Working with Wet Dough

So recently I have had a few failed bakes recently. Obvious this has saddened and disheartened me a little, but I have wanted to get to the reason. I think it is wet dough. Since I have started branching out with my bread, and using different recipes, I have experienced the general problem that the dough is very wet. Now this shouldn’t strike me (or anyone) as strange, all of the bread books + website discuss it, but they don’t really help with what to do with it.

I am at that stage where I am trusting of recipe books, because they know better than me, but still uncomfortable working with the result. For example my recent bake of Dan Lepard’s Oat and Apple bread, came out a disaster. I knew from the start that it was too wet, but didn’t know what to do. The obvious solution is add enough flour to get you back in the comfort zone, but the high water content (especially in sourdough) is what gives a good open crumb.

My main problem is how to work the dough, I don’t mind it wet when it is rising, but how do you knead something with a texture more akin to a thick batter? I have tried essentially not kneading it, and that left me with an under developed dough, which came out like a brick.

One of the other implications of wet dough is that it sticks to everything. So when I leave it to prove in the basket, I can’t get it back out without destroying the shape, or rise.

So what are the options:

Floured Surface:

So my previous bread making experience was based around working with a floured surface. The problem here lies in the face the wet dough will soak up all the flour, until it isn’t sticky anymore. In which case you may as well have added it earlier.

Oiled Surface:

I had only ever come across this before when making focaccia, an inherently wet dough. Basically rather than using a floured surface, you use an oiled surface. This means you can work with a wet dough, without it sticking too much. This is the initial technique presented by Dan in The Handmade Loaf, though his dough looks dryer than some of mine to start with. Depending on how wet the dough is, this can work a lot of oil into it.

With a Scraper:

I have always associated the little plastic, or metal, scrapers with bakers, but not thought to invest in one. To this date I still haven’t, but I am seriously considering it. The idea is essentially to live with the wet dough, but to keep scraping it off your hands + the work surface.

I came across this video at, which presents an interesting technique for working a reasonably wet dough. As he works it, you can see the texture change. It’s something I would really like to try on my next bake.


If anyone has suggestions on how I can best deal with wet dough I would love to hear them.




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5 thoughts on “Working with Wet Dough

  1. I don’t have an answer yet, but maybe a suggestion – don’t add all the water or other liquid to start with and stop when you ‘ve got a rough dough you do like the feel of, and work up from there. I’ve read somewhere that the different types of flour absorb differently so the recipes aren’t always accurate for the materials we work with. Even Dan’s instructions might not always be right because typos creep in (sorry had to say that but it might be true). And we get a bit tied up with following the instructions and not trusting our our own experiences. OK it is good to get out of the comfort zone, but I’d rather be there with something to eat than another mesopotamian brick (and I’ve had my fair share of them over the years too).

    • Yer I guess the problem is more that out of my comfort zone, I dont know what the dough should feel like, and what the impact will be if it is just wet rather than too wet. I am always to tempted to leave out some of the water, but I almost want to learn by mistake.
      Plus the video of Paul Hollywood making the Focaccia he shouts at everyone for not using all the water in the recipe.

      • Ah ha! I saw Paul Hollywood doing that on Bake Off – remember that it is TV and there aren’t that many ways of making baking sexy so introducing tension between the competitors and the judges is good! The recipe for focaccia in the book says 300ml first, then ‘about’ 100ml so you get some discretion not to just put it all in.

        Looking at the Oat and Apple loaf which I’ve not baked yet, there’s room for putting in too much water at every step – how much did the oats absorb, how juicy is the apple, more water, and some leaven – how sloppy is yours?

        I will, however, be buying a scraper sometime soon.

  2. […] eating this over the next few days – I love how sourdough keeps that bit longer. After recent failures I am glad to be back on track with such a beautiful […]

  3. […] that is important. Having written a post earlier today about my main problem with the loaf – very wet dough I thought I should really illustrate the […]

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