Kneading wet dough by hand: Tips to handle a messy situation

Have you ever heard the saying “wetter is better” when it comes to bread dough? There’s no question that wetter, stickier dough can lead to a lighter, airier loaf, full of wonderful large and small holes (a.k.a. an “open crumb”). Artisan bakers can even get a little macho when it comes to water content, vying for higher and higher hydrations as a show of prowess. But for home bakers, kneading wet dough by hand can be a messy and frustrating experience.

I’m not one to endorse wet for wet’s sake, or to insist that no machine should ever touch my dough. However, a recipe like ciabatta bread requires quite a lot of water (high hydration) in order to achieve its light texture and plentiful holes. And if you don’t have a stand mixer or bread machine, this type of recipe can be particularly daunting.

In fact, one of our ciabatta recipes includes this caution in its “tips” section: “Because this dough is so soft, it’s quite a challenge to knead it by hand… Please use an electric mixer or your bread machine to knead the dough.”

Quite a challenge? OK, maybe I have a teensy-weensy bit of macho baker in me, because I love a challenge! And besides, what if you’re a ciabatta lover who wants to try making the bread at home, and don’t have a stand mixer or bread machine? That just doesn’t seem fair!

Don’t despair, all you wet-dough-fearing hand-kneaders out there! I’m here to teach you some valuable hand-kneading techniques that can help you tackle a high-hydration dough — and live to tell about it.

Kneading wet dough by hand? Learn how to turn messy into manageable in no time. Click To Tweet

I practiced these techniques at a recent sourdough bread class I attended at our Baking School here in Vermont. If you’ve been thinking about taking a class, let me just say that there’s no better place to get in touch with your dough-slinging skills! Our devoted baking instructors will set you on the path to success.

So, let’s tackle that “challenging” ciabatta recipe and run a little experiment.

I’ll make one batch of ciabatta following the recipe instructions for mixing in a stand mixer. For the ingredients and detailed instructions for this ciabatta recipe, please visit its recipe page.

The second batch of ciabatta will be mixed and kneaded entirely by hand. Our ciabatta recipe has a hydration level of 80% (the weight of the water compared to the weight of the flour). These hand-kneading techniques work quite well in the 67% to 80% range — as long as you don’t mind getting a little messy.

Kneading wet dough by hand via @kingarthurflour

Dough 1: Mix and knead in a stand mixer

The recipe calls for mixing this dough for 7 minutes with the paddle attachment on medium speed. I used speed 4 on my KitchenAid mixer. When finished, the dough looks soft, moist, and a bit shiny. It even balls around the paddle during the last few minutes of mixing.

Kneading wet dough by hand via @kingarthurflour

Look at how that dough stretches! See how the light shines through it in thin spots? This dough is passing the “window pane” test without even trying.

We’ll cover this dough and let it rest for an hour while we tackle our hand-mixed and hand-kneaded batch of ciabatta dough.

Kneading wet dough by hand via @kingarthurflour

Dough 2: Kneading wet dough by hand

I know what you’re thinking. You expect us to knead that mess? Don’t worry, I’m here to show you the way!

While not absolutely necessary, a brief rest after mixing the ingredients can be helpful, giving the flour time to absorb the water and make the dough more manageable. Step #1 (below) will accomplish many of the same things that a rest does, so skip the rest if you’re eager to get your hands on the dough (though I still do recommend a 20-minute rest).

Kneading wet dough by hand step #1: Cutting the dough

This step involves putting the dough on the work surface (without adding any flour to the table) and then simply cutting the dough into strips with a bench knife or dough scraper from one end of the dough to the other. Mound the dough up again and repeat for about 2 minutes.

Kneading wet dough by hand via @kingarthurflour

According to Sharon O’Leary, one of our seasoned Baking School instructors, this method is useful because it allows you to work with a high-hydration dough without adding additional flour. It gives time for the flour to fully hydrate and helps make sure that all the ingredients are fully blended. It also seems to help align and create the gluten matrix.

But how does cutting the dough help develop the gluten? Aren’t we just chopping it to bits?

While I haven’t been able to find a precise scientific explanation for what’s going on here, cutting forces a productive restructuring of the gluten strands. Members of our King Arthur Flour Bakery team agree that simply trying to rip the dough apart, rather than providing a clean cut, doesn’t yield the same positive effects.

Kneading wet dough by hand via @kingarthurflour

You can see as the process continues that the dough begins to gain strength and doesn’t look quite so puddle-like in consistency. The cut pieces start to hold together better, showing signs that the internal structure is developing.

Kneading wet dough by hand via @kingarthurflour

Here’s the dough before and after the cutting process. It’s not quite as wet and has a little more shape to it.

So, you’ve started the dough’s development with this cutting process. What comes next? “Slap and fold.”

Kneading wet dough by hand step #2: Slap and fold

This step is referred to by various names: sometimes the “French method” of kneading, sometimes “slap and fold.” One bakery I worked at called this the “beaver slap.” It involves picking up the dough on one end with both hands, then lifting it up and letting it hang a bit as you gently slap it on the table in front of you. You then fold it over and pick it up again, from the same side you first lifted it.

I use the word “gently” when describing the slap, because I’ve been in baking classes where the students’ dough slapping became so enthusiastic that hunks of sticky dough splattered on the ceiling, floor, and fellow bakers. Keep in mind that the “slap” is really more about the dough hanging in mid-air and providing a stretch, and not so much about the way it hits the table.

Kneading wet dough by hand via @kingarthurflour

The first few rounds will leave part of the dough on the table, but as the gluten develops, the dough will begin to adhere more and more to itself and less to you and the table.

Moving quickly helps, as does frequently scraping your work surface with a dough scraper or bench knife.

Kneading wet dough by hand via @kingarthurflour

After a few minutes of slapping and folding the dough begins to act a little more like a cooperative “hunk” of dough and less like a defiant puddle.

Kneading wet dough by hand via @kingarthurflour

Slap and fold: One-handed style

At this point, I like to switch to a one-handed method of slapping and folding. I hold the dough in one hand and the bench knife or dough scraper in the other. Each slap and fold is accompanied by a scoop and lift of the dough with the aid of my bench knife, so the work surface stays less sticky and the dough has less to adhere to. I find this method easier, but it can be tricky to hold the dough in one hand, so try both ways and see which way you prefer.

Kneading wet dough by hand via @kingarthurflour

Scoop, slap, fold — repeat. This is where you begin to see a real transformation in the dough.

Even though this looks like a lengthy and labor-intense process, total kneading time from cutting to slapping only adds up to about 6 to 8 minutes.

Kneading wet dough by hand via @kingarthurflour

Here’s the dough kneaded in the stand mixer (left) compared to the hand-kneaded dough (right). Our dough has made real progress, but wait until you see the changes time and folding bring about!

Kneading wet dough by hand via @kingarthurflour

Kneading wet dough by hand step #3: Repeated folds

Here’s our hand-kneaded dough after a 30-minute rise, and just prior to its first fold. Notice that it’s already developed a smoother texture.

Folding is a tried and true method of gently continuing to develop dough strength, and is particularly useful when dealing with wet dough.

The number and frequency of folds can vary from one recipe to the next, but the underlying principle is the same: periodic folds, whether done with wet hands in the bowl or with flour on the table, can miraculously transform an extremely wet dough into something wonderfully airy and strong.

Kneading wet dough by hand via @kingarthurflour

Imagine that your hunk of dough has four sides. Gently grasp one side with both hands and stretch it over the top of the dough. Grab the opposite side and stretch and fold it in the same manner. Repeat with the other two sides, and then pat off any excess flour. Each stretch and fold not only strengthens the dough, but also gently deflates it, allowing for further expansion.

For the purposes of this experiment, I’m going to do three folds at 30-minute intervals, with shaping taking place after two hours.

Kneading wet dough by hand via @kingarthurflour

The dough isn’t just rising, but also becoming visibly stronger each time I fold it. Our little puddle has grown up to be a real dough!

Kneading wet dough by hand via @kingarthurflour

A brief revisit to our stand mixer dough

Since the original recipe calls for deflating the dough after an hour, I also add a fold to the machine-mixed dough. It’s a little bigger than the hand-kneaded dough at this point.

Kneading wet dough by hand via @kingarthurflour

Divide and shape the dough

Both doughs have now completed their two-hour bulk rise. The machine-kneaded dough (top) received one fold midway, while the hand-kneaded dough (bottom) got three folds at 30-minute intervals. Both are easy to handle, with visible strength.

Kneading wet dough by hand via @kingarthurflour

Now we’re ready to divide and “shape.” I’m putting that word in quotes because this dough really doesn’t get any shaping. We’ll just gently divide the dough, trying not to deflate it. Again, the machine-kneaded dough is on top and the hand-kneaded dough below.

I find flour works better than oil or water to accomplish dividing the dough, as it helps prevent the surface of the dough from tearing or sticking. A very light sprinkling of flour won’t hurt anything, and any excess flour can be gently brushed off.

Kneading wet dough by hand via @kingarthurflour

Here are two sets of dough, after dividing and placing the loaves on sprayed parchment to rise. The machine-kneaded dough is on the left, and the hand-kneaded on the right. Hard to tell them apart, isn’t it?

Next we’ll cover the loaves with sprayed plastic wrap and allow them to rise for 30 minutes.

Poke the dough

The recipe calls for dimpling the dough halfway through the final one-hour rise. As an additional experiment, I decide to dimple only one loaf from each mix. I’m curious to see how dimpling affects the final crumb structure.

Kneading wet dough by hand via @kingarthurflour

This is the hand-kneaded dough being dimpled. I’m a little too generous with the flour on my fingers during this step, but no harm done.

Kneading wet dough by hand via @kingarthurflour

Here’s the hand-kneaded dough, right after I finished dimpling it.

Kneading wet dough by hand via @kingarthurflour

And here’s the machine-kneaded dough, ready to go into the oven.

Time to bake

I spray the loaves with water and then bake them on a preheated stone, adding about 1 1/2 cups of boiling water to a preheated frying pan below the stone once the loaves are loaded. Our article on steam in bread baking offers step-by-step guidance for this method of adding steam to your baking.

Kneading wet dough by hand via @kingarthurflour

Here are our two sets of baked loaves. The dimpled loaves are on the right.

Surprisingly, the dimpling experiment yields very mixed results. Dimpling does seem to help the machine-kneaded dough achieve a slightly more varied crumb structure. However, the hand-kneaded dough doesn’t really seem to need or benefit from dimpling.

Dimpling does help yield a flatter loaf, which is traditional for ciabatta.

And which loaf wins the Academy Award for Best Crumb? The envelope, please!

Kneading wet dough by hand via @kingarthurflour

The ciabatta with the most open crumb structure is the hand-kneaded, un-dimpled loaf (on the right). That’s the machine-kneaded dimpled loaf on the left.

Kneading wet dough by hand via @kingarthurflour

We can now say without equivocation that not only is it possible to meet the “ciabatta challenge” — successfully kneading wet dough by hand — it’s actually quite straightforward. Being willing to get your hands a little messy can reward you with spectacular results!

I hope you’ll roll up your sleeves and give these hand-kneading techniques a try — and please check back here to let us know all about your wet-dough adventures!

Barbara Alpern
About

Long time professional artisan bread baker, caramel maker and member of our Baker Specialist team, Barb grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan and has four grown sons. She has baked in Michigan, Maine, Vermont, and Texas (if you count baking cookies for her son's wedding!).

comments

  1. Gabe

    Impressive results without a mixer! Love all the pictures and detailed comparison of different kneading techniques. I may give this a try next time I make a Detroit-style (basically focaccia) pizza dough.

    Reply
    1. Barbara Alpern , post author

      Thanks, Gabe! These methods should work great with your pizza dough!
      Barb

    2. Julie

      I’d like to see video of stretch-slap-fold as I can imagine stretch & fold as it comes down but can’t tell from pics how the slap occurs.

    3. Barbara Alpern , post author

      Hi Julie, we do have a video in the works that will be linked to this blog post once it’s ready. In the meantime, there are several videos available online that show this process in action. Here’s one for you to check out. Barb

  2. Consie

    I love the suggestions shared in this post, and I shall try a few, especially the chopping one. I’ve had good success with the folding technique. But I’d like to add another one to the list here: I consistently knead my artisan bread in the bowl. I don’t knead on the counter. I’ve found that this works wonderfully well and I can keep my ratios spot-on, as I’ve weighed out my ingredients ahead of time, and as I add water, the “mess” is contained. And sure enough, the dough always does its miraculous changes. I think I’m sort of using my hand like one would use a dough hook (I don’t have a stand mixer). It’s a pattern of scoop-and-push with my right hand as my left hand does a quarter-turn of the bowl. I have my bowl on a cloth so that it turns easily, and the whole system is slick as can be. The bread – even very wet dough – ultimately comes out onto the work surface for final stretch and turn and rest periods before baking. But it’s pretty slick, and I’m hooked on doing it this way. You might want to give it a try.

    Reply
    1. Barbara Alpern , post author

      Thanks for adding your mixing/kneading technique to this discussion, Consie! I’ve used a similar method that is done in the way you describe with a dough scraper and repeated for about 30 strokes every thirty minutes for the first hour and a half or so of the bulk rise. It’s a great method for very wet dough!
      Barb

  3. John Paul Severin

    Barb

    Your recipes and tips have helped Caitlin and I so much with our crusty airy sourdough. We’ve finally got loaves we have been happy with for the first time in years of baking by following king arthur. Thanks from all us regular breadmakers.

    JP Severin

    Reply
    1. Barbara Alpern , post author

      Thanks so much for the kind words, JP! I’m so happy to hear you’ve found our recipes and tips helpful! I must say I’m very impressed that you and Caitlin can make time to bake bread with your three little ones! Are you able to get them involved? I was never very good at cooking with my boys, but whenever I baked bread I gave them each a hunk of dough and let them shape it and add goodies like raisins and chocolate chips to create their own bread. They loved this. Give those beautiful kids a hug and a kiss from me! Barb

  4. Julie Sverid

    Barb – Loving your enthusiasm and superior writing style! I am now inspired to try this out. Enjoying my King Arthur products, because of you. Keep up your great work, Julie

    Reply
    1. Barbara Alpern , post author

      Thanks so much, Julie! And if you do decide to take on the wet dough challenge, remember we’re here to help!
      Barb

  5. MB

    I noticed you needed the dough with the beater attachment, instead of the kneading attachment. Is this just for wet doughs?

    Reply
    1. Barbara Alpern , post author

      Hi MB, this particular recipe does call for using the flat beater attachment rather than the hook for mixing and kneading. In general this attachment is reserved for very wet dough. A dough with a slightly lower hydration (but still quite wet) might call for the hook.
      Barb

  6. Margaux

    Wonderful! I’ve always shied away from high hydration but I’m ready to give it another try after this!

    Reply
    1. Barbara Alpern , post author

      That’s so great to hear, Margaux! We love to embolden your baking!
      Barb

    1. Barbara Alpern , post author

      Thanks so much, Kathy! Let me know how the cutting technique works for you.
      Barb

  7. Kevin

    Barb, Thank you for this blog post! I’ve recently gotten into baking my own bread and mostly no knead recipes at that. I’ve seen TV shows where they worked with such a wet dough and assumed I’d never be able to handle it. After reading your blog, I just may give it a shot! I really love the way you incorporated pictures of each step to make it accessible to people like me.

    Reply
    1. Barbara Alpern , post author

      Kevin, we’re so glad you found this post helpful! I hope you do give these techniques a shot! I think you’ll find being able to work with a very wet dough opens up all kinds of new baking opportunities.
      Barb

  8. Liv

    The perfect airy ciabatta is one of my absolute favorites, and I’ve only done it at home once because I don’t have a stand mixer and it seems intimidating working with such high hydration. This technique looks great and the pictures are a huge help. Definitely time to give it another go. Thank you!

    Reply
    1. Barbara Alpern , post author

      You’re very welcome, Liv! I’m so glad we could help you tackle ciabatta bread again! It’s well worth the effort!
      Barb

  9. Gloria

    Ok, I could try this! I could actually perhaps try it with both hand mixing and stand mixing, but how much dough is that for a stand mixer? I have the old Hobart K5A, 300 watt, and it still runs strong. I do not want to overload it, so would this recipe do well in the mixer, or would it be better to hand mix? Thoughts appreciated!

    Reply
    1. Barbara Alpern , post author

      Hi Gloria, this recipe makes about 1 1/2 pounds of dough, so I don’t imagine your mixer would have any problems kneading it. Barb

  10. dms525

    In the 2nd printing of the 1st edition of “Bread,” Jeff Hamelman had a formula for “no-knead” French bread. He used a technique I call “stretch and fold in the bowl.” I have found this the most useful way to develop gluten in a high-hydration dough.

    The technique presented here is kind of neat, but I wonder if it has any advantage at all over the one J.H. described in “Bread.”

    Happy Baking!

    Reply
    1. Barbara Alpern , post author

      I know exactly the recipe/technique you’re referring to from Jeffrey Hamelman’s great book, Bread. This book is my baking bible! The “stretch and fold in the bowl” technique you’re referring to is definitely another great method for developing a high-hydration dough that should be added to every baker’s arsenal!
      Barb

    1. Barbara Alpern , post author

      You should definitely give it a try! It’s actually kind of fun, if you don’t mind getting a little messy.
      Barb

  11. Jill Budzynski

    Kudos to Jeff Hamelman for the best breads ever. I have tried other masters’ books, but his is the only one that consistently provides great results. I can’t get past my first 10 successful recipes from his 2nd Edition “Bread” book, tho, because I love them so much! Thanks for breaking through to formulas that are tasty, easy to follow and replicable. I get compliments all the time on “my” results!
    All the best, Jill

    Reply
    1. Barbara Alpern , post author

      Jill, I totally agree! Jeffrey Hamelman’s book is such a great resource! After 12 years of professional artisan baking, I still find myself referring to it regularly. He has so many great recipes and provides all the background information you need to be successful.
      Barb

  12. Irene in T.O.

    Please everybody remember that high hydration can only work with high gluten flour. I used to laugh at the former label on one KA flour “for bread machines only” because it made excellent hand kneaded bread at about 70% hydration.

    My other secret is to start with the liquid and add the flour. The simple mixing begins to activate the gluten while the flour is going in. End result is easier to knead, IN the bowl, until I get that sharp transition from sticky to silky. Sorry to be technical but I learned that knowing such details makes a huge difference.

    Reply
    1. Barbara Alpern , post author

      Irene, no need to apologize for being technical! I find our unbleached all-purpose flour (11.7% protein), does quite well in high-hydration recipes.
      Barb

  13. Susan

    You’ve got me wondering if some (not all. obviously!) of these steps might be useful in handling gf yeast dough … obviously there’s no gluten in gf recipes! But maybe a couple of these methods could be used? Before I was dragged kicking and screaming into the gf lifestyle, I loved baking artisan breads! Sigh … I sure do miss those days. :_(

    Reply
    1. Barbara Alpern , post author

      Susan, the cutting method may be helpful in terms of hydrating the flour and making sure that all the ingredients are fully incorporated, but beyond this these methods won’t be helpful because they’re meant to develop gluten. Unfortunately, no amount of kneading will develop gluten-free bread dough.
      Barb

    2. Susan

      Yes, Barbara – I know you can’t develop what ain’t there! 🙂 I’ve been baking gf a little more than 7 years now. But, since gf bread dough does tend to be on the wet side, I thought definitely the cutting technique would help and I am wondering about the steps up to the first fold in the third technique might help give the dough “layers”. I think the next time I tackle gf bread dough, I’ll try both techniques. Thank you, Barbara for posting!

    3. Barbara Alpern , post author

      Susan, I’m sorry if I seemed flippant in my response. The truth is, I really don’t know how these techniques will affect gluten-free dough development. I’m a little concerned about the effect cutting will have on the xanthan gum, but suspect that it won’t hurt anything and may well help hydrate the dough and distribute the ingredients evenly. I hope you’ll report back and let us all know if you find any of these methods helpful when working with gluten-free dough.
      Barb

    4. Susan

      You weren’t flippant, Barbara! I do not believe cutting would harm the work of xanthan gum. I will report back the results next time I work with gf dough. 🙂

  14. Paul Carroll

    Barbara,

    I don’t have a stand mixer so I’ve always used a food processor to make pizza dough. Is there a significant difference in the features, quality, taste, texture, etc. of dough mixed and kneaded with a dough hook mixer, food processor, or by hand. Your comments about cutting dough got me thinking as a food processor cuts while spinning/kneading.

    Thanks,
    Paul
    Easton, MD

    Reply
    1. Barbara Alpern , post author

      Hi Paul, I’ve never actually mixed dough with a food processor, but I suspect the mix/kneading would be fairly aggressive and less time would be necessary to develop the dough. For recipes like this, I think the type of gentle dough development you get through these hand kneading methods is particularly beneficial when you’re trying to achieve an open crumb.
      Barb

  15. Judith P. Oppenheim

    First, I want to compliment Ms. Alpern on a first-rate article. My comment/concern is related to the spray and cover instructions. Please give me more information: spray with water; how much?; cover with plastic; really? – I am worried that it will stick big time – ruining the loaf and all the time I have invested in it. Also, how does one transfer the dough from the “bottoms-up”, papered baking sheets to the stone in the oven? Can we have some photos of this step as well? It just occurred to me that you would simply place the dough-loaded baking sheets on top of the stone? Thanks in advance for your reply,

    Judith in Houston

    Reply
    1. Barbara Alpern , post author

      Hi Judith, I’ve never had a problem covering rising bread dough with plastic wrap that is sprayed with non-stick vegetable spray. I do use the kind of spray we sell, which I think works particularly well. When it comes time to transfer your bread from the parchment lined “bottoms-up” baking sheet to the oven, you can simply slide the parchment and loaf onto the stone. I found it easier with this recipe to transfer the loaves separately, so I did put each loaf on its own piece of sprayed parchment. You could also put the sheet pan on the stone, but you’ll get a better rise if you can manage to get the parchment and loaves directly on the preheated stone.
      Barb

  16. Marie

    I’m always having problems with the temperature of the room for the dough rise. For health reasons, I have to keep our home cold (68 degrees) most of the year. This has to affect dough rise. What is the temp at the KAF kitchens? Any hints to help home bread bakers? Thank you!

    Reply
    1. Barbara Alpern , post author

      Hi Marie, our kitchen is generally around 70°F, so you aren’t too far off. If your house is on the cold side, start with a little warmer water (up to 100°F), and try to find a warm spot to let the dough rise. I often boil some water on the stove and then stick a pyrex cup of the boiling water in my microwave to heat up that small space. This works well as a make shift proof box. You could also use your oven in this way, except you’ll likely need a pot of boiling water set on the bottom shelf to heat the larger space. Don’t turn the oven on, as yeast dies at 140°F, and your oven may cycle higher than that. Aim for a dough temperature and proofing temperature of 75-78°F.
      Barb

  17. Tom Nolan

    This article was outstanding. While not a great baker I am decent. Ciabatta has been my benchmark as to how well I am doing. The pictures and the detail of your post were perfect. Although I have taken a Baking Boot Camp at the CIA is has taken a while to understand the impact of hydration. The hand method is not only great fun but increases the chance of great results. The only thing I do differently is I do spray the loaves before putting them in the oven but I do the black iron skillet and ice cube trick which seems to work. A nice job

    Reply
    1. Barbara Alpern , post author

      Thanks so much for your kind words, Tom! I did spray the loaves with water before baking, but didn’t include a photo of this step. A good mist of water before baking is almost always helpful with artisan loaves, especially when used in combination with other steaming methods.
      Barb

  18. Stacie

    Thank you for this ! I have been hesitant to try making a ciabatta bread because I don’t own a stand mixer. Definitely going to give it a try now

    Reply
  19. karenquiltsnsews

    I love the Tartine method. Letting the dough do it’s bulk rise in a heavy glass or plastic container, and giving it a sort of “scoop and turn” every 30 minutes. By the end of 2-1/2 to 3 hours, it’s ready to shape and do it’s final rise. I do not use yeast, only my leaven from my sourdough starter…Yes, it’s time consuming, but I usually have sewing/quilting work to do that allows me to make those stops every 30 min. Babies are getting cold!

    Reply
    1. Barbara Alpern , post author

      Karen, this is similar to the repeated stretch-and-folds in the bowl that others have mentioned. Definitely another great way to handle wet dough!
      Barb

  20. Shelby

    Thanks for this post! As someone who’s a very, very, very, very novice baker, I’ve been struggling with fighting sticky dough and then having really dense loaves come out because I end up adding too much flour. While I haven’t even dreamed of tackling ciabatta bread yet, I hope I can try to apply some of these techniques when dealing with sticky dough in general.

    Reply
    1. Barbara Alpern , post author

      You’re very welcome, Shelby! These techniques can certainly be used to help you tackle other sticky doughs! And I would highly recommend adding the 20-30 minute pause after you’ve blended all the ingredients but before you start kneading. This pause will allow the flour to fully hydrate and begin gluten development so you have any easier time with the next steps.
      Barb

  21. cindy

    I always wanted to make brioche, but do not have a stand mixer. I tried it once by hand, and it was exhausting trying to work with the wet dough. I wish I had known of these techniques then. I now have the courage to try it again, due to your article. Thanks!

    Reply
    1. Barbara Alpern , post author

      Cindy, we’re so glad we could supply you with the tools to take on kneading brioche dough by hand! It’s definitely a tough one, but these techniques can help make it a little more manageable.
      Barb

  22. Tina

    Oooh, all these techniques and photos are so helpful. I see a wet dough experiment in my future. Rose Levy Beranbaum’s challah recipe was way too wet for me when I tried it a couple years ago. (Someone compared the baked loaves to aliens…) But with more experience under my belt and this guide, I’m looking forward to giving it another go. Thanks!

    Reply
    1. Barbara Alpern , post author

      Tina, we’re so glad to hear you found this post helpful! Let us know how the challah kneading goes. We hope these techniques will make things easier, and lead to a less alien-looking result!
      Barb

  23. Jerry Van Sickle

    I love the chopping technique.
    I’ve never used it but do use a stretch and fold. I’m going to have to make some ciabatta bread now.
    Thank you

    Reply
    1. Barbara Alpern , post author

      Jerry, we’re so glad you found this post helpful! And aren’t these warm summer days perfect for a beautiful and airy ciabatta? Let us know how your chopping and stretching and folding goes.
      Barb

  24. Terrie

    Oh my goodness…how timely that this popped into my email today, after I spent so much time frustrated with my rye dough. All the rye recipes I’ve seen discourage adding too much flour, but I find it positively sticky and annoying, and I always swear it to be my LAST EVER rye bread. Which of these techniques would work best for rye bread, when rye is about 1/3 total flour?

    Reply
    1. Barbara Alpern , post author

      Terrie, Rye is a whole other animal, as we’ve noted in other blog posts. When working with rye flour you need to be a bit more gentle and not prolong fermentation. While the techniques presented in this blog may not be perfect for developing rye dough, there are definitely some tricks that can make rye kneading easier: I would forgo the initial pause, and cut the dough only briefly to make sure all the ingredients are fully blended. The slap and fold method will be a little rough for rye dough, so try more of a traditional kneading stroke. Rather than adding more flour, wet your hands and mist the table with water periodically to prevent sticking. Try to move as quickly as you can when you knead, and don’t push the dough too hard into the table, as that will cause more sticking. Clean the table and your hands periodically so that the dough has less to stick to as it develops. I hope this helps and you don’t give up on making rye bread!
      Barb

  25. Sara S

    I recently tried wearing nitrile gloves (disposable medical type glove) when working with bread doughs. The dough still sticks, but not as much, the dough never gets under your fingernails. I find that I can gently take the gloves off and re-use them between steps, then toss them away at the end. Yes, I know it’s not the best thing for the environment.

    Reply
    1. Barbara Alpern , post author

      Sara, we believe in using whatever method works best for you! If gloves make you more willing and able to tackle a wet dough, then by all means use gloves!
      Barb

  26. davina

    I always hear people says “don’t handle your dough too much. It will loose its capability of rise”. So how do i define “too much”?

    Reply
    1. Barbara Alpern , post author

      Davina, it’s hard to work a dough too much by hand, at least during the kneading phase. I see this happening more during shaping, when over-handling the dough can cause the surface to tear, which can compromise the structure of the rising loaf. When shaping your loaves you want to be careful to maintain a smooth surface and to handle the dough only enough to achieve the desired shape and structure. During shaping, using enough flour on your hand and the table to prevent sticking is helpful in maintaining the integrity of the dough. When making a more structured loaf than a ciabatta, it’s helpful to keep an area of your work surface free of flour so that the bottom of the loaf seals properly.
      Barb

  27. davina

    Hi Ms Alpern,
    Thank you for this post. Your dough looks very smooth. I have tried using King Arthur flour to knead dough. The dough always turned out to be very rough. So I stopped using King Arthur flour. Now looking at your ciabatta dough makes me feel it might be me who do not know how to handle/knead the flour. Do you use the Light Summer Ciabatta Recipe?

    Reply
    1. Barbara Alpern , post author

      Hi Davina, I did use the Light Summer Ciabatta recipe. If you notice from the photos in this post, after the slap and fold step the dough still appears a little rough, but smooths out with time and folding. I suspect the roughness you’ve experienced in the past may have more to do with technique than the type of flour you used. It may also be helpful for you to focus a bit more on how you measure your flour. For best results we recommend either weighing your flour, or using this method to measure flour by volume. I hope you’ll give some of these kneading techniques a try and let us know how you’re progressing. We’d love to help!
      Barb

  28. Roni Labuda

    After mixing the starter, does it need to set for a period of time before mixing the dough? I bake bread the way my Mom taught me but she never used a starter. Very inspired to try this recipe.

    Reply
    1. Barbara Alpern , post author

      Hi Roni, yes, the starter typically rises overnight or up to 15 hours before adding it to the dough part of the recipe. I’m glad we could inspire you to make ciabatta!
      Barb

  29. Denise Ryan

    I took your 3 day intensive sour dough classes at King Arthur.We did everything but the ryes by hand. Learned some great techniques. I would recommend your classes to everyone wanting to make professional looking artisan bread.
    Will be looking forward to more classes

    Reply
    1. Barbara Alpern , post author

      Denise, that’s exactly the class I took where we got to practice these great techniques! I totally agree with you–it’s such a great environment to learn and grow as a baker!
      Barb

  30. Barbara Morgan

    I missed something : you said you only dimpled the hand mixed dough on the right, which yielded a better crumb; but then said the dimpling made little difference. The left hand mixer dough was not dimpled but had less crumb.
    It seems dimpling did have a result. .

    Reply
    1. Barbara Alpern , post author

      Hi Barbara, I’m sorry if I wasn’t clear. I think perhaps the confusion comes from the dimpled loaves being on the right in most of the photos. In the photo where the two loaves are cut open to compare the crumb structure, I changed it up a bit. This photo compares the best crumb structure out of each kneading method: the un-dimpled hand-kneaded dough is on the right, and the dimpled machine-kneaded dough is on the left. I found that the dimpling didn’t improve the crumb structure of the hand-kneaded dough, but slightly improved the structure of the machine-kneaded dough.
      Barb

    1. Barbara Alpern , post author

      Thanks so much, Angel! We’re so glad to hear you found this article helpful!
      Barb

  31. Kevin

    Real good tutorial and experiment.
    My question is how can I make bread with that huge holes? What’s the top ? Flour?temperature?
    Thanks

    Reply
    1. Barbara Alpern , post author

      Hi Kevin, here’s the recipe for the ciabatta bread that I worked with in this article. I used our unbleached all-purpose flour, and aimed for a dough temperature in the 75-78°F range. The recipe calls for using a stand mixer, but if you don’t mind getting your hands in a very wet dough, these techniques will yield lots of great holes!
      Barb

  32. Adrienne

    I am really new to sour dough starter. I am sure the answer is out there but I have not found it yet. How thick should the starter be when you are going to bake with it? Should it be somewhat thin like a bad milkshake, thick like a really good milkshake,somewhere in between, or it does not matter? Thanks for indulging my simple question, Thank you Do you need to adjust other liquid if it appears runny

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Adrienne, when ready to use, your 100% hydration starter should be the consistency of thick pancake batter (not quite sure how that compares to a milkshake?). You’re right to think that the consistency matters, as it will affect how the starter performs and the consistency of your final dough. Rather than adjust your dough to match your starter, we’d recommend adjusting your next feeding (adding a few extra Tbsp of flour if the starter appears runny) to bring your starter back in balance. For a more visual walk through of what your starter should look like, it may help to take a look at this blog article on the topic and/or our Complete Guide to Sourdough. Best of luck and happy baking! Mollie@KAF

Post a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *