When dough tears, it means that the gluten isn’t strong enough to hold the dough together past a certain point. Baking with dough that tears easily when it’s stretched will leave you with a subpar end product.
Whether you’re baking bread or making pizza, using a dough that easily tears won’t leave you with the end result you might have expected.
When dough tears, it’s most commonly caused by a lack of gluten development or dry dough. Make sure that you’re kneading your dough enough to pass the windowpane test and you’re using enough water to keep the flour well hydrated. Avoiding adding too much more flour to your dough when you’re kneading.
Just small mistakes in a recipe can make a huge difference in how your bread turns out once it’s baked. You’re likely not even realizing that you’re making these mistakes, so it’s important to take notice of what you’re doing so you can make better dough next time.
If you’re interested in expanding your baking equipment collection and becoming a better bread-baker or pizza maker, feel free to check out my favorite baking tools. Once you start to use these, you’ll start to have a much easier time making any kind of bread.
What’s Causing Your Dough To Tear/Rip?
There are many mistakes a person can make with their dough, especially if they’re not very experienced with handling it. Many people make the same mistakes, so it’s nothing to worry about.
If you do make these mistakes, it’s important that you think about how you can improve in your method next time so you can make better bread.
Too Much Flour
Adding too much flour to your dough (or too little water) can leave you with a dough that’s too dry. If the flour isn’t completely hydrated in the dough, it’s going to be dense, hard to knead, and it’s going to tear easily.
Dry dough can’t produce gluten as well as normal dough and the yeast can’t move around freely, so your dough isn’t going to be great in terms of texture and it won’t rise.
One type of bread with the lowest hydration content is bagels. They have a water content of a little less than 60% and they’re tougher to knead than standard bread. If your water content is getting any less than 60% and you’re making bread or pizza, you could run into some issues.
These percentages I’m referring to are known as the baker’s percentages.
Using The Wrong Flour
To make a successful dough, you’re going to want to develop a good amount of gluten. Generally, nice bread uses flour that has good protein content as this can develop enough gluten to create a good structure inside the bread.
Using something like all-purpose flour is okay and it can do the job, but it’s not as good as bread flour. Likewise, using something like spelt flour alone isn’t great for making bread as it also has a low protein content.
If you’re finding that your dough isn’t turning out like you’d expect and you’re not using a high protein flour, you should invest in some high-quality bread flour and try again. You may find that your bread turns out much better.
Not Kneading It Enough
The reason you knead dough is to create a good network of gluten. The gluten helps to hold the gas in your dough and build a nice structure, so without it, you’re not going to make great bread.
Having enough gluten development in your dough is necessary for you to get rise and oven spring in your bread. You need to make sure that you’re kneading your bread to the point where it passes the windowpane test.
There’s more about the windowpane test further down in this post.
You’re Overkneading It
If you always knead your dough by hand, there’s no need to worry about over kneading it. It’s virtually impossible to over-knead dough by hand, but a machine can do it easily.
If you’re using a mixer of some sort and kneading your dough too fast or for too long, you’re going to develop the gluten to the point where it breaks down and becomes extremely sticky.
It’s easy to overwork the gluten in your dough when you’re kneading it with a machine, so be careful with how fast and how long you knead your dough for.
If your dough never quite forms a smooth ball like the ones you see being made by experienced bakers, it might just be that you’re not handling it properly.
When you don’t know how to correctly shape a ball of dough, it’s easy to rip it and stretch it too far, especially if it’s sticky. Once you know how to shape your dough, you can quickly turn a seemingly unsmooth and messy lump into a smooth and plump ball.
If you’re having a hard time handling your dough well enough to give it a smooth surface, check out my article on why your dough isn’t smooth and how to fix it.
How To Stop Your Dough From Tearing
Use A Good Water Content
Using too little water can cause your dough to dry out and tear easily, so it’s important that you’re keeping the amount of water in your dough to a reasonable level.
Unless the recipe calls for it, always try to keep your water content above 60%. Doing this will make sure that you can properly develop the gluten and your dough will be elastic enough to stretch without tearing.
Don’t Incorportate Much More Flour
Many inexperienced bakers add more flour to their dough and work surface if they struggle to knead it. This nearly always leads to their dough becoming easier to knead, but of worse quality.
Adding too much flour will make it extremely difficult to develop the gluten in your dough. Gluten needs plenty of water to develop properly, so drying it out by adding more flour can inhibit how well it is developed.
Use The Correct Flour
If you’re wanting to make an elastic dough, you should be using flour with high protein content. A high protein content means that your dough will be able to create a good amount of gluten so it can stretch.
If you’re using something basic like all-purpose flour to make your bread, it can give you an okay result, but it has a lower protein content and doesn’t give you as much elasticity as bread flour.
Knead It Until It Passes The Windowpane Test
To carry out the windowpane test, simply take a piece of your dough and stretch it out as thin as you can. If it can get to the point where you can see light through it, you’ve developed enough gluten to support the gas production in your dough.
Here’s a more in-depth video on how to perform this test.
Instead of kneading your dough as soon as you mix your ingredients together, you can help to develop gluten with an autolyse.
To autolyse, all you have to do is mix your flour and water until it becomes a shaggy clump of hydrated flour. Leave this for an hour or so and you should come back to something that’s still a shaggy mess, but it will have developed a good amount of gluten.
From here, you can carry on with your recipe as normal by adding the rest of your ingredients and kneading it for a few more minutes until everything is well incorporated.
This creates a great amount of gluten and leaves you with a better bread overall.
Don’t Overdo It In The Stand Mixer
Stand mixers can really mess up your dough if you’re not careful. You need to make sure that you’re kneading your dough on a low to moderate speed and not doing it for too long.
Regularly check up on your dough to see how it’s doing and it should be fine.
I personally prefer to knead by hand with most bread because I can feel the gluten development, but it’s down to your personal preference.
Let It Rest
If you notice that your dough is ripping and tearing even after you’ve followed the rest of the steps, try giving it a rest.
After being worked, the gluten in your dough is tight and can rip easily, so leaving it to rest for 15 minutes helps the gluten relax. Once it’s relaxed, you can check on it again and it should be as smooth and soft as you’d expect a dough to be.