I know a lot of home bakers reach for the flour just before you start kneading, it’s habitual, natural and often instructed. But is it right to do so? Well, if you are wondering if you should add flour when kneading bread dough, let me help you out with the answer and also some tips on kneading sticky dough!
There should be no reason to add flour to the work surface when kneading bread dough. Yes, I know a lot of old recipes say to do this, but this is an “old wives tale”. Flouring the kneading surface will actually negatively impact the dough. The clumps of flour that enter the dough will weaken the gluten structure. It will have an irregular crumb, with dense and light textures. The only case for adding more flour when kneading is if the dough is exceptionally wet and sticky.
If your dough is too sticky, the best solution is to leave it to firm up during the first rise. If it’s too wet for this you can add some flour, start off with 2 tablespoons and mix in slowly. Then add flour, 1 tablespoon at a time until the right consistency is reached. Aim to do this within the first 2 minutes of kneading.
Well, the real question is why should you add flour when kneading? If you do add flour, the additional flour on the work surface will be absorbed into the dough. This effectively tops up the flour in the recipe, without it being weighed. Raw, undeveloped flour which is added later in during kneading remains unprocessed. This leaves a dry and bitter taste in the mouth after baking. It also tends to look grey and unpleasant.
If you have added too much flour to the dough, a stiff dough is created. Bread made this way often turns out dry and crumbly.
The best way to prevent adding flour is to a) don’t do it, and b) measure the ingredients accurately using scales so that it doesn’t turn out overly sticky. There are also a few tips you can use to make working with wet dough easier, take a look:
When the dough is ready for the next stage, be it bulk fermentation or straight to shaping, it should be tested using the windowpane test. This shows how well the dough has been developed, if the dough can be stretched so thinly that light can pass, it passes the test.
There are many “rules” in bread baking and, whilst it’s possible to break ones similar to “don’t add flour when kneading” whilst still making good bread, it makes it harder. If you really need to rescue a sticky mess, then add some flour and do it ASAP, just don’t add it because you can. You’re better off holding back on some of the water (5%) from the mixing bowl and only adding it if required.
I hope that you have found this post useful, if so, let me know what you will be doing differently next time you make bread in the comments below. Also, if you want a quick-start guide on kneading basics, see the how to knead dough post.