Dough can sometimes turn out sticky or too dry. This might be because of imprecise measurements, different flours used or the environment you are baking in. It might be tempting to adjust the recipe and try and fix it with some late additions of flour or water.
Can you add more flour or water to dough after it rises?
Adding flour or water to dough after it has risen is not advised, but it is possible if it hasn’t risen for too long. The ingredients become harder to incorporate because the dough is already formed, and it has to be kneaded again which could damage the structure built when rising.
Some small additions of flour to the exterior of the dough when shaping the loaf is fine. This is because this will stay on the outside when it bakes and is normal practice for handling and shaping dough. But for any larger additions, it’s best to just continue making the bread and use some oil on the worktop to help with the handling of the dough.
I have some tips on handling wet dough later in this article – wet dough actually makes the best bread!
When It Is Possible
Dough that hasn’t risen for too long will be more suited to adding late ingredients. That is because over time, the dough goes through a lot of changes in fermentation and gluten formation and ends up something quite different from what it started.
If your dough has been rising for less than an hour, it’s possible to add some flour or water, thoroughly mix again and allow it to continue rising. Any longer than that and you risk compromising the quality of the bread.
It’s best to start small and add a tablespoon at a time so you can be controlled. Otherwise you will adversely change the ratios in the recipe and have more problems.
The longer you wait to alter your dough again you run the risk of these problems:
- Knocking all the gas built up from fermentation resulting in dense bread
- Break the gluten strands which hold the doughs structure together
- The yeast might consume all the flour food and not have enough “spring” for the final bread
A dough that has risen for a short period has less gas inside. This gas is held in strands of gluten which allow the bread to rise and have a nice interior structure. If you are to mix the dough again, then you knock all of this gas out. This could result in dense, flat bread. If the dough doesn’t have a chance to rebuild this gluten structure then you will also end up with bread that has a poor rise. I wrote more about the effects of kneading dough after it rises in this article.
If the dough is far along the rising period, then the yeast has consumed lots of the flour. When you knead and add an additional rise to the dough then the final rise might not be as strong as the standard recipe.
What Happens To Dough Over Time
When flour and water meet, the water hydrates the flour and it swells up and becomes soft. Over time, gluten is formed from the proteins, and this gives us the stretchy strands in dough. This is what holds on to gases as it rises and allows our bread to have a crumb with holes. Otherwise, we can have dense and chewy bread because it hasn’t risen and baked well.
So if our dough has risen for a significant period and built up this interior structure, then we would do damage by adding more ingredients and vigorously mixing by kneading it. If you don’t mix the dough thoroughly then you will get dry bits of flour in the final bread.
When you add water late to a dough, it doesn’t mix very well and you end up with a bowl of water and a solid piece of dough at the bottom. It requires you to basically dissolve the dough into the water until they come together. It is slightly easier with an electric mixer, but it is quite difficult by hand.
What To Do If Your Dough Is Too Sticky
If your dough is too sticky, then that isn’t actually a bad thing! Dough which has more water makes better bread than dough with less. This is because it is more elastic and fluid and can rise easier. It also creates more steam, which pushes the bread higher and keeps it light and airy.
When it is baked it will rise tall and produce a bread with a nice crumb. It can make the type of bread which has the large open holes on the inside. The crust is also more crisp, rather than a dense chewy one.
So if sticky dough has good outcomes, we just have to prepare it correctly to get there. One thing is handling the stickiness, and the other one is ensuring it has enough tension and strength so it doesn’t collapse.
Strength is built up from giving the dough a few folds before shaping it. Folding the edges of the dough into the center and turning over so the seam is on the bottom is a straightforward way. You can feel the dough become more tense and strong. If it still feels a bit loose, then repeat this process. The surface of the dough can get more tension from rolling it around on the worktop with your hands – this makes the dough taut from the friction.
Tips For Handling Sticky Dough
When you are handling the dough, such as folding it or moving it around, then you can use a wet hand. The wet hand avoids any sticky dough getting caught on it. You can wet your hands several times as needed.
When it comes to shaping the final dough, you can get flour on the outside of the dough because that will be baked on the outside. Avoid incorporating too much flour this late in the process because it will end up getting folded into the dough and have a raw flour taste in the bread.
I find that flouring my hands and avoiding touching my palms on the dough is the best way to go with sticky dough. I wrote an article about handling sticky dough which you can read for more tips.
What To Do If Your Dough Is Too Dry
Dry dough will generally make a loaf with a tighter crumb – like a sandwich bread. This isn’t terrible, it’s just a different kind of bread and will probably still bake fine. You should note down the quantities you used this time, so that next time you can make an adjustment if its too dry. Also, getting a scales for accuracy is important.
The main thing to avoid is adding extra flour into the dough to make it even dryer. You can use oil to handle the dough, or even wet your hands with water which will temporarily avoid any sticking to them. Oiling the worktop instead of using flour is a good way to avoid adding any extra flour while working with it on the counter.
As you can see, adding more flour or water later in the bread making process does have its risks. It’s not the best practice when making bread so can’t be advised. If you are desperate then you can try it, but I would say to just continue making the bread and treat it as an experiment for next time.
Making bread has many factors and learning to judge these is a good skill to build up. Make a mental note, or write down what happened this time with the ingredients used so that you can do things a little different next time.