How is dough supposed to feel?
April 6, 2007 12:09 PM   Subscribe

Newbie breadmaking question: What is dough supposed to feel like when you start and when you end? And more specifically, how do I know whether there's too much flour or too much water?

I followed this recipe today for baguettes. I made two batches and noticed that each time the dough started out exceptionally dry and brittle. This didn't seem right, so I ended up having to add over half a cup of water to get the bread to be sticky and firm, and to not break apart while I kneaded it.

I think I did ok as I did the "dough spreading" technique between fingers and saw the translucent pane of dough. That's the only rule of thumb I know, unfortunately. The bread is out of the oven -- it looks great but I haven't yet tried it.

So can any breadmakers advise me how dough is supposed to feel, and how it isn't? What are some rules of thumb I could go by until I get better at this?

Also what's the deal with wooden spoons? Why do so many recipes want me to use one? I've done just fine grabbing a fork out of the silverware drawer.
posted by chef_boyardee to Food & Drink (15 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
Sort of depends on what bread you're making.
My favorite dough recipe sort of feels like the breast of a 20-something woman when I'm done kneading. As least, if my memory serves me right...
posted by Thorzdad at 12:27 PM on April 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


Dough should usually be anywhere from "sticky" to "very wet and sticky". Most errors by new bakers involve using too much flour and therefore too dry a dough. The recipe may not be exact since the exact amount of water needed depends on local humidity, how well packed the flour is when you measure it, etc. If the dough is dry enough to handle easily - doesn't stick to your hands - it's probably too dry.

Metal implements are believed to stop the dough from rising. If your dough rises when you use a fork, great for you, don't worry about the wooden spoon.
posted by jellicle at 12:35 PM on April 6, 2007


I ended up having to add over half a cup of water to get the bread to be sticky and firm, and to not break apart while I kneaded it.

Yeah, "sticky and firm" (but not too sticky) is how you want it, and you just add as much water as needed to achieve it. It depends on how dry the atmosphere is, what flour you're using, etc. Just get to know how it feels and play it by ear (or rather hand). Breadmaking is fun!
posted by languagehat at 12:37 PM on April 6, 2007


If you're kneading by hand, you'll notice the dough changing consistancy as you work it. It'll go from crumbly so smooth and somewhat resiliant. Push your thumb into the dough, and it should bounce right back into shape. It should not be sticky.

A wooden spoon is usually recommended because it can help you fold in dry ingredients without introducing too much air into your dough. A whisk (or in this case a fork) is fine when your dough is still on the wet side, but once the dough starts to come together, it's hard to get a fork through that. I use a short flat paddle-like spoon that people sometimes use for stir-fry and I find it works pretty well for this purpose.
posted by Gilbert at 12:41 PM on April 6, 2007


*erm, that's "should go from crumbly *to* smooth and resiliant."
posted by Gilbert at 12:42 PM on April 6, 2007


I ended up having to add over half a cup of water to get the bread to be sticky and firm, and to not break apart while I kneaded it

This is probably the most common misunderstanding among novice breadmakers! The key thing here is that the dough should be elastic at the end of kneading, not necessarily during. During kneading, you're not only building gluten, but you're also hydrating the flour. Separating these processes somewhat will help: put all your water and about 75% of your flour in a bowl, mix it for a minute with a spoon or the whisk of your mixer, and let it sit, covered, for about 20 minutes. When you come back, add the rest of the flour and start kneading. If you do this rest without yeast or salt, it's an autolyse. If you do it with the yeast and salt, it's just a rest, and in my experience, it's just as effective.

You can add an additional rest if the dough isn't cooperating. E.g. mix, rest, knead for a couple minutes, rest, knead a little more. Dough proofed at a cooler temperature for a longer period of time will require even less kneading, because the gluten develops on its own, without kneading, given sufficient time.

Thorzdad is right about the texture.
posted by rxrfrx at 12:46 PM on April 6, 2007


Most doughs should feel like warm marshmallows at the beginning. At the end it should feel suspiciously like bread.
posted by kc0dxh at 1:06 PM on April 6, 2007


I have to say that when I was kneading dough by hand, I always thought that "smooth and elastic" line was bullshit. Then I pulled a batch of dough out of my kitchenaid for the first time and suddenly knew: this is what dough is supposed to feel like. Satiny smooth and soft.
The recipe you are using has you add all the flour at the beginning, which is different from most bread recipes. Most recipes have you mix about 2/3 of the flour with the wet works, then slowly add in the rest of the flour as needed. I usually end up with at least a half a cup of extraneous flour. You should try to use as little flour as possible.
posted by Juliet Banana at 1:14 PM on April 6, 2007


This is a good recipe (no knead bread) to know about too. I'd only been able to produce "doorstops" up until this one. Sounds weird but it really works well.
I use a little more water like 1 1/2 cups, and have always used bread flour. I've made it 7 or 8 times and it's always turned out great. I also use rice flour instead regular flour to keep it from gunking up the towel but it doesn't affect the bread either way.
posted by BoscosMom at 1:22 PM on April 6, 2007


My grandmother used to say that well-kneaded dough should be the consistency of your earlobe. Apparently in grandma talk "earlobe" = "the breast of a 20-something woman". Huh. Learn something new every day.
posted by harkin banks at 1:23 PM on April 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


Again, this depends on what kind of dough you're making, but for french bread and pizza dough, it should feel like the consistancy of flesh with a very slightly tacky or sticky surface by the time it's set to rise (Thorzdad is correct about what type of flesh; don't think about it too much or you may find yourself thinking things you're not comfortable with).

Temperature is also critical; for most types of dough you'll want the water to be about 105 degrees when you first start (if you don't have a thermometer, this will usually be just a little uncomfortably hot when you hold your hand under the tap). More will kill the yeast, and less will mean minimal rising. Of course, this means that again, by the time you're ready for the dough to rise, it'll be just a shade below body temperature.

The best way to get your dough together, in my experience, is to start with all of the wet ingredients together in your mixing bowl/container, then add the dry ingredients (which you've already whisked together) progressively, starting with just enough to hold together and progressively adding more, about a half cup at a time, as you get things mixed in (this is where a mixer with a bread hook rocks - it can do the kneading a lot better than you can, while the dough is still uber-sticky).

I miss Atsa-pizza (and the decade and a half since I worked there).
posted by neolith22 at 1:53 PM on April 6, 2007


I have to say that when I was kneading dough by hand, I always thought that "smooth and elastic" line was bullshit. Then I pulled a batch of dough out of my kitchenaid for the first time and suddenly knew: this is what dough is supposed to feel like. Satiny smooth and soft.

All the authorities these days seem to say that you must make bread in a mixer, not by hand. But the explanation given is that kneading by hand encourages adding too much flour, not too much water.
posted by footnote at 3:21 PM on April 6, 2007


So how do you keep the dough from sticking to your hand?
posted by konolia at 7:30 PM on April 6, 2007


konolia, you flour your hands. (Or, I do.) Just make sure they are clean and dry and then rub a little flour on them.
posted by joannemerriam at 8:10 PM on April 6, 2007


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posted by lilithim at 11:41 PM on April 6, 2007


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