Why Is My Sourdough Dough So Sticky? How To Handle It

Sourdough bread offers a number of benefits. It is generally healthier and easier to digest. It is often easier to make.

It has a more uniform appearance than quick breads, and it can’t leave you with a nasty chemical aftertaste.

However, it is possible to get sticky sourdough that is hard to get out of the pan or cut into pieces. Let’s look at some of the common problems with sourdough bread and how to deal with them.

Is It a Problem if Sourdough Dough Is Sticky?

The dough should be a little sticky before you start kneading it. However, it shouldn’t be so sticky that it is hard to knead. Nor should it be sticky after you’ve baked it.

Why Is My Sourdough Dough So Sticky?

If your dough is dry, it is because you added too much flour. Some people add too much water to compensate. Your dough might be too sticky because you added too much water when making the initial mix, too.

If your dough is too dry, add a little moisture and mix it, adding just a little more water if necessary. If the dough is too sticky at this point, add a little flour and knead it in. Only add more flour if it remains excessively moist or sticky after you’ve kneaded it in.

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How Do You Know If You’ve Kneaded It Enough?

When you’ve kneaded the bread dough enough, stretch it while looking at a light source. If the dough breaks before you can pull it so thin that you can see the light, resume kneading. If you can see the light through the dough, you’re done the kneading.

How Do You Know If the Dough Is Too Sticky?

If you can’t shape it, the sourdough is too sticky. Add a little flour and knead it a few times to make it more manageable. However, you should avoid using a mixer to do this, because it can overheat the dough and break down the gluten strands.

You might get a drier dough, but you won’t get the same rise in the dough and a solid crust that you were expecting. The solution is to give it a few more folds after you add the dash of flour so that the flour mixes in fully and makes it more manageable.

How Can I Handle Sticky Sourdough?

One reason why people add too much flour and mix it in is to try to get the dough more manageable.

Unfortunately, this results in tougher bread. One solution is to use a wet dough cutter or scraper. You can get the tool under the dough so you can pick it up or manipulate it.

Another tactic is adding flour to the work surface before you start working with the dough. Then the dough cannot stick to the surface. You should also wet your hands with cold water before folding the dough.

Then the dough is less likely to stick to them. Alternatively, you could add a little oil to the work surface and your hands. Then the dough can’t stick to them.

The only issue with this is that the oil will mix in with the dough and alter the flavor, so don’t use a type of oil you don’t want to risk tasting in the end product.
Some people suggest waiting for dough to rise. This allows the dough to absorb the water into the flour and start to form gluten strands that hold the bread together.

This arguably makes the dough easier to work with.

How Else Can You Deal with Sticky Sourdough?

Some doughs are sticker than others because of the type of flour. The more gluten it contains, the better it holds together. In other cases, the issue is the recipe.

Some recipes are simply wetter and stickier than others. They give you what is called “slack” dough.
If the dough is very slack and it isn’t because you added too much water, then autolyze. This is when you let the dough rest after it is mixed but before you start to knead it.

Give it around thirty minutes. The water and other wet ingredients are absorbed into the flour. This makes it easier to handle.

Another tactic is chilling the dough for a while. This makes it easier to handle. Just don’t freeze it. And don’t let it sit in the fridge so long that it dries out.

Sometimes the issue is the kneading technique. Don’t try traditional kneading techniques like “punch and turn” with moist sourdough. Instead, stretch and fold it. This method works better with slack dough anyway. Just know that it will be sticky early in this process.

And sometimes the issue is the recipe. For example, the problem may be a recipe that calls for more hydration than the flour you’re using requires. The solution here is to either use the exact same flour the recipe requires or adjusting hydration levels, watching the dough instead of ingredient ratios.

What If My Next Batch of Sourdough Bread Is Too Sticky?

Now it is the sourdough starter or its use that is suspect. If the recipe is overly generous with the sourdough starter fermentation time, you end up adding too much-trapped air to the recipe and get a sticker dough.

This is called having over-proofed bread. In this case, extra flour won’t save it. You just get more un-fermented dough that won’t stand up.

You can still bake it and eat it, but it will be a solid mass, not the light, airy sourdough you were expecting. You can try to prevent the problem by being more careful when proofing the yeast.

Or you need to give the sourdough starter more salt.
Another root cause may be the recipe relative to your environment. If the sourdough is unworkable at the very start, this obviously isn’t because the oven temperature isn’t set right for your elevation.

However, the dough may be too hydrated for your location. Factors like temperature, humidity, air pressure and elevation play a role here. You can try to fix things like high humidity in your house or waiting until the kitchen has warmed to room temperature before getting to work.