If you’re not particularly experienced with sourdough or any type of sticky dough for that matter, chances are that you’ve managed to get dough stuck to your hands, table, and more. Sticky dough probably just doesn’t do what you want it to do. Don’t worry, you’re definitely not alone.
There’s no doubt about it that sourdough is a difficult type of bread to make. It’s often high hydration, making it very sticky, and it takes a long time to bulk ferment and proof. Although it doesn’t sound extremely complicated on paper, there are actually plenty of things that can go wrong and ruin your bread if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Even if you do manage to handle your sourdough very well, it can still stick to surfaces other than your hands or work surface, whether it’s your dutch oven, banneton, or even just a cloth.
Fortunately, there are ways that you can either stop your dough from being sticky or make handling your dough a lot easier. Before we look into what you can do to make your sourdough not stick to everything, let’s go through why it’s sticky and what you can do to make it less sticky.
Why Is Sourdough So Sticky?
The main reason why sourdough is so sticky is that it often has higher hydration than most other types of bread. A lot of good sourdough recipes you see will contain at least 70% hydration, but many go higher than that.
To an inexperienced baker, anything over 65% hydration will likely start to get too sticky to handle with ease, so if you’re not used to working with higher hydration bread dough, you won’t have the skills required and you probably won’t know enough about it to work with it comfortably.
This higher water content allows the gluten to stick to your hands (and everything else) much more easily, which can result in torn dough and a huge mess in general.
Like anything, it takes a lot of practice to get good with high hydration sourdough, so you can forget about making a great loaf on your first try.
How Can You Make Sourdough Less Sticky?
If you’re not comfortable with sticky dough, don’t worry, you’ll be able to change a few things to make it easier. There are simple and effective ways to make the dough less sticky whilst still getting a great finished product.
Making sourdough less sticky is as simple as lowering the hydration and/or maximizing the gluten development. Let’s go through these two methods:
- Lowering The Hydration
It’s no secret that lower hydration dough is less sticky and therefore cleaner and easier to knead. If you’re not very experienced with bread dough, it would be useful to avoid high hydration dough at first and stick with sourdough at around 65% hydration or less (65g water per 100g flour)
At this hydration, the dough will likely be somewhat sticky, but not too sticky to work with. If you are still struggling, you could lower it to a minimum of 60% hydration.
As you become more comfortable handling the dough, you can slowly increase the hydration and get used to it becoming more and more sticky every time.
As you get comfortable with stickier dough, your technique will change slightly and you’ll figure out better ways to handle it, so it’s just a matter of time before you can make high hydration sourdough with relative ease.
Just remember that by lowering the hydration, you’re also tightening the crumb, so don’t expect to get a very airy loaf of bread if you’re using lower hydration.
- Maximizing Gluten Development
The only reason that the dough is sticky is because the flour contains gluten. If it weren’t for the gluten, it wouldn’t be sticky, but it also wouldn’t come together into a dough.
The dough is at its stickiest state when the flour and water are initially mixed. This is because the gluten strands are relatively short and undeveloped, so they stick to everything. As the gluten is developed (with time or by kneading), the strands become longer and stick less.
When the gluten is completely developed and the dough is shaped, the gluten strands are stretched across the dough and are less likely to stick.
Your aim is to maximize gluten development so the dough can both rise properly and not be too sticky. This can be done with plenty of physical kneading, with time, or by using both physical kneading and plenty of time.
How To Stop Sourdough Sticking To Banneton
You can spend plenty of time working to make great sourdough but be disappointed when it sticks to the banneton as you turn it out. When this happens, the dough might tear or just lose its nice appearance. Either way, you don’t want it happening to you, so here’s what you should do to avoid it.
To prevent your sourdough from sticking to the banneton, you need to make sure that the banneton has been seasoned properly. This seasoning is a layer of flour that aids in preventing the dough from sticking. With good seasoning and enough flour, your sourdough won’t stick.
Many people recommend different types of flour to prevent sticking, but the type of flour you’re using should just be a second thought. There are plenty of bakers who have used lots of different types of flour with great success, which is generally attributed to their banneton and what they’ve done with the dough.
Firstly, the banneton needs to be in good condition. This means that it’s got a good seasoning and it has been coated in enough flour.
A professional baker will know what to do with their sourdough, whether it’s high or low hydration. If it’s high hydration, it’s more prone to sticking since more water can cause the flour around it to become damp and glutenous (sticky). Low hydration is much easier to work with, in general since it’s very easy to handle and it will have a difficult time sticking to the banneton.
Whether you’re making a high or low hydration sourdough, it’s important that the surface of the dough is dry. Drying the surface of the dough simply prevents the flour on the outside from becoming wet and sticky.
Drying the surface of the dough is as easy as coating the dough in flour before you put it into the banneton. I personally like to preshape my dough, coat it in flour, let it rest, final shape it, coat it in flour again, and then put it into the banneton. This helps give the dough some extra time to dry out on the surface and therefore makes it much easier to get it out the basket.
You want to maintain this dry surface as the dough proofs too. Fortunately, most bannetons do absorb excess water from the surface of the dough, but they can still become damp and stick. If you’re putting your banneton into a plastic bag to proof, it may become wetter on the surface as the bag traps any moisture trying to escape. This isn’t the case for everyone, but it’s something to consider if you’re doing it.
If you’re really scared of sticking, you might want to add a heavy coating of flour to the basket and the dough before you allow it to proof. If you use a lot of flour, don’t worry as excess flour can be brushed off after the sourdough is turned out of the basket.
Here’s a quick video showing you a useful way to get flour all around your banneton.
How To Stop Sourdough Sticking To Cloth/Tea Towel
Just like with a banneton, the moisture in the exterior of the dough can hydrate the flour and cause gluten formation. What you want to do is limit how wet the dough’s exterior gets so you can prevent it from becoming sticky. A drier surface is always best to prevent sticking.
To stop your sourdough from sticking to your tea towel, you either use plenty of coarse flour, like semolina or rice flour, or you can just use a more suitable linen cloth that’s less likely to stick than regular cloth.
By using a coarser flour, you’re creating slightly more distance between the dough and the cloth/tea towel, meaning that it’s slightly less likely to stick. I’d recommend using a 50:50 ratio of coarse flour to regular white flour, but it’s down to you to experiment and figure out what works in your circumstances.
If you’re going to use a linen cloth, you should have a much easier time separating it from your dough. You can just use a thorough dusting of flour on the linen cloth and put your dough in it. By the time you’re ready to turn it out, it should just slide out if all goes well.
How To Stop Sourdough Sticking To Your Dutch Oven
If your sourdough is adhering to your dutch oven, it’s definitely a problem.
The last thing you want is to try and lift your bread out of the dutch oven, only to find that it doesn’t actually lift out. It’s stuck, so you have to try and pry it out, but the bottom ends up tearing and your bread looks ugly. This is quite literally the last thing you want to happen once you’ve taken it out of the oven.
Although it’s very annoying and disappointing, you need to learn from your mistake so it doesn’t stick next time. Fortunately, it’s not hard to stop it from sticking, so here’s what you can do.
To stop sourdough from sticking to your dutch oven, you can either line it with parchment paper, add a light coating of oil, or sprinkle a good amount of semolina in it before adding the sourdough to bake. All three of these methods create an effective barrier between the dutch oven and the dough.
So, the only thing you really need is something in between the dough and dutch oven to stop them from touching too much. Parchment paper, semolina, and oil are all great, but they’re by no means the only things you can use.
If you somehow don’t have any oil, semolina, or parchment paper, you can just use regular flour, but keep in mind that it can burn relatively easily, especially if the dutch oven is on a hot surface, like a baking stone.
The most effective way to prevent the sticking is to just use parchment paper. This creates a complete barrier between the dough and the dutch oven, which means that there’s a 0% chance that it can stick to the bottom.
How To Stop Sourdough Sticking To Your Hands
We all know that sourdough can be very sticky, but we’re only made more aware of how sticky it really is when we try and touch it with our bare hands.
If you’re not careful, sourdough will stick to you when kneading, shaping, or even just handling the dough. Many inexperienced bakers decide to add more flour, but this isn’t a good idea unless you’re using it for shaping (the only time when more should be added).
Extra flour shouldn’t be added during kneading or general handling of the dough since it can be incorporated in, resulting in denser and dryer bread.
You can stop sourdough sticking to your hands by dipping them in water before touching it. The water acts as a barrier between your skin and the dough, which prevents the dough from adhering to you when you touch it. You may need to rewet your hands often in order to completely stop the sticking.
If you don’t want to use water, you can use oil instead. The oil acts in the same way by creating a barrier between the dough and your hands, but I’ve personally found it to be less effective and more difficult to clean (it can’t easily be wiped away like water is).
Water (or oil) should be used firstly when you’re kneading the dough. This method works well with stretch and fold and rubaud kneading. It can be done with regular kneading or the slap and fold, but this can create more mess and may incorporate too much additional water/oil into the dough.
You can use water (or oil) at any time when handling the dough before you need to shape it. When it comes to shaping it, you should use flour. When shaping it, one side of the dough (the bottom) should be floured to prevent it from sticking to the work surface, and one side should be left sticky, so it can stick back onto itself and stay in shape.
Keep these sticking-avoidance methods in the back of your mind whenever you’re making sourdough and you should have a much easier time with better results.