Why is my dough so sticky?
Hi folks, I'm a first-time poster to this forum. I'm new to bread making. I got my start with a "no knead" recipe that was published in the New York Times, then decided to get more serious and bought Ken Forkish's Flour Water Salt Yeast book. All the recipes I've tried so far are made with dry yeast and baked in a Dutch oven.
My frustration time and again is that my dough is so sticky it is very hard to shape into a ball. This is even though 1) I measure all the ingredients exactly by weight, 2) and am within 1-2º F of the recommended water temperature and room temperature. The recipe that I made twice is called "overnight white bread":
1000 g white flour, 780 g water, 22 g salt, .8 g yeast
I know this is a high hydration recipe. I've watched Ken's videos over and over on YouTube and his dough looks tighter and drier than mine (wish I had a photo to attach).
Initially I thought it was because I was using Pillsbury AP flour and he recommends a lower protein content flour. So I got my hands on this 11.5% protein flour (https://centralmilling.com/product/organic-artisan-bakers-craft/). Not noticeably different.
I dusted my banneton and countertop with a mixture of 1/2 rice flour and 1/2 AP flour. And by sticky, I mean: it sticks to a dusted countertop, and taking it out of the banneton is like removing gum off my shoe (okay, maybe not that bad).
Obviously this recipe is supposed to work under the right conditions. So my question is, what factors are out of whack for me? Am I letting the bulk fermentation go too long or not long enough? Does the quality of the yeast matter?
Thanks in advance!
I am new here too but I have been a professional baker for a while and thought I might be able to help. my initial thought on why the dough may be as sticky as it is has to do with how much you are folding the dough after mixing. It could also have to do with the length of time you are fermenting the dough/allowing the dough to hydrate/autolyse, but I would first look at how you are giving strength the dough. I would increase the number of folds you are doing and if you aren't autolysing the dough i would start doing that as well.
Thank you, bagelmouse! I appreciate your help. I did autolyse, and gave 3 folds spaced 20 mins apart before leaving it for bulk fermentation. I will give it more folds next time. One thing I wondered about as a newbie is whether there's any downside to more folds (i.e., if it hurts the end result). If not and it's just more work, I am happy to give it as many folds as it needs to get a good result!
you are welcome, the only danger with more folds is that you could possibly overwork the dough but it will be very noticeable when this happens and is hard to do with a dough with a hydration that high.
When you say you do three folds do you mean you do three rounds of folding (multiple folds every twenty minutes) or that you take the dough fold it in half and repeat that three times over the course of an hour?
By "fold" I'm folding, turning, folding, turning, about 5 times. Then I repeated after 20 mins. But I'm glad you asked! The first time I read the term "fold" I wasn't sure what counted as a fold!
how many folds do you do total?
I did a total of three folds. ("Fold" being 5 or 6 stretch and fold on itself actions)
I would increase this number to 8-10 stretch and turns per fold, and stopping when the dough is significantly stronger and can hold its shape as a ball, not returning to the edges of the container. The more you work the dough, the less sticky it will become later and it will have more structure and be easier to handle further down the road when you are cutting and doing the final shape. how long is your bulk ferment (this will also affect your gluten strength and thus how your dough handles).
Awesome! I will give this a try this weekend. As for the bulk ferment, it sat in the tub for 13 hours (overnight) at room temperature.
This could also be the source of your problem, the yeast/bacteria may be breaking down the starch to have high levels of sugar in the dough causing the stickiness. I would let your dough prof out of the fridge for 4/6 hours depending on how hot it is in the room and how hot it is when it is done mixing. After this allow the dough to proof in the fridge slowing down the ferment and producing a better result. I like to ferment most of my doughs 4 hours at room temp, 8-12 in the fridge, final shape, and then 1/2-2 hours bench rest depending on the bread.
Hi bagelmouse! I'm facing some sticky dough myself. Can I know what are the impact of an overworked dough and what are the signs?
In general (Not Universally) I would say it is much easier to underwork a dough that to overwork it, especially when folding/kneading by hand. But to answer your question, signs of overworking are the dough is very, very resistant to tugging and the gluten window tears rather than forms a circular hole. Think of gluten like a resistance band, with kneading increasing the resistance of the band as you work it. You reach a Goldilocks point where there is enough tension to support your dough to without making the bread tough. Ultimately this point is something that you have to learn to see from instinct and is one of those annoying "feel" things in baking. I will say it is much easier to learn to feel it from moderate hydration dough's like a 72-75 percent french dough (flour, water, salt, yeast) than a challah or potato bread. An experiment you can do is just taking some flour and hydrating it and kneading/folding the bejezus out of it to the point where you can feel the dough resisting the kneading. This will give you some idea of what overworked dough will feel like.
78% hydration is pretty high hydration for an all white flour bread. As a newbie a year ago I found shaping very frustrating because of the stickiness of the dough. The best advice I was given was to reduce the hydration, a lot. Try reducing the hydration to 70%. I think if you do that you’ll have a much easier time handling the dough. Then as you improve your dough handling you can gradually increase the hydration.
Thanks, Benito! I will give that a try. I'm beginning to think that what I'm seeing is normal and I'm just not as deft at handling very wet dough as an experienced bread maker. If it's okay to lower the hydration, I will do that. As I get better at handling wet dough I'll work my way up to the intended hydration.
I’m sure you’ll improve with practice and practicing is much more successful on lower hydration doughs. You’ll have your confidence up in no time and be able to handle higher hydration soon enough.
In terms of how many coil or stretch and folds, the advice is to assess your dough. If it is holding its shape very well after a set of coil or stretch and folds, then it might not need anymore, if it soon relaxes and loses it shape, then you probably need another set or two. I’m not experienced enough to say with any certainty what harm there is to doing more sets, but I think there is a bit of risk of degassing the dough the more you manipulate it towards the end of bulk fermentation.
I agree with the 2 above posts
I started out with the Ken Forkish book, it is a great intro - another of course is anything by Peter Reinhart (Artisan Bread Everyday and the Bread Baker's Apprentice)
I had exactly the same experience - very very wet, unmanageable dough. Then I watched his videos on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/KensArtisan/videos
This just confused me more, because mine didn't handle like his !!!!! - But after doing more, and getting used to handling dough, my techniques improved
I think you should do a few more stretch and folds, and get to feel how the dough tightens up - at the final S&F you should be at the windowpane stage. Then leave it for bulk fermentation - Then when you handle it again, it will have more strength and be much easier to handle
But as others said, maybe drop the water content down to 70-75% and get used to that
> This just confused me more, because mine didn't handle like his !!!!!
Ha ha. Sounds like we went through the exact same experience! Ken's videos were helpful but made me wonder what I was doing wrong.
I'm glad the suggestions here are consistent: more stretch and folds, lower the hydration. I will give that a try.
I agree with one of the other comments that you might want to try reducing the amount of water in your dough. Also, it's always good to remember that a recipe is just a guideline, even if the recipe is one you are used to working with, as there are so many variables every time we bake--different ambient temperature, different flour moisture content, different protein level in the flour, internal dough temp, time of year/humidity changes, etc. I have better luck assessing the dough and how it feels related to shaping success (or failure) as compared to my final bake--learning something from each bake and noting what worked well and what didn't. Sometimes less water is needed, sometimes more, sometimes more handling (stretch/folds) sometimes less. Something that has really helped me recently is utilizing the fridge more for the final proof (once the dough has reached a healthy bulk ferment and post-shaping). Cold dough is easier to score and holds it shape better, and I am seeing better oven spring. I've recently read (on this site) of a 'freezer method' where the dough is popped in the freezer for about 15 minutes before scoring and going in the oven, but I haven't tried this yet. Just some musings I thought I'd share!
Thanks, naturaleigh! I will look for a recipe that calls for a proof in the fridge. Someone at work suggested the same, that it makes the dough hold its shape better.