Isn’t it funny when you’re dough turns out dry and crumbly when you’re trying to knead it? Well, perhaps not funny, but it is a challenge you’ll have to endure at some point if you make bread regularly! Arriving at the perfect liquid-to-flour ratio is an extremely challenging skill, which many bakers and recipe books make look easy. But as you’ll learn in this post, there are many reasons for bread dough to turn out dry. Fortunately, there’s a simple solution to fix a dry dough, which I’ll share in a short moment!
If you think your dough is too dry, it probably is! Many bakers prefer a wetter dough, especially at the kneading stage of making bread. If you are following a double-rise method (see: can I make bread without rising twice?), the dough will firm up as time allows a combination of the flour to soak up more water and the gluten to strengthen by building stronger bonds.
Yet, if you see cracks appearing, dry flour/flakes not beings absorbed into the dough or dough that crumbles instead of stretching, you’ve got a dry dough that needs fixing.
If you are kneading your dough using a stand mixer which keeps tripping out or you smell burning from the motor, you are overworking the mixer as the dough is too dry. You’ll need to soften the dough or take it out of the mixer and hand knead.
Start by adding an extra 1-2% of water. By this, I mean if 50 grams were originally added, add an extra 5-10grams, knead for a minute until absorbed, then if you need more, add another 5-10 grams. Repeat until you’ve formed a cohesive dough that you’re happy with.
Pizza dough is a quite dry dough as it has a dough hydration of just 56-60% and uses flour with a fairly high protein quantity. But if your pizza dough is cracking and the dry bits won’t incorporate into the dough, you’ll want to add more water. Like bread dough, add around 1% of the weight of the water you initially added, knead until combined, and repeat until the dry flour particles are hydrated.
Note: Instead of water, you can add another liquid such as egg, vegetable oil or milk
Not enough water, whether it’s by accident or not, the flour to water ratio is incorrect. Common reasons for this are:
If you’ve left your dough sitting on a workbench or bowl near an open window, then moisture will be picked up by the current and leave the dough. Although this is unlikely to be the leading cause of your dry dough, it will make a dry dough drier. Always cover your dough when resting and away from draughts.
Maybe you read the recipe wrong? Maybe the recipe used a different flour to the one you are using? Or, perhaps you used measuring cups for your ingredients? To avoid mistakes, try to use recipes written in similar climates to yours and use scales to weigh your ingredients and ditch the measuring cups. If you want the best scales for bread making, check out the KD8000’s from MyWeigh.
The right type of flour makes a big difference to your dough. Bread flour has a higher protein content than all-purpose or pastry flours. Protein absorbs a lot of water compared to the other parts of white flour. Therefore, high-protein flour will require more water than lower-protein flour to prevent the dough from turning out dry.
Whole wheat and other whole grain flour contain bran and (sometimes) more protein. These particles are water-soakers, which means your dough will need more water than a white bread recipe. Bran is also slow to absorb water, so it’s common to find a perfect dough becomes dry after resting in the first rise.
Sugar and salt absorb water which means there is less available for the dough which slows yeast activity, and also leads to a dry dough.
If you are using lots of sugar in your dough, it could be the case that you don’t need to add more water to your dough as the water soaked up by the sugar will be released during the baking process, so a firmer dough is preferred.
All you have to do is add a little bit of water at a time to fix a dry dough. I also recommend that you make a note of how much water you added, so you can amend the recipe and avoid having to add more water next time.
I hope you’ve found this post helpful. Let me know in the comments below how this technique works for you!
Hi, I’m Gareth Busby, a baker, bread baking coach and college lecturer. I’m here to help you make better bread and learn about the baking industry.
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