Dough drying out on the surface is a common baking problem that pretty much every baker encounters. “Drying up” or “Skinning up” (dough forms a skin) will make it harder for the yeast to raise the bread and produce bread that does look or taste as good. So how do you rehydrate dough when it has dried up to rescue your bread!
Moist bread dough can turn dry when it is exposed to dry air. Especially in draughty environments, the air takes water particles on the dough’s outer surface away. As the water evaporates into the air, the outer areas of the dough become dry and hard.
If you have a dough that is too dry throughout you have not used enough water or there was too much flour in your mix. This simple solution here is to add more water to the dough, but I’ll share my tips on how to do this in another post.
Sometimes if the bowl you are using to bulk ferment isn’t big enough it can rise above any covering. The edges of dough which are exposed to air can harden.
If the dough was left exposed to the air. For shorter rises in draught-free areas, a dough can sometimes be left to final proof without being covered. This is not the case and a drop in humidity or the wetness of your bread dough can cause it to dry up.
A humid environment protects the dough from drying up, if your dough is proofing uncovered it can dry out. Warmth will speed up the rise thus lowering the risk of the dough drying out but it won’t completely prevent it from becoming hard and dry.
Placing your dough to rise near an open window, air conditioning vent or anywhere with a draught is always a bad idea. Even if the dough is covered the draught seems to always get under the cover and dry out the dough. Maybe this can be fixed with a better-sealed cover, but either way, it’s best to proof bread in draught-free areas.
When shaping a dough that has dried up during its first rise the dry bits of dough will either be folded into the dough or stretched around the outside to form the crust. This can produce an uneven crumb or an unappealing crust that has a poor rise and oven spring. It will most likely lead to dry rubbery bread.
If the bread dries up during final proofing it means that the dough will not be able to rise properly. The hard surface prevents the dough from rising any further.
When baking, the energy from the oven spring usually forces the gas to escape the dough at the weakest point. This can lead to “ruptures in the crust” or a gap emerging between the crust and the crumb at the top of the loaf.
Sometimes this is called a “flying top” as the crust tends to fall off easily. Not only is this unsightly it can be a major contributor to dense bread as the gluten structure cannot expand fully.
A home proofing box is the way to go! Proofing bread in a warm, humid environment is the best solution to prevent dough from drying up. If you are using a home proofer such as this one from Brod & Taylor, you should always fill the provided water tray with water. A cup or tray of warm water should also be added when using another warming device to proof your bread. Typical choices are an oven on low heat/light on, a microwave with a light on or a home proofing box.
Covering the dough well as it rises is also a valid choice. Cover a bowl of fermenting dough with something airtight such as plastic wrap or a lid. A tea towel will offer some protection but is not nearly as effective as something sealed.
To prevent dough from drying out when proofing it depends on what you are proofing in for what to use to protect it. Here are the best covering solutions for particular bread proofing containers:
When proofing dough in a banneton you can use a plastic bag, shower cap, inverted mixing bowl. You can get a banneton here.
When proofing bread free standing on a tray use a sheet of plastic wrap that has a layer of oil or flour to act as a barrier to stop it from sticking
When using a bread tin a large inverted bowl or a plastic bag are best. However, oiled or floured plastic wrap will work too. You can get a bread tin here.
Baguettes made in the traditional artisan way can be proofed in a linen liner called a couche. A suitable alternative is a tea towel. A cloth can be used here as the baguettes are pushed together and wrapped tightly which reduces the airflow sufficiently.
Bench resting divided dough typically takes between 10 – 30 minutes. During this time the dough can often dry up, especially if the baking area is draughty and not humid. As the dough is to be shaped for the last time, you’ll want to avoid covering the surface with oil or flour. And you definitely don’t want your dough sticking to the cover! Plastic wrap is not a great solution!
What most bakers will do is cover the dough gently with silicone or greaseproof paper. The paper will not stick to the dough and whilst air can still pass under the sheet of paper it does so on a much lower scale. So covering bench rested dough with silicone (or greaseproof) paper is perfect for the short duration that the dough will be exposed.
The best way to fix a dough that is drying up is to brush the surface with water. You can use a pastry brush, or even with your hands. Lightly brush the dry areas of the dough with water, leave for 15 minutes and repeat. Keep repeating until the dough feels soft again.
If you do this close to baking some of the water can sit on the surface which will over-steam the bread as it bakes in the oven. It’s best to wait 30 minutes before baking the dough after brushing with water. To slow down the rise you can cover it and pop it in the fridge.
Though depending on which point the dough needs to be rehydrated, rehydrating may not be the best option. If the dough is dry during bulk fermentation it can be easier just to remove the dry pieces with a dough scraper.