Making perfect dough is more difficult than people might think. Not only is it a precise science, but it also requires a great amount of skill. Following the recipe will not necessarily result in perfect dough every time.
One of the most frustrating results is your dough coming out wet and sticky.
So, how do you fix sticky dough? The simplest solution to sticky dough is to incorporate more flour when you knead it. This can be done either by dusting the surface with flour or the actual dough ball. Use small amounts of flour and coat your hands to prevent it from sticking to you.
In today’s article, we will have a look at all the reasons your dough might be sticky, from incorrect recipe ratios to environmental factors.
This way, you can accurately determine how to fix it. We will also discuss the different ways to fix dough, including bread dough, pizza dough, and cookie dough for the best results.
So if your dough’s been a little too clingy lately and you’re just not that into it, keep reading.
The Perfect Dough
If you love making dishes from scratch, be it pizza, pasta, bread, or pastries, then it’s likely you’ve already worked with your fair share of doughs.
Dough comes in many forms, but they all consist of three main ingredients: flour, water, and salt.
What makes different doughs differ vastly from each other is the ratios that these three main ingredients are used in.
For example, a pasta dough requires more flour than a pizza dough because pasta needs to be able to hold its shape during the rolling and cooling process, whereas pizza dough needs to be able to stretch into its shape.
Many doughs also contain yeast or some other type of leavening agent like baking powder and baking soda. When working with yeast, it usually calls for a small amount of sugar to be added to activate it.
Other additional ingredients that serve important functions in doughs include oil, eggs, and milk. These ingredients help enrich the dough and add flavor and color.
When making the perfect dough, regardless of the type, there are a certain number of rules that have to be followed.
The two crucial rules that apply are ratios of ingredients and method of mixing. These have a direct effect on the outcome of the consistency of the dough, and ultimately what you need to do to save it.
Why Is My Dough Sticky?
There are a few reasons that your dough might be sticky, and we will discuss all of them to help you figure out which one applies to your problem.
Here’s what may have gone wrong:
- Incorrect ratio of wet and dry ingredients
- Type of flour used
- Environmental factors such as humidity
We’ll go through each of these scenarios below so that not only can you fix your dough this time, but also avoid the problem next time.
1. Recipe Ratios
Baking is a science, and therefore freehhanding measurements isn’t going to cut it.
A lot of dough recipes today contain way too much liquid, be it in the form of water, milk, eggs, or oil. Too much water will result in the flour not being able to absorb it all, leading to a wet mess.
A perfect way to tell if your recipe’s ratios are correct is to see what the ratio of dry to wet ingredients is.
Your ratios will generally be around 1 part wet for every 3 parts dry. Some recipes do differ and contain a lot of water, but very specific methods and strict steps help ensure that the dough comes out soft, not wet.
Great examples of these types of “wet doughs” include ciabattas and sourdoughs, but we will discuss their specific consistencies later.
If you’re not baking these wetter doughs and your recipe still includes much more liquid, this may be a clue that your dough is en route to a sad, gooey demise.
2. Type of Flour
Certain types of flours have a higher absorption percentage than others. This is a fancy term that basically means some flours can absorb and hold more water than others.
These are usually high protein flours. High protein flours are flours that are higher in gluten and that are able to form stronger bonds.
Bread flour is the ultimate example of a high protein, high gluten flour. It has the ability to absorb a lot more water compared to a low protein flour like cake flour.
Because the dough can absorb more water, it can be worked longer, becomes more flexible, and ultimately results in a workable, soft dough.
Stoneground flour absorbs less water than mechanically ground types – this is because stone ground flour has a much courser texture and therefore a smaller surface area.
The wrong flour may end up not being able to absorb as much of your wet ingredients and leaving you to deal with the consequences.
3. Environmental Factors
Another common reason for sticky dough may lie within the recipe itself. Don’t get us wrong; we’re not calling your grandmother a terrible baker. We’re sure her dough recipe is downright delightful!
What we are saying is that the people who write recipes don’t often take into account that every person’s kitchen is different, and your oven may be a few degrees off from your grandmother’s, your air may be more humid, etc.
Believe it or not, different geographical locations make it a lot harder to make certain recipes, especially those that require precise ratios and conditions.
Macarons are the perfect example of this. Macarons are made with a batter, not a dough, but this principle still applies to them.
To make macarons, you require extremely specific ratios of wet and dry ingredients to achieve the perfect internal and external structure. This ratio is often altered by the humidity (moisture in the air).
The higher the humidity, the more moisture the almond flour absorbs from the air. This is why you so often hear people complain that they followed the recipe precisely and it still failed.
Even though a dough won’t necessarily fail completely, when comparing it to a perfect loaf side by side, there will be quite major differences in the consistency.
When making a dough in a high humidity area, your flour might already absorb some water before you’ve added yours. This means that it will become “full” much quicker, and excess water won’t be absorbed.
This one might seem ridiculous, but we come across it too often. We constantly hear, “I’ve been kneading for 5 whole minutes and my dough is still too wet!”
Well, that’s because the dough doesn’t have a specific amount of kneading time. Sure, many recipes have rough estimates, but every time you make dough, the conditions differ.
Dough should be kneaded until it has a smooth surface area that springs back to the touch. This can be tested by shaping the dough into a circle and making a shallow indent with your finger. The indent should return to its original shape.
Don’t worry if your dough still has too much moisture; simply knead it until you’ve reached that smooth and flexible consistency.
How To Fix Sticky Bread Dough
Wet bread dough is one of the hardest doughs to work with. This is because bread usually requires some form of shaping, which is incredibly difficult if you don’t have something that is easily moldable.
There are different stages at which a wet bread dough can be fixed.
The first is during the initial mixing period. Do not add all of the liquid at once. Instead, add about 60% of the total water content, mix, and then slowly add more if it is needed.
This is an especially useful method to follow in order to compensate for high humidity locations.
If your dough is still too wet, you can try to incorporate flour during the first kneading process. When you start to knead, make sure to dust the entire kneading surface with flour.
You should also dust your hands, and if working with a very wet dough, dust extra over the dough itself.
Start kneading, slowly adding more flour until the dough has reached a beautiful, workable consistency.
Once it undergoes its first proofing, you might only then realize that it is still too wet. Simply knock back (gently push down on the dough with your fingertips instead of kneading) the dough and slowly incorporate some flour.
After the second proofing, there isn’t much that can be done to make the dough less wet. Your best bet is to simply shape and bake the dough.
But, luckily with bread, wet dough isn’t necessarily bad dough, You might still have a fantastic tasting bread that has a wonderfully moist taste and texture.
Fixing Wet Sourdough
Sourdough is among the few breads that require very high moisture content, but sometimes the dough still comes out too wet.
Our best solution is to experiment and make notes. Sourdough is not an easy, straight-forward bread to make, and many experts still struggle to achieve the perfect results every time.
Try holding back a bit of water (about a ¼ cup) to begin with. Test the recipe this way and make notes of the results.
It is very difficult to determine if sourdough is still too wet until it has undergone almost all of the steps, by which time it is already too late to fix.
How To Fix Sticky Pizza Dough
Pizza dough is very similar to bread dough and follows a lot of the same rules. Pizza dough should also generally have a very smooth and even consistency that bounces back to the touch.
Pizza dough is overall a bit wetter and more flexible than most bread doughs. Before panicking about a wet pizza dough, knead it for 10-15 minutes, depending on the size.
If your dough has still not formed a smooth ball, or if it is still excessively wet, you can try to add more flour during the kneading process.
A big risk when adding flour after you’ve already kneaded for a considerable amount of time is overworking your dough. That is why it is important to have a recipe from a reliable source or to at least take notes for next time.
How To Fix Sticky Cookie Dough
Cookie dough is an extremely frustrating dough to fix. The consistency changes as you work it, and sometimes you don’t realize the excess moisture until you’ve baked them and they fall flat.
If you can clearly see that the dough is too wet, please do not add more sugar. We’re not sure why, but people always grab dry ingredients that don’t function as binding ingredients.
Sugar is a sweetener, baking powder is a raising agent, and salt is a flavor enhancer – none of these ingredients’ most important purpose is to bind the ingredients together.
Adding these ingredients will only alter the flavor and texture for the worse!
If your cookie dough is too wet, you only have to add more flour – the same flour that the recipe originally called for, usually all-purpose, bread, or cake flour.
Alternatively, you can cut back on some of the wet ingredients from the start, or the next time you make the recipe.
How To Roll Out Sticky Dough
Because there are many different types of dough, they require different handling techniques.
If you have a very sticky dough that needs to be rolled out, like a pizza dough, for example, it is best to cover the surface and rolling pin with some flour – the same type used to make the dough.
You will see that once you add flour and give one roll, the dough sticks again. You will have to constantly lift the dough and add more flour, turning the dough around after each lift.
This will ensure that both sides get covered with flour to prevent the dough from sticking to either the pin or surface.
Certain doughs can be laid on a non-stick sheet or wax, baking, or parchment paper. Place another non-stick sheet over the dough and roll with the rolling pin.
But be careful with this method, as some doughs, especially the very wet ones, will still stick to the paper and make an even worse mess when you try to peel it off.
You can try spraying the surface of the paper with non-stick cooking spray, or lightly brush the surface with oil, however, these may end up seeping into the dough and making matters worse.
How To Handle Sticky Dough
We covered how to roll sticky dough, but let’s also look at how to handle sticky dough – picking it up, moving it around, or shaping it to fit the desired pan.
We would highly recommend using flour to make handling easier, especially if the dough should be wet.
Coat all the surfaces with flour, including any equipment you might need to use – this also means coating your hands.
When lifting the dough, make sure to do so with quick, gentle, and confident movements. This means that when you are stretching the dough, do it with purpose and no hesitation, but without damaging it.
Sometimes you only realize the dough is too wet after it has already undergone its first proofing.
The best way to salvage the dough is by knocking it back. This basically means that instead of kneading it again, you gently push the dough down with your fingertips.
While pressing, slowly incorporate some flour into the process so the dough can absorb it.