As a home baker just starting, you might wonder if bread dough should be sticky. The answer to this question can vary depending on the type of bread you are making, and some additional factors, which we will explore in this article.
In short, yes, bread dough should be sticky initially when mixing. However, proper kneading techniques develop gluten, the structure of the dough improves and it will become less sticky. The dough's stickiness can be influenced by various factors, including the type and quality of ingredients, precision of measurements, dough handling techniques, and even the air's humidity.
The higher the moisture content, the stickier the dough becomes. The hydration level of some rustic bread can be as high as 100%, producing a more open crumb and better flavor.
Factors that affect the stickiness of the dough
In enriched bread like brioche, adding eggs can make the dough sticky. Eggs consist mostly of water, increasing the bread’s hydration level. Since egg sizes vary, precise confectionary recipes specify them in weight units. Additionally, the dough’s stickiness depends on the flour type. Rye flour doughs are usually stickier than white wheat flour dough.
Dough made from lower-quality or low-protein flours will be sticky. When choosing flour for baking bread, flour with a protein content of 12-13% is best.
Bread doughs with high moisture content, such as focaccia, ciabatta, or baguette, tend to be sticky, making them easier to knead with a stand mixer rather than by hand. I recommend the Kenwood Chef, a powerful and durable machine I use for dough making.
Measure the ingredients accurately
Accuracy in measuring ingredients is crucial in baking to ensure consistent quality. Weight measurements are more precise than volume measurements, as the density of the material affects the volume of powdered ingredients like flour. A cup of flour can weigh anywhere from 140 to 190 grams depending on its compactness, which is a significant difference.
Temperature and humidity
Temperature and humidity can also affect the stickiness of the dough. A recipe that worked well in the winter may become problematic in the summer, as high humidity can make the dough wetter than usual. So, in wet conditions, if you reduce the water a little, you will probably get a dough with a good consistency.
Overworking the dough can make it sticky
Overworking the dough can cause it to become sticky, which may happen when using a mixer. Kneading the dough on the first or second speed takes about 8 minutes with a stand mixer, while hand-kneading should take 10-12 minutes. Unfortunately, you cannot improve overworked dough.
How to handle sticky bread dough?
Handling sticky dough with high moisture content requires practice. Building up dough strength through stretching, folding, and resting phases can improve its structure and make it less sticky. A bench scraper can come in handy when working with sticky dough to remove it from the bowl or move it around the work surface.
There are several ways to deal with sticky dough, including wetting your hands or using a small amount of flour or oil. However, using too much water, flour, or oil can alter the dough’s proportions and affect its texture.
1. Wet your hands:
To make it easier to handle the sticky dough, wet your hands. Dip them in water occasionally while mixing the dough to prevent ingredients from sticking to your hands. Wet the blade when dividing the dough to avoid tearing it.
2. Use a bit of flour:
Another way to handle sticky dough is to lightly flour your hands and work surface. Rustic bread with high hydration is often sprinkled with flour after shaping, which gives them a characteristic appearance.
When proofing in a banneton, flour the basket to avoid damaging the dough’s surface. The linen couch used for proofing the baguettes is also sprinkled with flour.
We can use traditional willow bannetons. or proofing baskets lined with linen inside. Take care of bannetons to ensure their longevity. Avoid washing them with water and only scrape them clean.
3. Use a little oil:
When dealing with sticky dough, a useful technique is to lightly oil the work surface and mixing bowl. By doing so, you can extract the dough more skillfully, without tearing it and releasing all of the gases.
It’s important to note that the dough may become damaged if it sticks to the kitchen towel or foil used to cover it. To prevent this from happening, simply apply a light coat of oil to the top of the dough. While we’re on the subject of using oil, you may wish to read my article on what happens if you add too much oil to your bread dough.
In summary, the dough should be sticky initially when you mix it. The stickiness of bread dough will depend on the type of bread and the hydration level of the dough. Higher hydration levels can result in a stickier dough, which can produce a more open crumb and better flavor but can also be more difficult to work with.
The stickiness of the dough is also influenced by the type, quantity, and quality of the ingredients, as well as temperature and humidity conditions. Accurately measuring the ingredients and using the appropriate equipment can help to produce a good consistency in the dough. If the dough is too sticky, wetting your hands, using a bit of flour or oil, and using a bench scraper can help to make handling the dough easier.