When you are in the process of preparing a dough, a lot goes into the process. Firstly you sift the dry ingredients, mix them in with the wet ones folding gently.
You add in the yeast, mixing it well, letting the dough rise for a while. After a time, you take out the risen dough, punch the air out and start to knead it well.
But amid this process, you find out the bread dough is too sticky, so you mix a lot of flour into it, but then you remember the recipe suggesting to use as little flour as possible.
So what are you supposed to do? To answer that question, we need to understand a few key points first.
What Makes the Dough Sticky?
The short answer to that is hydration. And the long answer to that, well, many other factors starting from your geographical location, but primarily water.
Often, your dough may have already absorbed hydration due to high humidity before you even started adding water from the recipe. We often fail to acknowledge or even remember that the person who wrote the formula may be living in a very different part of the world climate-wise to where you are.
And you have no way of knowing if the place of origin has lower or higher humidity than yours. You can only control the factors of your environment.
That’s why always use around 60% of the water content of what the recipe recommends first, and judging from the weather around you, and if the dough feels hydrated enough, you can add in water slowly later.
The Temperature of Water
Whether the water you’re using is hot or cold also plays an essential factor in how sticky your dough will turn out to be. The cold water releases more gluten than its warm counterpart, and that leads to a stickier dough.
Gluten not only toughens the dough, making it hard and chewy. It also makes it harder to knead due to the stickiness. The preferred temperature of water to mix with the ingredients is lukewarm.
Not Kneading Your Dough Enough
The last important factor in making your dough sticky is how much time you’re spending on kneading it. It would help if you spent some considerable time kneading your dough, turning it soft and smooth before letting it rise to ensure it will be comparatively less sticky than before.
How to Handle a Sticky Dough
The first task is to figure out how much sticky dough the recipe requires. Your dough being sticky is not necessarily bad.
You have to understand what the recipe requires as there are levels of stickiness. It could be just tacky, it could be sticky, or it could be very sticky. There are few techniques to incorporate when handling a sticky dough, but make no mistake, sticky dough is never a sign of failure.
Only Let the Dough Rise Twice the Size
Your dough should rise only twice in size. Any more, and you’re risking gluten to be developed, which can have repercussions.
Letting it rise more than what is necessary will result in the excessive formation of gluten. Gluten toughens up the dough and makes it more challenging and stickier than a dough typically should be. Thus the preferred rise should be only twice the size to knead it properly.
You should not fumble around too much. Let your hands guide you through confident and precise maneuvers when kneading the dough. Unnecessary fumbling will make your hands stick to the dough even more, making the process harder overall.
You can also use a dough scraper when lifting, diving, scraping, and transferring the dough for additional support. It makes the process cleaner and efficient as you would be able to scrape off the dough easily.
You can find dough scrapers at any supermarket around you, and you can also find them on Amazon.
Dust Your Hands with Flour
Lightly coat your hand with flour helps to prevent your dough from sticking too much to your hand. Dust the surface on which you’re kneading as well to prevent the dough from sticking to one place.
However, you should never add extra flour to the dough after it has risen. Not only does it ultimately undermine all the work you have put in till now, the excess flour just adds more gluten and toughens the dough again.
Use Oil and Water
Some people use oil to coat their hands and surface while others stick with cold water. Whatever that may be, the oil helps create a frictionless surface so that the dough doesn’t stick to the surface or the hand.
Any cooking oil is acceptable in this sector, but make sure to remember that little goes a long way, so don’t overwork your dough with too much oil. If you don’t want to use oil, you can also wet your hand with cold water.
The cold water helps dissolve the dough sticking to your hand, but too much water can make the dough runny, so use it sparingly and only when necessary. In our opinion, we prefer oil over water.
Rise for a Second Time if Necessary
Only let your dough rise for the second time if you feel it’s still too sticky the first time. For instance, if you see the dough sticking like adhesive to all the surfaces, you can let your dough rise again after the knead.
At the second rise, you need not knead; only gently punch down the dough to release the excess air. You are gently pressing and deflating the dough with your fist. You can use all-purpose flour at this stage.
In the end, it’s not a bad thing to have your dough a bit sticky. It usually means that you’re working to end up with moist bread. Use the techniques addressed above to help handle your sticky dough, be that with oil, flour, or proofing.
If you still feel the bread dough is too sticky and you cannot bear to work with it, we recommend you purchase silicone reusable kitchen gloves. In the end, everything about baking is determined by science. So go through multiple trials and errors and then stick to the process that helps you the most.