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Jan 9, 2005 09:37 PM

working with wet doughs?

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I love hard-crusted, holey-inside artisanal breads, and have tried my hand at baking a number of them, especially using the recipes from Fran Gage's Bread and Chocolate book, since I loved the Bay Bread (now Tartine) bakery's breads that many of her recipes are based on. The problem is that the dough for most of these breads is very slack and gooey, almost wet. Presumably, this is what gives the moist crumb and stretchy, holey interior. Not surprisingly, most of the recipes I see for these kinds of breads say to knead the dough in a stand mixer using a dough hook. Well, I don't have the money or space for one of those, but when I try to knead these doughs by hand, they are so sticky that my hands end up stuck in the dough like glue, which is very frustrating--huge dough paws! Or I have to add so much flour to make the dough workable that I end up with a very dense loaf that's more like regular slicing bread rather than a euro-type bread. Any suggestions? Thanks so much...

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    Professor Salt

    I don't have a stand mixer either. I use one of these Danish dough whisks when I make my wet (65% hydration) pizza doughs. Very little dough sticks to it during the mix-in. I then let the dough sit for 5 minutes to hydrate, then knead by hand for only a minute or two at most before weigh-out and shaping.

    Don't know how much knead time your formula calls for. I don't know that I'd recommend lengthy kneading with this utensil, but it might work for you.

    Have you tried using the wet hands method to keep the dough from sticking?



    2 Replies
    1. re: Professor Salt

      Thank you for the suggestion. I, too, have been having a similar problem with dough which is to be very moist. In my case it is for ciabatta dough. Ciabatta rolls should have holes in the finished product. I prefer to work the dough by hand as well, and the dough does stick to the fingers.

      The thought of using a bread machine just takes all the fun out of it.

      1. re: ChiliDude

        In his book, Dan Lepard gives excellent recipes for sourdough and it's all about kneading by hand rather than with a machine. The book is called "The Handmade Loaf"

    2. A bench scraper can also be a handy tool when dealing with wet dough. I use one and just keep moving... fast.

      The other posters note about letting the dough sit for a few minutes is a key point.

      1. When you're using a dough this wet I would suggest you forego kneading and simply stir it. Kneading will give you a more even, fine crumb than you're looking for.

        You also might want to check out Suzanne Dunaway's book, "No Need to Knead."


        1. like "chefelias" mentioned, working quickly and having one hand using a dough scraper is key.

          Also, I'd think less about actually kneading the dough and more about beating it... what julia child and nancy silverton and others recommend is essentially picking the dough up and slapping it down on the bench surface. Then you pick up the far end of the dough, bring it to the near end, pick the whole thing up with fingers of one hand and slap it down again. Your palms really aren't getting messy... and with your free hand you are helping it along with the dough scraper. You'll figure out the best way to do this exactly, but by doing it that way, you really work the dough, you don't get "dough paws" (we've all been there many times) and you eventually get a silky smooth dough that is easier to work with (even when you have a really high ratio of water to flour).

          Now with REALLY wet doughs (I just did ciabatta, which you literally pour out), you can't knead that. You either use a spoon (which would take ages and just about kill your arm) or concoction like professor salt recommended, or you use a mixer of some sort. Not many other ways around that.

          for all others, like baguettes, and others, you can do it by hand. As you mention, you want a wet dough. Otherwise you get a tight, dense crumb, and not the great, interesting holes and texture and flavor of artisan breads.

          Try the slapping method. If nothing else, it is lively and wakes the kids up in the morning.

          good luck.

          - Adam

          1. Nothing of substance to add -- sloppy wet dough is a New Year's Resolution that I haven't gotten to yet -- but what a funny thread! "Huge dough paws"!! "The kids"!! I love the restaurant end of Chowhound but to me these home cooking insights are what really make the site.