What is quite beautiful about bread making is that it only requires four ingredients; flour, water, salt and yeast. Anything else added is done so for added flavour or textural improvements. One of the biggest challenges when it comes to making bread, especially at the beginner stages is getting the dough hydration correct. Is it too wet, too dry? One of the most common reflexes when bread dough is sticky is to add more flour to it. This can (arguably) be done during the kneading process, but is it the right thing to add more flour to dough after it rises? Let me help you find the answer!!
Yes, but the real question is should you do it? When dough is sticky it is tempting to add flour to soak up the excess moisture but this is not recommended. Any raw flour incorporated in the dough will wreck the beautiful gluten structure you aim to seek. The extra flour will have to be kneaded into the dough which will push out all of the gas that exists in the dough. There are several reasons why this is not helpful to the bread:
You can add some extra flour after the dough has finished being kneaded. To do this, just add a couple of tablespoons as soon as you feel you need to. This however breaks one of the golden rules of bread baking so isn’t recommended. It’s much better to utilise another method for dealing with sticky dough such as storing it in the fridge and extending fermentation.
The simplest reason for needing to fix a sticky dough is too much water was added. But there can be more to it than a dodgy recipe. Let’s take a look.
If you are measuring your ingredients in cups, you’re not going to have the most accurate results. This can lead to too much of the wet ingredients and not enough of the dry. To counteract this, always use scales to weigh your ingredients in grams. The KD7000 scales from MyWeigh are the ones I recommend. They are accurate and really ergonomic when it comes to dividing larger batches of dough.
Different flours absorb varying rates of water. This can change between types (high protein flour absorbs more water), brands and even from irregularities between batches of flour. When trying a new recipe or flour, a handy suggestion is to hold back 10% of the water when you first start kneading. You can add it as and when you require it.
Salt binds the gluten together making the dough stronger. If you try to reduce the amount of salt in the dough it will become weak, less elastic and sticky. Aim to use 2% salt to the total weight of the flour.
A moist environment leads to more water being absorbed into the dough. It also means less can escape as the bread rises, making the dough more sticky and hard to work with.
If dough is proofed at a too high temperature it is likely to excrete water as it rises which makes the dough sticky. See is the best temperature to proof bread post.
Quick-bread recipes are ones that encounter a single rise and rise in under 2 hours. Here, the dough rises through aerobic respiration which produces water alongside carbon dioxide. This means that a relatively stiff dough should be prepared to prevent it from getting sticky during the rise.
I discussed whether to add flour when kneading dough as a sensible solution to sticky doughs in another post. The short answer is no, not unless you do it right at the start of kneading, and even then it is not ideal for a strong gluten structure.
The best methods to deal with a sticky dough after kneading, avoid folding raw flour into the dough. Here are a few tricks I use when the dough is a bit wet and sticky:
You now know if you can add more flour to dough after it rises, what to do to prevent needing to add more flour and how to handle wet bread doughs. What will you be doing differently after reading this? Let me know in the comments below.