Difficulty slashing sticky dough

Hello!

I've started baking a few monts ago, but only made my first sourdough last month.  I am now on my third batch and I find it very difficult to slash the dough before putting it in the oven as the dough is very sticky. As a result, the oven spring is not as great as it could be.

I understand that the stickyness may be due to the high hydration of the dough, but I like the soft consistency it gives.  Ideally, I would like to keep working with this hydration dough.  Do you have any tips on how to better slash them?

I have been following the recipe in Bourke Street Bakery book:

202.5 gr of starter

382.5 gr of flour

200  ml of water

10 gr of salt

 

Any tips would be welcome! Thanks

 

 

11 comments

Hello isa.....

You don't say what the hydration of your starter is but, even assuming 100%, your recipe only works out at 62% hydration which, if you are using wheat flour should be a quite firm dough and the hydration could be considered to be low.

If it is soft and sticky by the time that you get to baking, it is possible that you are over-proving it but without details of your time-line and temperatures it is hard to be definite.  However a lack of oven spring is another sympton of over-proving.

If you can give some more detail of what you do and how the dough behaves and changes during development and proving, it might be possible to give some more advice.

One thing to remember is that the methods and time-lines given with recipes really only apply to the conditions that prevail in the starter and kitchen of the author and will need to be modified to suit your circumstances.  That is why it is important that you should learn to go by observation and feel in your environment and not rely on the clock.  Things will vary from season to season as well unless you are lucky enough the have a closely controlled temperature environment.

Good luck with your projects.

Farinam

Hi Farinam,

Thanks so much for the quick reply.  My starter is 100%, and I assumed the dough had high hydration because it was so sticky! I then found an hydration calculator online and realised it was actually not that hydrated.

I don't get too much oven spring, so maybe I am overproofing it. I've been following the advice I read on the Bourke Street Bakery book, to push the dough with a finger to see how long the indentation holds.  Thinking back, though, it may be that it holds for a bit long.

As to the flour, I tend to use organic strong bread flour from a nearby mill.  When I can't find this flour (it seems to sell very quickly in my neighbourhood!), I buy Allison's strong white bread flour. But I just use wheat flour.

Also, I should note that the dough is sticky from the beginning.  I use a mixer (my kitchen top has tiles and makes kneading quite a pain... and a pain to clean it up afterwards!), and mix the dough until I can get the window effect.  The dough looks smooth and is soft, but it is always sticky enough that I end up with it stuck on all my fingers.

As to the recipes, I've followed to timelines for the same recipe:

Timeline 1 (a local friend's recipe)

1. Proof 1 hour

2. Fold

3. Proof 1 more hour

4. Shape dough into boules, let rest for 20 minutes

5. Final shape, and proof for 2.5-3.5 hours (On the warmer days, only 2.5, on colder days 3.5)

6. Slash and bake

Timeline 2 (Bourke Street Bakery's recipe)

1. Proof 1 hour

2. Fold

3. Proof 1 more hour

4. Shape dough into boules, let rest for 20 minutes

5. Final shape, then proof in fridge for 9-12 hours

6. Take out of fridge for 3-4 hours

7. Slash and bake

On the Bourke-Street one, I've always used the longer times: I assume that the UK is much colder and less humid than Sydney (where the Bakery is located), so I thought my doughs would need the extra time.

My best attempt (beginner's luck?) was the first one, when I used my local friend's timeline and his 2-year old starter.  But even then, the dough was quite sticky.

Thanks!

 

 

 

Hi isa,

What sort of time does the dough spend in the mixer?  One possibility is that the dough is actually over-developed.  That could explain the stickiness that you experience from the start.

Another possibility with the second method is the extra bench time out of the fridge.  The dough continues to develop and prove in the fridge and giving it another couple of hours at room temp could be enough to put it over the top.  perhaps you could cut back to having it out of the fridge only for the time that it takes to heat your oven.

Do you use a tile/stone in the oven by the way?

Keep on bakin'

Farinam

Hi Farinam,

The recipe calls for an initial 4 minutes at low speed, then 3 mins at medium-fast speed.  Then autolyse for 20 mins, and then add salt and mix 1 mins at slow speed, and then 6 minutes for medium-fast speed.

However, I have been only mixing at slow speed since the mixer's instructions warn against mixing dough at anything other than slow speed.  So I have just been going by feel: I mix at slow speed for about 10 minutes first.  Then let autolyse and then mix for another 15-17 minutes until I can stretch the dough out and form a window.

In total, it mixes for about 25-27 minutes in the mixer at slow speed.  In contrast, if I were kneading by hand it would require 30 minutes. The recipe book does say that these times are estimates: you should knead/mix until the dough is smooth and can form the famous window.

I do not use a tile or stone in the oven. Is that really fundamental? I have my birthday coming up soon, and may have a good idea for a gift from my better half!

 

Thanks again

ps: is your nick name (Farinam) owed to flour?

Hello isa,

In response to your ps - sort of - it's a story that goes back a long way.

The time in the mixer could be at least part of the problem.  I would try a couple of loaves with much shorter times in the mixer - maybe as little as five minutes or maybe ten at the most. Mixers put in much more energy than you can by hand and the gluten develops faster.  Also the autolyse and stetch and folds contribute to the gluten development as well.

I would suggest mix for a minute or so until the flour and liquids are just combined and then leave to autolyse.  Add your salt and then mix for say five minutes.  Then follow the rest of whichever method you are using.  During your resting and folding the gluten will develop further and you really only should be getting the window just before you shape your loaf.

Let us know how you go.

Farinam

Farinam's advice is pretty spot on. I'd add that in Prof Calvel's book (Gout du Pain) its suggested that the initial mix is about 900 revolutions of a planetary mixer. (say 1min at 100rpm and 4 mins at 200 rpm). This is also quite close to the Jeff Hamelman (in his book "Bread") suggested mix time.

The refrigerator method can be tricky to get right, and it might be worth trying a non fridge method once or twice to get a feel for when its proved. Again, "Bread" gives quite detailed methods.

Th only other thing I can think of is flour. Soft flour could cause that slackness.


Hello, Farinam and Mozzie

Thank you both so much for the advice.  I was under the wrong impression that the window effect was needed before the proofing period.

I will try again this weekend and write back with the results!

Thanks again,

 

Hi Isa,

I went through this type of trouble earlier this year and it was definitely the result of over processing at the various stages. It is important to understand the point of autolysing as explained above by Farinam. It is meant to let the water distribute evenly before the salt is added and the real mixing starts, so if the water is not distributed by this process and you start up the mixer then in my case I was overmixing trying to get it even in texture. It should be already fairly homogenous just by the autolysing, then will need only a max of 5 minutes with dough hooks on the slowest mixer speed. Here is a tip for your bench top problem- I have one of those large silicone rubber baking tray liners and it just sits on my bench without slipping then can be washed up in the sink after. I use it for bread and pastry. If you are ambitious it can also be used to shape loaves like the linen couche or folded over to cover during bench resting.

Hi Electricboots,

Thanks for your message.  I will start today's bread in about 2 hours, and make sure to follow the instructions you have all kindly given me!  I'll write later in the day to report.

 

Thanks

 

Hey Isa, it looks like you've already gotten good advise about your autolyse and mix. It is worth noting that a lot of people hold the starter as well as the salt out until after the autolyse, but I've gotten good results either way.

Slashing itself is easier if you done your final proof in a floured cloth (I don't have a couche at home so I use a dishtowel). It conditions the surface of the bread and dries it out a little so that your blade doesn't stick. If you don't want to do that you can just leave it uncovered for a minute or two before slashing so it gets a thin skin. We usually use a razor blade on the end of a coffee stirring stick to do the slashes, I've mangled a couple of loaves with kitchen knives.

Cheers!

Brennen

 

Hello fellow bread-makers!

My loaves last night were the best I've made thus far! I mixed them for only 1 minute before autolysing, and then only for 5 minutes.  The dough was not as sticky, and I was able to slash them with more ease.  Also I got a nice oven spring!

I've not tried the basket proof method, so far I've only done the final proof in a tray.  But I will definitely try this in the future.

Finally--a note on Electricboots' silicone tray liner.  I've got one, which I bought to rolll out pastry.  I tried using it the first time for kneading the dough, but I found that it was sticking to the dough making the kneading process quite frustrating! I tried putting weights on the corners to keep it on the bench and that only caused more mess when I tipped the weights over... Do you have any tricks worth trying?

Thanks again for all your help!