Baking bread is a science. You need to use just the right amount of ingredients, knead it perfectly, leave it for just the right amount of time to rise, and then bake it to perfection.
Unfortunately, science wasn’t everyone’s strong point in school!
Sometimes things go wrong, we add a little too much flour or we knead it just a bit too much. When it starts to go wrong it feels like all your hard work has been wasted and you just want to throw in the towel.
The worst bread-based disaster to strike any rising bakers is a sticky, gloopy dough. It sticks to everything, your counters, your hands, and the bowls and tins you use to prove and bake it.
But don’t despair! There is hope of saving you bread.
In this article, we are going to focus on just one of the many ways that your bread dough can catch you out and give you some tips and tricks for dealing with it.
What is wrong with sticky bread dough?
Stickiness is super annoying in its own right, but sticky dough can cause major problems.
If your dough is sticky when it goes in to rise, you’ll find that it actually doesn’t rise that well. This is because the glutens in the bread are underdeveloped.
Gluten is made by the two proteins in flour coming into contact with warm water. Kneading the bread helps the glutens develop a springy but strong structure that will capture the air produced by the yeast.
The trapped air bubbles are what helps the bread to rise and gives it that lightish, bubbly texture.
Sticky bread doesn’t rise very well because the gluten strands can’t capture the air bubbles.
Also, if your dough is so sticky that it sticks to the sides of the bowl, you’ll find that it just doesn’t have the strength to rise and pull away.
Why is my dough sticky after rising?
The main culprit will always be water!
Adding Too Much Water
Water is essential in the bread-making process, but just as in our own bodies, too much water is disastrous.
Ok, your bread won’t drown if you use too much water but it will become so goopy that you can’t do anything with it.
To avoid getting sticky dough in the first place try adding around 60% of the water suggested in the recipe.
When you begin kneading the dough you can add the rest of the water in small amounts till it’s at the right consistency.
By drip-feeding the dough water, you have a lot more control over the amount that goes in. You should be able to stop when you feel the dough becoming smooth and soft but not soggy.
Using Cold Water
You should always use warm water for bread dough. The warmth activates the yeast and starts the rising process.
Glutens do not like cold water one bit. In fact, they flee from it.
If you’ve used cold water, you’ll find that no matter how much you knead your bread dough, you can’t get it to become smooth and soft as it should be.
This is quite simply because the glutens have disappeared. Unfortunately, there isn’t an awful lot you can do about this. A bread without the right amount of gluten is dense and chewy so you may need to start over.
This is the one time it might not be water’s fault. If you haven’t mixed and kneaded your dough well enough, the glutens can’t become strong and springy.
Without the strength of glutens, your dough will be a sloppy, goopy mess that sticks to everything.
To avoid this, make sure you are mixing and kneading until the dough is soft and smooth.
If you can pick up the dough and move it to a bow for rising without leaving bits of it on the counter, then you are on the right track.
My dough is sticky after rising!
Rising won’t make your dough sticky. Your dough was probably a bit sticky to begin with but it can be fixed.
The important thing to remember is that you shouldn’t knead the dough after rising.
When you make bread, you knead the dough after mixing the ingredients and then you leave it to rise before knocking it down and letting it rise again.
Kneading the dough between or after rises will overwork the gluten and make your bread stodgy and thick.
So how can you fix sticky bread after rising?
After the First Rise
The first rise should allow your dough to double in size. Of course, this is far too big to bake and the inside will mostly be air.
What you need to do next is punch the dough down. Don’t go all Muhammad Ali on the dough though!
As aggressive as punching down sounds, it’s actually a gentle process. You just need to use your fists to lightly flatten and deflate the bread dough.
Too much punching, kneading, and stretching at this point will tire the glutens out. They can only do so much, you see. If you overwork them they give up the ghost and can’t be reformed.
So then, if your bread is sticky at this point, what you need to do is add flour.
Coat your fingers and the work surface in flour before you punch down the bread. Then, as you gently work the dough, you will be adding in some flour.
If your dough is still sticky after being punched down by floured hands, you can try adding a few pinches of flour to the dough and gently fold it in.
You need to be very careful not to overwork those pesky glutens so try, as much as possible, to build this into the punching down.
After the Second Rise
Hopefully, you would have noticed before now that your bread is sticky and would have tried to fix it.
Don’t feel bad if you don’t notice until the second rise, everyone gets distracted from time to time. But you do need to act at this stage. It is your last chance to salvage the dough.
As before, you don’t want to handle the dough too much. This can be challenging if you have a dough that clings to your fingers.
Your best option is to coat your fingers and work surfaces in flour again.
At this point, you’re only going to be shaping the dough. You won’t be working or folding at all so there is no opportunity to work extra flour into the mix.
The flour on your fingers and work surface should help to dry up the outside of the dough at least as you do your best to shape the dough.
You have to take your dough as you find it once you’ve shaped it. If you knead or fold the dough now the air and rise will be knocked out and you’ll end up with ciabatta instead of a loaf.
Things to Remember
If your hands are full of sticky bread dough, you don’t want to be scrolling through an article looking for answers!
Here is a helpful crib sheet that you can have beside you as you bake to avoid sticky dough.
- Dough doesn’t become sticky during the rise. It was probably sticky when you put it in the bowl or proving drawer.
- To avoid sticky dough, add water in drip by drip during the kneading process. Stop when the dough is soft and springy even if you have water left over.
- Make sure you knead until the dough is smooth and you can pick it up without it sticking. This means that you’ve developed the glutens enough.
- Always use warm water in your bread dough. Coldwater makes gluten disappear.
- If your bread is sticky after the first rise, coat your hands and work surfaces in flour.
- You can add small amounts of flour during the punching down and folding processes to try and dry up the dough.
- If your bread is sticky after the second proof, coat your hands and work surfaces in flour as you shape the dough.
- DO NOT KNEAD YOUR DOUGH AFTER IT HAS RISEN!
Even if your dough is a little sticky as it goes in the oven, you’ll still get a yummy loaf out of it. It may be more moist than normal but it won’t be so bad that you can’t eat it.
So just laugh, enjoy the bread, and change things next time!