

Stickness, you say, is a good clue that the dough is ready to go. Yet the dough becomes sticky if over proofed, right? How do we differentiate between dough that's sticky and needs more time/folds to un-sticky it and dough that's over proofed and is going to stay sticky? This is what confuses me. 

calneto's picture
calneto

what Trevor Wilson calls pre-mixing is essentially a long refrigerated autolyse. He sometimes does it with salt, but has also done it without. Despite the usual claim that one should not autolyse for longer than 2h, many great bakers do. Kristen from fullproofbaking, for instance, also does longer autolyses (3h or longer). So, he does not add levain to the mix.

Most methods I have seen call for anywhere from 4h to 6h bulking. You will have to experiment with the times, since it all depends much on levain activity and room temperature. But these numbers should give you an idea. I strongly suggest you keep notes for each loaf you bake (I write up the times when I perform folds, dough temperature etc).

Overproofing your loaf is not the end of the world. They will not have much oven spring or open a nice ear, but the flavor will be roughly the same. The crumb will also still be open. An overproofed dough feels incredibly puffy, I guess that is all I can say about it. You will have to bake some loaves until you get a better feeling for it. I am at loaf #124 and still screw up sometimes (like today).

As for proofing itself (after bulking), I guess the easiest path is retarding it in the fridge, provided it is cold enough. You can also overproof a loaf if the fridge is not cold enough (that was part of the problem with this last loaf of mine). You can bake it on the same day, but then you'll have to score a 'warm' dough, which is much harder to do than a colder one. More often than not it is also more convenient to let it sit in the cold and bake only whenever you have the time for it.

Why don't you bake a loaf and post the result? We'd be able to give better advice with pictures of the end result.

Good baking!

 

jey13's picture
jey13

My latest loaf, baked today, was the best yet, in large part thanks to all the help I got here. So, thanks to you all. I made up this loaf yesterday and was delighted to find it was NOT sticky! HOORAY! Thanks to this thread alone, I was able to say to this pillowy, non-sticky dough, with confidence: “you’re ready for shaping.” And sure enough, I shaped it easily and better than any loaf yet.

And yes, I always refrigerate my shaped dough for baking up the next day (or day after) when the time is right for me. When I took the dough out of the refrigerate today, I was pleased to note that it still held its shape.

Below I include three pictures that tell the story of my sourdough journey. 

STICKY MESS: Picture #1 is the sticky type of dough I’ve was dealing with on and off from my first try. Over the first four attempts, I ended up with this goo when it came time for shaping....my fear of getting this goo is why I started this thread.

FLAT LOAF: Picture #2 is typical of how my loaves have been baking up till today. Few rose up higher than this.

GOOD LOAF:  Picture #3: this is the loaf I baked up today. It turned out very nice.

One loaf at a time! :-D

 

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

Door number 3 looks outstanding!

It is extremely satisfying to see others succeed. It ain’t too bad a feelin’ when I succeed also...

jey13's picture
jey13

To hear such praise! Here’s the interior, which, after all, is proof of...proofing, right? :-D I know that those with more expertise than I can tell a lot about a sourdough from its crumb. So, behold! ;-)

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

If Lawrence Welk saw your bread he’d say, “Wunnerful, wunnerful”! If that makes no sense to you, you are probably too young and not from the states.

In the sixties we’d say, “out of sight, man”.

Today, I say “gorgeous”! You deserve to be proud...

Dan

jey13's picture
jey13

...and taking a bow. Thank you! And for my next trick...I suppose I’m going to have to try and do it again ;-D But maybe I’ll just rest on my laurels for right now. 

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

Why not jump in the deep end of the pool and join our Community Bake. I guarantee, you’ll learn a lot...

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/60872/community-bake-hamelmans-swiss-farmhouse-part-1-yeast-water

We’re here to help, all of us...

jey13's picture
jey13

I mean, what a great idea. Community bake for comparisons, advice and comparisons. Let me take one more lap across the shallow end, and then...I'll venture into deeper waters :-D

Lilinch's picture
Lilinch

I kind of feel like the conclusion is like ‘how to draw the owl’ comics. Suddenly it went from sticky mess to perfect with no explanation of what you did differently. 

please help by explaining 

avocadothegreen's picture
avocadothegreen

Sorry for being late to the party, but the dough you used for your flat loaves look exactly like mine does.  Would you mind sharing which adjustments worked for you to create the "Good loaf"?  Did you use less water?  Did you use the levain earlier since feeding?  Did you reduce the proofing time?  I'm considering all of these options,  but I'd like to know what the big changes were for you here.

Thank You!

Underdog's picture
Underdog

I have the same question.  Why did the original poster never explain what changes were made?

Lilinch's picture
Lilinch

It went from terrible to perfect with no explanation 

Lmw4's picture
Lmw4

this is exactly the posting I need!  Can someone recommend a food beginner recipe to get experience with the basics?

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

I just sent this to another user. I think it may apply here.

 

Almost exactly a year ago some of the bakers got together to detail the simplest instructions for making a sourdough bread. The idea is to get a new baker successfully baking a good sourdough bread. After this one has been successfully baked, and the baker becomes confident they can move on to other challenges.

I recommend you consider this bread, as a loaf for learning. It makes a super nice bread...

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/56678/123-sourdough-no-knead-do-nothing-bread

Whether you choose to bake this bread or any other it would be helpful if you photographed and posted the details of your bake. With this information we can better help you.

By-the-way, the bread above requires absolutely no kneading at all. If flour and water is mixed together and given enough time it will automatically for the gluten.

Danny

Lmw4's picture
Lmw4

Thanks so much.  Super helpful.

Is there also a recommended recipe for a commercial yeast bread - not high hydration- that would help me get a sense of mixing, kneading, bulk ferment, shaping, and final proofing?  I am thinking white flour so I don’t have to deal with the high hydration needed for whole wheat?

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

Sorry, I am not familiar with commercial yeast, but hopefully others will be able to help.

Abe's picture
Abe (not verified)

Just another name for bakers yeast I believe, Danny. 

Lmw4's picture
Lmw4

Yup, that’s what I meant.  Like SAF instant yeast. 

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

I am familiar with baker’s yeast (CY), but I very seldom use it. I do you use it for Cracker Crust Pizza, though.

albacore's picture
albacore

Have a look at this one. It's actually a recipe for Scotch Baps, which are a type of crusty topped white batch roll, popular in Scotland, but if you reduce the butter to 10g, increase the water to 240g and halve the sugar to 4g, you will create a very nice, simple white loaf. The yeast specified is fresh yeast, but you can use 3g of instant yeast added to the dry flour instead.

You can bake it in to a free form loaf, or a tin loaf.

Lance

Lmw4's picture
Lmw4

love the name!  I’ll give a look

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

that can have difficulty with the method they choose when touching dough.  ..until they learn another way...

Lets back up a minute.  I have given chunks of cold hard modeling clay to a class full of students and it is interesting to watch them compare their attempts at getting the stuff to model.  There are usually a few who have never been confronted  with it.  There are also a few who manage to turn the clay into a sticky mass getting it smeared and stuck on everything until they learn, hand to brain, and often watching others, how to make the clay work for them, how to unstick it from the table surface and clean up their hands with it.  It's a learning experience that has to be felt and experimented with to find a solution.  It all has to do with touch and contact and how it is manipulated, kneaded and squeezed.  Pressure, lack of pressure, pounding,smearing, quick smacks, rolling.  

It can all get a bit noisy or be calming and quiet.  

jey13's picture
jey13

But unlike the kids, we can't see what each other is doing (most of us are alone in our kitchens here). And even if we could see what each other was doing...we haven't been given the same clay. IF that is, we've been given clay at all.

;-D

So, yeah. It might well be that the stickiness problem is a matter of learning how to handle the clay. But I think we kinda have to first figure out if we've even been given shape-able clay. I will absolutely cop to badly mishandling the shaping process my first few times. But I'm also pretty sure I was handling mud instead of clay... ;-)

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

amount.  You can try small experiments using flour and water to find the right consistency.  Use an easy weight to do the math, like 50g amounts and add water.  50g of water is 100% hydration so skip that and try 25g (50%) 30g (60%) and 35g (70%) to see which behaves for you.  Let each sit covered 30 min to autolyse after mixing.  Then play some more.  You can narrow it down once you get near what you like.  The dough should be soft enough to knead easily but not so soft it turns to mud.

calneto's picture
calneto

you can put your cellphone on a stand and record your shaping

Ciarli's picture
Ciarli

definitely the number 1. barely sticky is the obvious choice but we dont have ovens to bake it because the crumb goes too dry before being baked! as our ancestors did, neanderthals, as less water as possible they did drink water only when going crazy thirsty but with what they did bake their meat only bread-food it is still a mystery!