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The mystery of dough not sticking to the bench or hands – How to do this.

Updated: Jan 16

This picture is how not to do it. Flour everywhere and the dough is still sticking. The baker is pressing the dough with their hands too. Fingers with a light touch works better.

Dough prefers to stick to itself rather than our hands, or the worktop. It is really the gluten which prefers to stick to gluten rather than our hands and worktop. A freshly mixed dough hasn’t yet developed any gluten and is best kept in a bowl until it is a little less sticky because until the gluten develops it will stick to everything.

Some folk oil their hands and the worktop. This works, but remember you are adding vegetable oil to the bread. Were the dough to have a little oil in it anyway then keep that back and add it to the dough by oiling the bowl and worktop, it will get absorbed by the dough as you work it. If you use extra you will have added too much. Vegetable oil above about 3% of the flour weight in a dough reduces the volume of the loaf.

An alternative is to flour the worktop. This too is taken up by the dough. It not only effectively alters the hydration of the recipe, but it is adding unfermented flour as well. That will give you a heavier loaf if you use more than the lightest of dustings.

Wet hands are non-stick, so don’t flour your hands, wet them.

Artisan Bakeries always have wooden work benches. Wood does not stick to dough so much. Using a wooden pastry board is a good way to go whilst learning to handle sticky doughs.

The Mystery

Now here’s the thing. With practice the dough sticks less to your hands, even when they are dry. The reason for this is lightness of touch. As we get more practiced at handling dough we get faster and so each touching of the dough is brief and light. It then stops sticking to our hands.

Doing light stretch and folds on the bench, rather than heavy heel of the hand kneading, also enables the dough to stick less to our hands and the bench. I use slap and folds for my kneading process with everything, but my wettest doughs. With the initial kneading it doesn’t stick to the bench much, but it does stick to my hands. I ignore that, over the first couple of minutes of kneading the gluten starts forming and it takes back nearly all of the dough stuck to my fingers. Like magic. What is left on my fingers at the end is scraped off and added to the dough.

The exceptions

Dough made with a lot of sticky rye flour will always be sticky, so too will very high hydration doughs. That is wheat flour doughs made with 75% of water to the flour weight and above. These often require a little flour dusted on the worktop and wet hands.

The Trick

Use wet hands and a little oil or flour on the worktop when you are first learning. Focus on fast light touches when handling the dough and over time you will find that you no longer need to oil or flour the bench so much, or to wet your hands. It just happens.

Taming the stickiest of doughs.

Back to those rye flour doughs and high hydration doughs.

When doing stretch and folds on the work bench use a dough scraper in one hand. Slide it under the dough lift it upwards and then fold the dough over itself. Work from different directions and have a bowl to hand to wet the scraper as you work the dough.

Some doughs are so wet they will always be sticky and they will always need a little flour on the worktop. Just use as little flour as possible and the lightest of dusting.

Demonstration Videos

Here is Charlie Chain Baker demonstrating, unfortunately he doesn’t demonstrate really sticky doughs, but the methods are there.

And here is the bench scraper technique demonstrated by Richard Bertinet a French Baker who runs a baking school and bakery in the U.K. He demonstrates using a dough scraper with very sticky doughs.

It just takes a little time and practice and one day everything becomes a lot easier to manage.

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